The Cage of Self-Absorption

Sharon Body Image, Self-esteem, Worship 3 Comments

The longer I am a Christian the more I am convinced I spend too much time thinking about myself.

Each day, how much time do I give to thinking about my clothes, my hair, my make-up, my body? Oh how much time is wasted on feeling dissatisfied with my body! And then there is my reputation–what do other people think of me? Does everyone like me? Did I do something to cause a person to dislike me? Do people think I’m smart? Do people think I’m a good writer? Do people admire me?

Although self-reflection is a good and important part of the Christian life, I would say that the edifying kind of self-reflection–in which I praise God for my creation and repent of my sinfulness–constitutes only about 10% of the time I spend thinking about myself. And 10% might be generous.

The reality is that a good portion of the time I spend obsessing over the things I don’t like about myself, or the time I spend managing the way I appear to others, is not only time wasted but time I do not enjoy in the least. It prevents me from feeling content, peaceful, and joyful. It is an unwelcome distraction from the things that really matter, and yet I continually invite these thoughts into my mind each day.

The time I spend thinking about myself–and the consequent dissatisfaction it causes–have increasingly convinced me that this is a major trap for women in the church, a trap that we can unwittingly push one another into. Although we need women’s ministries that facilitate fellowship and teaching about our shared life experiences, I’m afraid this model merely perpetuates self-focus. If we never break out of the “Isn’t it so hard being a woman/wife/mother” model of ministry we will never move on to worship. In fact, a self-centered model of ministry is somewhat self-perpetuating. The longer we focus mostly on ourselves and our problems, the less joy we will have in our lives, and the more we will feel the need to re-hash those problems.

We need to throw a wrench in that cycle.

But how? For me personally, I’ve realized that I need to take Philippians 4:8-9 more seriously:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Too often I think on things which orient me back to myself. I think about the women on the covers of magazines or female friends with bodies I envy. I think about how I can make my life more perfect and put together. I think about how to get other people to like me. I compare my marriage and my life to the other people around me. Between television shows, Pinterest and the mall, I am inundated with objects of reflection that lead straight back to myself, rather than God.

It is important for women to own up to the fact that some of our dissatisfaction is rooted not in our life circumstances but in the location of our thoughts. Constant self-reflection is too small and broken a thing to produce the peace and freedom that comes from reflection on the things of God. However, to have the sort of thought life that is free from the bondage of the self is a discipline. It involves more than changing the substance of one’s thoughts, but being aware of those influences that direct our thoughts.

What is the chief director of your thoughts? And where are your thoughts directed? Do you think on that which is true, honorable, pure, lovely and excellent? When your friends come to you to commiserate about the challenges of life, do you merely chime in with your own woes, or do you have a larger goal in mind? Will you be the kind of sister who aids in another’s self-absorption, or will you invite them to remember that which is commendable and worthy of praise? While it is important to listen and comfort one another in our struggles, will you stay in that place of dissatisfaction and self-focus, or slowly re-orient yourself toward a grander object of reflection?

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Comments 3

  1. Tim

    Great analysis of a problem that plagues men in God’s kingdom as well, Sharon. I really like the way you put this: “Constant self-reflection is too small and broken a thing to produce the peace and freedom that comes from reflection on the things of God.”

    And then you ask a wonderful question: “will you … slowly re-orient yourself toward a grander object of reflection?” That reminds me of Hebrews 12:2 where we are told to fix outr eyes on Jesus, as he is the one who is “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” I am really glad that when it comes to living out my faith, Christ is the one who has perfected it because I sure know that I couldn’t do it myself.

    And then there’s 2 Corinthians 3:18, where we are told, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” So when someone tells me of their struggles, one of the things I try to bring up early in the conversation is to ask (gently, gently) where their eyes are fixed.

    Great post, Sharon. And I’m glad the moving has ended successfully!

    Tim

  2. Patricia

    You’re so right…I think about myself 98% of the time. My last boyfriend gently asked me how I’d become so self-absorbed and I realized that, in my singleness, I started micromanaging every aspect of my life so I wouldn’t notice how lonely I was!I’ve found that close relationships are the only thing that draw me out of myself and have me DOING Philippians 4:8-9. What better relationship to invest in than my relationship with God?

    And what you said about obsession is soo true…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up feeling a little insecure, and after beating myself up about my body and my character on the train ride to work, I’m destroyed and practically in tears! Things feelnso much worse after all that thinking and it seems like the Devil doesn’t have to do a thing except let me tear myself apart. Obviously, it has to stop.

    Thanks for this post, reminding us to keep the focus on God!

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