The Full Self
“No doubt you have experienced brain freeze, the unpleasant sensation of eating ice cream too fast and the cold causing an intense pain in your head. Acting natural is difficult when this occurs. Typically you make an unintelligible sound, tighten your face into an awful contortion, and definitely stop eating the ice cream until the agony passes. During the prolonged burst, you are unable to focus on anything but the pain. Imagine living most of your life with your mind numbed by brain freeze. While you may not experience the physical pain, our culture experiences brain freeze as a continual suspension of deeper thinking. Brain freeze causes us to think of nothing but ourselves” (Smart Faith, J.P. Moreland and Mark Matlock, p. 69). The Bible does warn us about the danger of becoming too preoccupied with ourselves:
Philippians 1:17 “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife (selfish ambition)”
James 3:14 “…you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart”
James 3:16 “For where bitter jealous and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing”
The Empty Self
“What psychologists refer to as the empty self has frozen much of our postmodern culture. The empty self is make up of values, motives, and habits of thought, feeling, an behavior that twist and kill the life of the mind and make spiritual maturity difficult” (Smart Faith, p. 73). Obviously, we not only want to avoid becoming an “empty self”; we want to be a “full self”. We do not want to be frozen over, but rather to be full of life, love, spiritual growth and warmth. What are some practical ways we can avoid becoming an empty self?
Looking out for others
Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing from selfishness and empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others”
The empty self only looks out for self. “Watch out for the empty self that defines its values, life goals, and morals as if it were in a bubble isolated from others without responsibility toward the community. Self-contained individuals do their own thing and seek to find meaning only by looking into their own selves. As psychologist Martin Seligman warms, ‘The self is a very poor site for finding meaning’”(Smart Faith, p. 74).
An empty self will resist temptation, yet primarily for self interest, “I don’t want to get in trouble”. The full self has the same concern, but equally it is concerned about how this will affect others – “I don’t want to sin against God” (Genesis 39:9). In addition, the full self will likewise resist temptation because it is the virtuous and obedient thing to do. The full self is able to practice self-denial in order to enrich the broader group, which includes God, family and the local congregation.
Acting Like An Adult
“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). In passages that deal with spiritual growth, the qualities of “self control” and “patience” are often mentioned (2 Peter 1:5-11). “There is a powerful pressure in today’s society to stay younger longer. Nobody wants to grow old and go through the process of becoming wise and mature. This is an example of how the childish empty self behaves. It seeks instant gratification, comfort and soothing – just like a baby. The childish person is controlled by infantile cravings and seeks fulfillment with food, entertainment, and consumer goods. Such a person is preoccupied with physical appearance, and body image and tends to live by feelings and experiences. For the childish empty self, pain, hard work, and discipline are avoided at all costs. Immediate and easily accessible pleasure is all that matters. Boredom is the greatest evil, and amusement is the greatest good” (Smart Faith, p. 75). I have found that the more one pursues thinking and acting like an adult, the less you encounter “boredom”, for mature adults are always in demand and seem to be consistently involved in doing something or thinking about something that matters. Be warned: Trying to avoid boredom through pleasure seeking will only lead to more boredom.
Be a Giver, Not a Taker
Matthew 20:27 “Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave”; Romans 12:13 “Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality”; 2 Corinthians 12:15 “And I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls”
“Another word for self-absorption is narcissism. Narcissism is an overload of self-infatuation in which a person is preoccupied with self-interest and personal fulfillment. Narcissists manipulate relationships with others, including God, to validate their own self-esteem. They cannot sustain deep attachments or make personal commitments to something larger than their own ego (a likely reason why so many Hollywood marriages don’t last)… Spiritually, the narcissist dethrones God and His purpose in history from the center of life and replaces Him with her own personal fulfillment. So, a narcissist chooses his church, books, entertainment, exercise program, friends, and so on, depending on what he gets out of the experience rather than on how he can give of himself to a greater purpose, such as God’s” (Smart Faith, pp. 75,76).
Be Active, Rather than Passive
Romans 12:11 “Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”; 1 Peter 4:10-11 “Employ it in serving one another… whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies”.
“We often let other people do our living and our thinking for us. The preacher does our Bible study, the media does our political thinking, and our favorite sports teams do the exercise… From watching television to listening to a sermon, the primary goal of the empty self is be entertained. Holidays used to be considered ‘holy days’, a valuable change of pace in which play… and recreation refreshed our souls. Now we have vacation, which is derived from the wordvacate, and that is what the empty self does: vacates its normal life to be amused, often returning to normal life more exhausted than when it left. Television, movies, and video games are major culprits in creating passivity in life. While we believe there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these media, the amount of time that is spent indulging in them is a problem. Studies indicate that the amount of television viewing in America leads to mental passivity, reduces motivation and the ability to stick with something, negativity affects reading skills (especially those needed for higher-level mental comprehension), weakens the ability to listen and stay focused, and encourages overall passive withdrawal from life.” As we become intertwined with celebrities and sports figures, we too often cease to have rich and full lives of our own and begin too much to live our lives through others” (Smart Faith, pp. 76-77).
See Reality Beyond the Physical
2 Corinthians 4:17 “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal”
“In a book called The Crisis of Our Age, Harvard sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin claimed that cultures come in two major types: sensate and ideational. The sensate culture believes the physical world that can be experienced with the five senses is pretty much all there is. This type of culture is intensely secular. The ideational culture believes there is much more to be experienced than just what can be experienced sensually – such as virtues, morals and abstract things like numbers and propositions (statements of truth). Sorokin believed that a sensate culture will eventually disintegrate because it lacks the intellectual resources necessary to sustain a public and private life conducive to corporate and individual human flourishing. Christians can and should play a critical role in bringing back an ideational culture” (Smart Faith, p. 77).
Examine Your Inward Life
2 Corinthians 13:5 “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves…” 1 Corinthians 11:28 “But let a man examine himself”; 2 Corinthians 7:1 “Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit”
“At one time, the self was a description of one’s character, beliefs, and thoughts. In the last several decades, the definition of self has shifted to what a person looks like: the clothes she wears, the location of her home, and what possessions she has. Presidents are selected more on their likeability than on the content of their ideas. And celebrities complain that nobody really knows who they are as people” (Smart Faith, p. 78). Many people are trying to improve our world by “fixing” physical or transitory things, yet we and our world will only improve when we fix the interior life, when we are reasoning, thinking and feeling as God has purposed for us.