It expresses itself in the simplest of ways, such as in my instinctive, outsized annoyance at the anonymous driver who darts in front of me on Interstate 95. In most cases I am annoyed not because he did anything dangerous, inconvenient to my own purposes, or that I wouldn't do myself given the opportunity, but rather because ... well, because now he's in front of me. He's wrong to be there. I should be in front of him, because ... well ... because ... you know.
Fellow blogger Lora's heartfelt 2009 essay, Worshipping Myself, described the problem in terms of her young marriage, which she called "the most unique petri dish for bringing forth disastrous behaviors":
I began to realize that my frustrations were due to my self-absorption; that in my world, I am king, and Eric is sinning against my unstated and ever-changing morality. I am an idol-worshipper. I worship myself! Moving the oatmeal to a different place is a sin against my will, which put the oatmeal where it was in the first place.This sounds vaguely familiar ... in fact, I wrote about just this phenomenon just a month after Lora in Reading My Wife's Mail:
Stated another way, in the same way my focus on the driver's responsibility with respect to the crosswalk took my eye off the stop sign, fixating on Mrs. Jailer's responsibility takes my attention off my own, and can serve to rationalize my own bad behavior ... Even worse, excusing my wrongs by citing hers reduces me to idolatry. I'm effectively saying, "I can't be expected to obey unless my wife does!" My wife thus displaces God (in my mind) as my enabler for obedience. The truth is that "it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose". Transferring that power to Mrs. Jailer (or Jailer Jr., or Jailer Boss, etc.) is idolatrous, unfair, and a losing strategy.Lora came to the same conclusion.
Yes, we are both selfish – but the only selfishness over which I have any control – is my own. Often, I’ve realized, that correcting another person based on my kingdom’s morality or preferences, is just another way of regarding equality with God as something to be grasped – or rather, crowning myself as king in relationships with other people. The annoyances, therefore, are really a result of my relationship with God and the gospel’s impact on my soul at present. Do I perceive my selfishness as worse than Eric’s (regardless of whether I have a million excuses, or whether MY selfishness makes sense..)? Or am I so obsessed with his flaws and irritations that God’s work in me is merely the work of trying to break through the hardness of my heart, rather than the work of producing fruit in fertile, humble and selfless soil?I have become increasingly convinced that the ability to discern the extent of my own penchant for self-worship is one of the most important--and painful--lessons I have ever learned ... and one I expect to have to re-learn continually for the rest of my life.