Sunday, November 20, 2011

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The Altar of Me

There is perhaps no manifestation of my sinfulness that is more frustratingly insidious than my own self-regard.  I say insidious because it is so integral to my psyche that I seldom recognize it as real--or as sinful--unless God confronts me directly with it.  I regularly worship at the Altar of Me.

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.

3 comments:

  1. This is extremely good and so very close to my own heart. Thank God for His mercy and grace, and for His unspeakable gift to us in spite of our selves! and for sanctification - the good work He has begun in us!

    Wishing you a most blessed Thanksgiving with lots of love and good food!

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  2. This is what we should be hearing about in church and contemplating in prayer!!! I've been a slave to my own selfishness my entire life. I know that the flesh wars against the Spirit. But like so many others, I don't know how to stop serving myself and begin serving God........

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  3. St. Paul had the affliction also: "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing" and "the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do . . . ...wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I THANK GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD." Our service to God and neighbor is forever tainted... but "the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin".

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