Toward the end of the day, yesterday, I spent some time with one of my friends and we got into a really interesting discussion. Our talk became the prompt for this week's email. My friend and I talked about egos in our modern times and just how much our culture revolves around ego.
We really are living in unprecedented times. In the social media age we all have abilities to create our own little worlds where we are central. We have our very own "followers" and our very own soapboxes. We can use these platforms we create to espouse our ideas with great authority. Every "like" or retweet that we receive strikes a dopamine trigger in our brains, fueling our senses of self and gratification. They validate us and our positions and our thoughts.
With each one of those dopamine laden validations and gratifications comes a little bit of an ego boost — a little more self-importance. To make matters even more complicated, the media and music of our time helps to fuel our self-centered perspectives. Advertisers cleverly use our desires to build our own little worlds to peddle their wares, telling us if we buy this thing or that we can be among the elite. They tell us we can be bigger and better and stronger and sexier than our peers if buy their products.
Because our society is steeped in the unprecedented hyper-existential and self-centered nature of these times, we who are following Christ have an uphill climb on our hands. Jesus calls away from self-centeredness. Jesus calls us away from our followers and our validation. The challenge for us in these times is huge! The "likes" and retweets and cool things we accrue are very tricky. Even our service and giving can be tainted by self-seeking and ego boosting in this environment.
How do we contend in this space? How do we stand up against the challenge to live in worlds where are the center? How do we resist the cultural norms to be what Jesus calls us to be?
I believe 1 Peter 5 has some great instruction for us that is consistent with Jesus' example throughout the scriptures. Peter writes:
"All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." - 1 Peter 5:5b-7
These few verses from Peter's writing are so rich and instructive for us in these times. At the heart of our self-seeking is a fundamental failure to submit ourselves to God and his authority. When we allow our egos to inflate, we allow that part of ourselves to grow that opposes God. The psychologist Helen Schucman addresses this issue in her book A Course in Miracles. Our inflated egos don't want to submit to God - or anyone else. This is why these unprecedented times are so treacherous for us as followers of Christ.
At the heart of our self-seeking, usually, there is a sense of inadequacy — a sense that we are not enough. Our response to this sense is to build ourselves. Jesus calls us to do something else all together. Jesus calls us to walk away from ourselves and make ourselves, (and our egos), last. Jesus calls us to submit ourselves to God, first. Then, he calls us to submit ourselves to one another.
This is counter intuitive in our time. Self-help, positive psychology, social media and lots of other factors can get in the way of the Jesus way of living life. That space in us that needs validation and gratification can lead us to unduly rely on these things to satisfy us. As a result we find ourselves requiring more — more "likes," more retweets, more validation, more gratification, more... stuff.
There's more than instruction in this 1 Peter passage, though. There's good news in the form of an assurance. While we are called away from self-seeking activity to fill our needs for fulfillment and validation, we are also promised that humility under God's hand results in elevation — the very thing our culture tells us to seek for ourselves. We are promised in this letter from Peter that God will fill that deep need that we so often look elsewhere to fill.
As we move out into our week, let's take a look at ourselves. Let's take a look at our posts and our purchases. Let's think about our motivations. Let's think about why we are doing what we're doing. Are we seeking ourselves in what we're doing in the little worlds we build? If so, let's take the time and drill down to figure out what needs we hope to fill by these actions.
I know I'm going to spend this week evaluating myself on this. I hope you will too. It's so important that we get a great grasp on this if there's any hope of truly meaning elevation in our lives. It's so important for us to remember that even our most clever and effective attempts to fill our needs for validation are fleeting. Only God can trulyelevate us. That's powerful and very critical for us to remember.
Questions for the week
- What kinds of things do I do because of my ego?
- Do I see how getting validation for myself always leads to a need for more gratification?
- What kind of elevation do I desire most? What makes me feel validated?
- How do I use social media? Are my motivations pure or are they self-seeking?