In our age of getting stuff done I sometimes find myself caught up in the idea that I should cover new ground, read new material (even if it was written a long time ago and only new to me), discover new ideas, and place myself in a position to be surprised. All of this can be good because it leads to growth and expansion.
Visiting an old friend can be good too.
I won’t get into why but I felt like it was time for me to reread Tim Keller’s slim, oh so slim, volume on the art of self-forgetting. Keller uses 1 corinthians 3:21-4:7 as a jumping off point to discuss the importance of humility. It is a very good book meant to remind us that thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we have no need to strive, to prove ourselves to God, but perhaps more importantly in our day today, to each other or even to ourselves.
Keller doesn’t plumb the depths of the application of these ideas, especially if one thinks about social media and the jockeying taking place there, but it is a fantastic read and you should really check it out. This is not what I went there for but it has me thinking about the way we craft our online and in person personas both to impress ourselves and others.
Sometimes it is a best-foot-forward approach but sometimes it is really trying to convince ourselves (and maybe a few others but ourselves first) that we are something, chef, athlete, fashionista, relationship expert, spiritual guide, finance-guru, whatever.
We can do this with great care and attention online and we can do this in person as we constantly adjust how we present ourselves, the ways we clothe and hold our bodies, the ways we talk, how we demonstrate (or not) our emotions.
It can all feel like a form of anxiety-ridden striving.
Keller says Kierkegaard noticed all this and claimed that it involves a spiritual illusion, namely that we are competent to run our own lives well. You see we think we know who we are and how we want to present ourselves to others, but really there is no better presentation than as a child of God (however that appears to you) because otherwise our self-worth will never be enough to satisfy us. It’s an intriguing idea.
Paul says he doesn’t care what others think (not in a pathological sense, I don’t think) because he cares about what God has done. He doesn’t even care what he himself thinks (we are almost all our worst critics, like if the voice in our heads were a friend it is surely one we would stop having coffee with) because he cares what he hears God saying over him.
Comfort, o my people.
A fine challenge might be to review your social media activity of late with all this in mind, and ask who are you trying to impress and why?
Or write meticulously a scene from a recent interaction you had with someone and ask similar questions about both you and the other person (not to gossip or be mean but sometimes it is more helpful to warm-up the analysis muscle by subjecting someone else).
A final question, how would the reality be different in either case if Jesus was top of mind and God’s love for you, his mercy towards you, were in your heart?
And if none of this strikes a chord perhaps think of an old book or story that you might revisit, one you think you know, and then see what new insights God has in store for you because revisiting isn’t always a waste of time.