Find yourself. Love yourself. Be yourself. Express yourself.
I've heard the above mantra from so-called Christian counselors. I read it almost daily in "inspirational" Facebook status posts. Heard it preached from the pulpits of churches that encourage you to find your best self now. Read it in books passed to me by genuinely kind and caring friends, books intended to free the reader from fear, doubt, guilt, and the past, so as to empower one to live a happy and fulfilling life in the present.
These are pleasant words, often shared with the best intentions. But these words are lies.
Jesus says something radically different: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. . ." (Luke 9:23-24)
The apostle Paul exclaimed in doxology: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)
Any counsel or encouragement or philosophy that stands contrary to God's Word will ultimately lead not to self-fulfillment, but to self-destruction.
Indeed, the hard words of a faithful and honest friend are sweeter than the sugar-coated panacea peddled by the fake soul doctors of our day. This is one reason I so love C.S. Lewis: he is honest. He doesn't shy away from the truth. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:
Christ says 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. . . Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked - the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'
Lewis continues: "The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self - all your wishes and precautions - to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call 'ourselves', to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be 'good'. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way - centred on money or pleasure or ambition - and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do."
The cure for my soul sickness, for my great internal disquiet, for my shame and guilt and inadequacy, is not to affirm myself, love myself, affirm my self worth. The cure is to admit the truth - the truth that I am as bad as all that, even worse than I or anyone else knows. The cure is to admit the truth about myself, and then to step into the light of the truth of the Gospel - Jesus saves sinners like me. While I was an enemy of God, Christ died for me. (Romans 5:8) His love and mercy and grace are that big, that good, that sufficient.
I am safe and I have worth not because of who I am in and of my self, but because of who Jesus is, and who I am in Him.
A recent Tweet from pastor Tim Keller reads: "I am so bad that He had to die. I am so loved that He was glad to die."
Confronted with such love, I am undone.
Jesus, here is my self. Please, Lord, take it all.
3 months ago