There is an ancient Greek myth about Narcissus – a youth so impossibly handsome that many young women (and a few young men) threw themselves at him. But he spurned them all, leaving them distressed and broken-hearted.
Then, one day, as he knelt to drink from a still, clear pool of water, Narcissus caught a glimpse of his own reflection …and was instantly captivated. Day after day, he remained by the pool gazing longingly at his own image, transfixed by his own beauty. Even the lovely nymph, Echo, who longed for his attentions, tried in vain to tempt him away from his deep self-obsession.
Trapped in that web of self-infatuation, Narcissus stayed there looking down into the water, gradually wasting away until he finally died of thirst and starvation.
Can you imagine a more extreme picture of unrequited love? But, then, it is just a myth and no one in real life would be so ridiculously self-obsessed to the point of self-destruction! Or would they?
Never before has it been more socially acceptable to be “me-centric”. Nor has it ever been considered so normal.
You may shake your head at that pathetic image of a handsome youth besotted with his own reflection in a pool of water. Yet the rampant Narcissism in today’s world is no less ridiculous …and is just as destructive. And that’s no myth.
Never before has it been more socially acceptable to be “me-centric”. Nor has it ever been considered so normal. Making your world all about yourself is not only rife, it is also actively encouraged and heavily promoted in a multitude of ways and at many levels of society.
Believe in yourself! Assert yourself! Promote yourself! Gratify yourself! Pamper yourself! Value yourself! Seek self-fulfilment! Go after what you want! Look good! Feel good! Sound good! Such are the catchcries aimed at this generation. And they are seductive because they appeal to our ego: the me inside each of us that longs for recognition, for a purpose, for a sense of belonging – and, above all, to be truly loved.
Integral to all this is social media – that global phenomenon constantly inviting every ‘connected’ individual on the planet to share endlessly about themselves and the minutiae of their lives. At any given moment, the Internet is buzzing with multitudes of people, each one crying out to the rest of the world: “Look at me!”
…you were not created to be self-focused. You were made for something far greater.
Yet all this self-obsession, with its driving self-focus and desperate desire for self-expression, brings neither joy nor fulfilment. Not even hope. Promising so much, it delivers so little – leaving you with a futile longing for something as empty and unattainable as Narcissus’ yearning for intimacy with his own reflection.
Why is this so? Simply because you were not created to be self-focused. You were made for something far greater. Something infinitely beyond the limits of your own self.
When God created our first ancestor Adam, and his wife Eve, they were devoid of all self-awareness – as is beautifully encapsulated in this statement from the Biblical account of Creation: “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
Created in the image of God, they experienced neither shame nor guilt. They were pure, they were innocent, and they were focused not on themselves but on their Creator. They were selflessness personified.
In that blissful state, Adam and Eve were free to be who they really were. If you want an example of someone truly comfortable in their skin, this is it. There was nothing for them to attain to, for God had given them everything. There was nothing for them to prove, because they belonged to Him. And the entire purpose of their existence was to live in intimate relationship with the One who had lovingly brought them into being.
The tragedy that destroyed this idyllic existence would not – could not – have taken place had they refused to listen to God’s enemy, Satan. Yet they not only listened to him, but they also believed him …and at one stroke everything changed. No sooner had Adam and Eve eaten the forbidden fruit, than their idyllic existence was over. For the first time, they were aware of their own nakedness and experienced both guilt and shame.
They, who were created to have God alone as the centre of their being, were now plunged into a life for which they had never been designed. A life in which self-centredness had replaced God-centredness.
Not until Jesus walked this earth 4,000 years later would there once again be a man so pure and God-centred as Adam was in the beginning. And the likeness does not end there, for Jesus – who referred to Himself as “the Son of Man” – was also capable of disobeying God to look after Himself. Which is why Satan tried the same tactics on Jesus that had worked on Adam. The only reason they failed was because, unlike Adam, Jesus chose to obey God against His own self-interest.
Wonderful though that was, God never intended for Jesus to merely be a one-off, never-to-be-repeated example of a godly man. His intention went far beyond that. For just as the creation of Adam was the Beginning, so the miraculous birth of Jesus was a new Beginning. He came into this world to be “the firstborn among many brothers” who would give back to God what Adam had denied Him: an entire race who were truly God’s people.
So Jesus did not only demonstrate that one man can live a God-centred life in the midst of a godless world, but He also made the way for all people to have that abundant life for which we were originally created. Little wonder that the apostle Paul exultantly wrote:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!”
…there is one obsession that is not only desirable but is also the very thing for which you were made.
That we live in a rampantly self-obsessed world is a fact. But what is not so obvious is that the road of self-obsession – which beckons so seductively and promises so much – leads to a destination as tragic as the end of Narcissus’ affair with his own image.
Yet there is one obsession that is not only desirable but is also the very thing for which you were made. It filled Adam’s life until he chose otherwise. It also filled Jesus’ life, and because of it He has made it possible for you to know and love God as obsessively as He did.
There will, I’m sure, be some who shrink from that thought because it sounds so extreme – even fanatical. Yet, how can anyone know and love the God of all Creation and not be as wholly obsessed with Him as He is with us?
Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
That sure sounds obsessive to me …but it is a magnificent obsession!