Written by Daniel Mann:
We all need to feel that we’re a “somebody.” It’s just too painful believing that we’re a “nobody.” Indeed, this observation hasn’t eluded a host of modern religions and therapies. They’ve learned to pander to our needs by proclaiming the mantra, “You are God!”
Some years back, a friend brought me to an Eric Butterworth meeting (“Unity Village”) at Lincoln Center. He filled the huge auditorium with the message, “Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you are the great ‘I am.’”
I wanted to scream out but restrained myself. This had been my “religion” as a 14 year old. I would take my shirt off, flex my muscles, look at this wonderful hunk in the mirror and tell myself that I was truly a somebody. I would actually believe this self-talk and this enabled me to go to school with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. However, this “fix” would some loose its potency, and so I eventually graduated to loftier messages, finally concluding that I was the Messiah, the savior of the world. Although this gave me a high, in the long run, it also devastated me. Here’s why:
- This wasn’t the nourishment that I really needed. Instead, it worked as a drug. I found that I always needed a greater dose in order to maintain my increasingly elusive high.
- For this drug to work, it must be believed. However, by believing that I was a superior person, even God, I began to loose touch with both myself and reality. I couldn’t see or accept myself as I really was. This caused me to make many serious judgment blunders. Whatever we manage well, we must understand correctly.
- If I was going to believe this about myself, I had to deny the reality that contradicted my distorted beliefs. Consequently, I always had to be right and wasn’t open to constructive criticism or even other people. Therefore, the avenues of growth were shut down.
- Denial is an invitation to mental turmoil. When I resolved to believe the good things about myself and deny the rest, I made myself into my own enemy. My conscience and perceptions were informing me about another, less pleasant reality. I therefore had to make war against these perceptions—and many of them were telling me that I wasn’t the Messiah, that I couldn’t possibly fill those shoes.
- Maintaining this artificial high requires a lot of self-deception and avoidance. Consequently, I had to isolate myself from others who reflected back to me a reality that didn’t match my own. Rejections and failures became devastating. I depended upon a steady stream of compliments and recognition to keep my delusion-addiction alive. I needed to surround myself with people who shared my distorted self-concept, from whom I could receive some affirmation. Understandably, these people became increasingly hard to find. Because relationships depend on sharing a common reality, I eventually made myself into a complete loner and outcast.
- Furthermore, as long as I was determined to build myself up in this manner, I had to correspondingly convince myself that there were no greater gods on my turf. Believing yourself to be god isn’t adequate if everyone else is a God. Therefore, I resorted to putting others down as a way to elevate myself and resented their successes.
What had initially given me “life” was to subsequently bring on me a painful psychological death. Depression, anxiety, shame, and suicidal ideation had become my most faithful companions.
However, we all need to believe that we’re somebody, that we’re significant. We can obtain this in either of two ways. We can either exalt ourselves through some futile exercise of self-righteousness or we can submit to the righteousness that is given as a free gift from the only One who is truly righteous. As Jesus had proclaimed:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
For me, it was a process as Jesus had promised:
If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).
And it has!