Confessions of a Christian Narcissist (Mar – Apr 2009)

By Matt Dabbs

by Mark Edward Wylie
March – April, 2009

Giving Up Sin for LentI confess that for most of my adult life I have been living what can best be labeled a ‘self-absorbed faith.’ A bona-fide self-junkie, I have unknowingly contracted a self-inflicted disease, a case of Christian Narcissism.

Not surprisingly I went into ministry 9 years ago…

I even enrolled in graduate school, eventually receiving a pair of degrees in theology and ministry. I read many books whose contents often left me baffled, bored or both. I wrote a large stack of papers (including a thesis) that my poor professors where condemned to read and grade. At this same time I was attempting to entertain a handful of college students at a cavernously large church: Ah, pity those unsuspecting kids who suffered through my countless stories (in which I was the main character, not Christ), shoddy lessons, and needless pop-culture references! God indeed works in mysterious ways.

During this period I felt I was being radically transformed by God and the process was typically painful. I spent hours analyzing and categorizing my identity: What type of minister I was to be, what my strengths and weaknesses were, what style best suited me, what my personal theology comprised of, how I could get noticed by a church willing to hire me, and perhaps too how I might stimulate and excite (read: entertain) folks for Christ. Yet, even as the most well-intentioned narcissist learns, when you spend the majority of your time thinking about your-self, your-faith, your-life, your-whatever, you wind up a miserable person because of all the flaws you’ve uncovered and can’t stop obsessing over. Needless to say, although my intentions were noble I was not happy. I suffered, as I’m sure my wife suffered more.

I must also must confess that during this time my heart’s ultimate desire was not for Christ, but for Christ to change me for the better—I was weary of being so disgusted with the results of my endless self-evaluations…

And one day last summer everything started to change…

It shot up from the page, a sharp pink laser firing from the black-and-white text, hitting me right between the eyes, simultaneously illuminating and blinding me in the wake of an idea I had never before considered. I was studying Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. The “pink laser” began transmitting at page 44:

When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves (italics mine).1

It continued through page 69, where the following sealed the deal on my own private paradigm shift that has left me intellectually reeling to this day:

What we must never be encouraged to do, although all of us are guilty of it over and over, is to force scripture to fit our experience. Our experience is to small; it’s like trying to put the ocean into a thimble (italics mine)2

The funny thing about being a Christian Narcissist: 1) Your eternal navel-gazing is often perpetuated with the most sincere and godly intentions, and 2) You’re shocked-as-all-get-out when your eyes are opened and you realize that you have spent the better part of your faith-life reducing Christ to an orbiting satellite of your own experience. I never meant to be so incredibly self-absorbed…it just sort of happened that way as I was trying to be a good Christian.

Yet in the 25 pages between the above quotes I realized that as a Christian, especially as a minister, I was constantly talkin’ Christ and eternally walkin’ myself. I was a living, breathing Song of Myself and what I assumed I assumed everyone assumed and I contained multitudes. In true Lennon-esque fashion I didn’t necessarily believe in anything as strongly as I believed in ‘me.’ As dedicated to Christ as I may have imagined I was, he was at best the indirect object of my existence, I was the always the main idea, the central subject.

Months later I can happily say I am very slowly starting to overcome my “disease.” Two incredible scriptures have helped me in this endeavor, and I wish to share them with you. John 3:30 is the first: “He must become greater; I must become less.” Christ—being before all things, and in whom all things hold together—is to be the absolute center and reason for my existence. We are called to live Christ’s story here on earth, surrendering our own wants and desires and allowing Christ to become central to our experience. He must become greater; I must become less. I have to remind myself constantly, and progress is mind-numbingly slow. It takes a long time to reprogram a mind, to paint a new paradigm, to plant a new worldview. However, I can already report that I have felt the most peace in my adult life when I am actively thinking and seeing Christ-as-Center and not Me-as-Center. It all begins with one small phrase, repeated continuously day-in, day-out: He must become greater; I must become less.

The second verse that is helping me break my Christian Narcissism is among one of the greatest phrases Paul ever put to parchment, found in Galatians 2.20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The old self, the old “I” is now dead, says Paul. The “me” you once knew, he’s dead—not just dead, he has been executed. The old “me” once strived for selfish desires: The new “Christ-in-me” is a greater “me” than I ever could have imagined. The old “me” set his sights on earthly pleasures that corrupt, the new “Christ-in-me” naturally set his sights on things above. In my own life, I struggle the most with impatience and anger (I’m a minister, remember?). I desperately long for peace. And every time I start to fall into these sins, I am slowly learning to ask the following based upon Paul’s great declaration: From whom does this malice come from: “Christ-in-me” or “Me, Myself, and I?” Wasn’t my “I” supposed to be taken out with maximum prejudice long ago? If so, why am I messin’ around with dead-man’s bones?

“He must become greater; I must become less.”
“Who is this coming from: “Christ-in-me” or “Me, Myself, and I?”

I can’t assume that my experience is particularly unique: How many more Christian Narcissists are out there? As ministers and teachers, are we inadvertently promoting a me-centered gospel, a self-absorbed faith? Do we ask folks to imagine how they can apply Christ to their lives, or how they can squeeze Christ into theirs? A Me-centered faith will never lead to the peace of God: It will only provide a grossly-fractured view to the all-surpassing magnitude of Christ. Few will accept Christ when I present “Me” to them in the guise of Christ.

Are you a fellow Christian-Narcissist, as I am? If so, I ask you in joining me in recovery. Let’s let go of the “I” that insists on hogging the center stage, and allow Christ to step into the spotlight’s glow. What does it feel like to kill “I” and start living “Christ-in-me?” How do the words jump off the page when we stop living our pedestrian story and start living Christ’s perfect tome? We can find out together, and I believe it starts with the following two questions, repeated and reflected over and over again for the next year:

“He must become greater; I must become less.”
“Who is this coming from: “Christ-in-me” or “Me, Myself, and I?”

_____________________

1 Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 44.

2 Ibid, 69.New Wineskins

Mark Edward WylieMark Wylie [mewylie97@gmail.com] currently serves as the Young Adult Minister for the University Church of Christ in Denver, CO. He and his wife Susan have been married for 10 years and have two children, soon-to-be-4 year old Andrew and 12 month old Michaela.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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