Dear Selfaholic

Dear Selfaholic,

You have a problem. It’s yourself. To be blunt, you are addicted to yourself.

I’m afraid that you were born this way, as all of us are. However, most of us learn to hide it most of the time; or at least we come to realize that 100% self-centeredness is not the best way to achieve our goals! That’s a selfish motive, I know, but it’s kind of how society works. There is another way out of this addiction, a way that actually removes self rather than just manages it, but I’ll get to that later.

Like most addicts, you probably don’t realize you have a problem. Although you are constantly thinking about yourself, you know hardly anything about yourself. So, let me describe the symptoms of selfaholism and then give you some hope of getting free from it, especially as you are still young.

Selfaholism is characterized by self-centeredness, self-righteousness, self-promotion, self-sufficiency, self-will, self-worship, self-love, self-praise, etc. However, these symptoms manifest themselves differently, depending on the age of the addict. As you are still a teenager, you are probably in one of the worst phases of selfaholism – strong, independent, and self-conscious enough to show the uglier side of selfaholism; but not wise or experienced enough to realize that it is self-destructive and self-defeating unless at least “managed” and modified.

You probably can’t understand why your parents ever say “No” to you. And why should they even consider what your brothers and sisters want? Why shouldn’t you sit scowling and slouching at the table? Doesn’t affect anyone else, does it? As for chores, why can’t you just come home, eat, and stay in your room? Why should Mom want to know what went on at school today? If only she would talk less, she might have your Hollister t-shirts ready when you need them for a change, right? And isn’t it really annoying the way Dad insists on you going to bed at the same time as him and Mom. As you “teenage-whispered” to your buddy: “I thought old people got deaf eventually. Why can’t I make milk shakes at midnight? I mean, whatever…”

But you’re miserable aren’t you. That’s the weird thing about addictions. They promise much, but deliver little. You think that by pursuing your agenda that you will find happiness, contentment, and satisfaction. But, as you are discovering, self-love causes self-hatred. Oh, I know you think your misery is caused by all the “no’s” in your life – no’s from parents, no’s from teachers, no’s from pastors, no’s from everyone. “Why does no one ever say “yes” to me?”

But the problem is simpler and shorter than you think. It is the big capital letter “I” at the center of your heart. And until that letter is broken in many pieces, your life will continue on its dismal and dreary course. You will wander from relationship to relationship, from college to college, from marriage to marriage, from job to job, from church to church, and from bright shiny thing to next bright shiny thing. And it will always be “their” fault and never yours: parents, teachers, friends, professors, wives, husbands, pastors, bosses, government, whoever, whatever…If only they would all bow down and serve you then all would be well.

But here’s the strangest thing of all; the happiest people in the world are servants – not those who warm the slippers of millionaires, but those who serve others in all their relationships and responsibilities. They may have a million in the bank or even just red ink, but whatever their social or financial standing, they listen well, they give away their money and time, they volunteer at church, they do more than their assigned chores, and they even do some things without pay!

I know that sounds like total misery to you, but, believe me, it’s the way to happiness. Now, of course some people are selfless for selfish reasons. They have the wisdom to see that living just for self is not very helpful socially or vocationally. (I wish you even had that insight). But there are others who not only manage and modify their selfaholism. They actually deny self and live for others. How? Well, they have the great Self-denier working in their hearts. I’m talking about Jesus Christ of course, the Servant who can turn the worst selfaholics into the best servaholics

Study Christ’s life and ask yourself how you too can serve rather than be served. But, above all, study His death. Studying his life will shrink your “I” a little; but it’s when you stand before His cross that your “I” will begin to crack and crumble, even at it’s very foundations. Paul calls us, just as he called the Philippians selfaholics of his own day, to grasp that Christ’s servaholism atones for our selfaholism (Phil. 2:3-7). And as we grasp that supreme act of Self-denial on our behalf, we will not only serve, but we will serve out of selfless motives. We will stop thinking about what we are giving up and all we’ll see is what He gave up.

Is it just coincidence that the great Philippian epistle of service is also the great epistle of joy? (Phil. 3:1; 4:1, 4). I earnestly pray that you too will come to know the joy of servaholism (1 Cor. 16:15).

From a recovering selfaholic.

A version of this article appeared in Tabletalk. Sign up here for a three month free trial or 12 issues for $23.

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20 Things Pastors Hear in Counseling
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Ditch College for All
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Dear Peter Thiel: Let’s fix college the right way
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He just “stole” my book

How would you feel if you’d been working on a book for six months or so, researching, reading, writing some chapters, structuring others, gathering quotes, planning interviews, when you discover that someone else has beaten you to it! Happened to me last week.

There I was grazing through my blog subscriptions on Google Reader when I came as usual to The Blazing Center blog. There’s my book! Even my title!! Talk about blazing mad.

Who is this? Stephen Altrogge. How did he get inside my laptop? Has he been bugging my phone? All my work sucked away for an eBook! An eBook!! Not even a real book!!!

Launch date, May 29. Well, still time to sabotage this. But how? After a weekend of plotting came up with nothing, I was reduced to nervous hovering over the “Buy now with one click” button early yesterday.

Only 45 pages? How did he manage to compress all my work into 45 pages? He’s obviously butchered it to pieces.

But as I started to read, my temperature started falling and my blood pressure eased. Hmm, he didn’t copy too much after all. Actually he’s taken quite a different tack to me. It’s a brief gospel-centered romp through the biblical call to be creative. And it’s pretty good. In fact, don’t tell him, but it’s very good – good teaching, good application, great writing. And I love it most of all because it means I can get my work back out of the trash can. That’s surely worth an Amazon review.

My top ten takeaways from the book:

  1. Our Creator has equipped every single person with creative gifts and called us to be creative in the little corner of the creation He’s given to us.
  2. By being creative we show the world what God is like
  3. Creativity is not confined to artists but extends even to accountants [Not sure creative accountancy is a terribly good thing]
  4. As a Creator who loves creativity, God loves to see his creatures creating
  5. Fear (of failing, of not finishing, of looking stupid) is the great creativity killer
  6. Assurance of our acceptance in Christ makes us more creative, because His approval is enough.
  7. Don’t wait until you have a totally original idea or totally perfect idea
  8. Creativity is a muscle that gets stronger with use
  9. Creative work requires faithfulness, diligence, and persistence.
  10. Create for the glory of God and the good of others and you’ll be personally rewarded too.

You can read more about the book here.

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4 Reasons to Remember your Creator in Middle Age

Although it’s young people that are specifically commanded to remember their Creator (Eccl. 12:1), it’s probably assumed that middle-aged people will have the sense to do the same. Surely by then we have accumulated enough experience to realize that remembering we have a Creator and that we are creatures is basic wisdom. How then do we respect and remember our Creator in busy, striving, stressed-out middle age?

1. Remember that we are complex creatures
The body is a complex mix of physical material and physical forces – electricity, chemistry, physics, biology, plumbing, gasses, pumps, siphons, lubrication, buttons, switches, receptors, etc.

Then there’s the soul, way more complex than the body and completely inaccessible to empirical research methods. Although we have some Biblical data to mine and research, yielding us some basics about the soul’s capacities and abilities, so much about the soul remains a mystery.

And then you put complex body and complex soul together and what do you get – multiple complexities!

The interconnectivity of human nature means that the health of the body affects the health of the soul and vice versa, and it’s not easy to figure out the contribution of each to our problems! One thing is for sure, we cannot neglect one realm and expect the other not to suffer the consequences.

2. Remember that we are limited creatures
Hopefully none of us think that we are unlimited. However most of us think we are less limited than we actually are. We vastly over-estimate our physical strength, emotional stamina, moral courage, spiritual maturity, volitional muscle, and conscience steel.

Underestimating our limitations and over-estimating our abilities can only have one outcome – weakness, fraying, and eventually breaking. Try it with anything – your car engine, a towrope, your computer, etc. Underestimate the limitations and over-estimate the abilities and you will eventually blow the engine, break the rope, and crash the computer.

We must find out our limits – physical, spiritual, emotional, moral – and work within them. And we must not impose our limits on others, despising those with lower limits or envying those with higher limits.

3. Remember that we are dependent creatures
Even before the fall, Adam and Eve were dependent upon their Creator. They leaned upon him for everything. That was their most basic human experience, and in a fallen world it’s even more necessary.

Many of us are theologically dependent but experientially independent. We depend on God with our lips but not with our lives. We say we lean upon Him for everything but He rarely feels our weight. If we don’t live as dependent creatures, we are not worshipping our Creator. By our independence, we are worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator.

4. Remember that we are fallen creatures
As part of the curse upon us for our first parent’s first sin, death entered the creation and even the greatest creature – humanity.

If you thought we were complex before, we are even more complex now. I enjoy fishing, and like all anglers, I “know” that the most complicated and sophisticated reels catch more fish. But, when they break down they make a much bigger mess than standard reels.

That’s why complex humanity is in a much worse state than any other creature. That’s why nature films focus on animals rather than humanity. Who wants to look at ugly human creatures in all their brokenness when you can see much more beauty in the animal kingdom!

But that’s not the end of the story. Remember, middle-agers, our Creator is in the business of re-creating. In salvation, He begins the process of making all things new, including His creatures. In fact, the Creator lived as a creature in the midst of His creation to save His creatures.

This post was first published at Ligonier Ministries blog. See also the previous post: 4 Reasons to Remember your Creator in your Youth.