The Burden of Introspection
How many of you are in the habit- as I have been- of performing heart surgery on yourselves? Come to think of it, it’s not a very smart idea. Self-performed heart surgery is not only nearly impossible, it’s also dangerous. How much better it would be to put my life in the hands of the great Physician!
Ok, I hope you all realize that I’m using a metaphor. Indeed, this is a close picture of the focus of Jarod Mellinger’s book about introspection.
To quote from Think Again; “Not long ago we had a guest preacher named Rick at our church on a Sunday morning. As soon as he was done preaching, he returned to his seat beside me, gave me a beaming smile, and said, ‘That was fun!’ Now, I do enjoy preaching, and I love my job. But of all the thoughts I tend to have immediately after preaching, ‘That was fun!’ is not among the more common ones. I am far more likely to return to my seat after a sermon thinking, ‘That was pathetic.’”1
I never preached a sermon in my life, but Pastor Mellinger’s mentality of self-criticism felt way too familiar to me when I read this. How often do I feel the same frustration and shame over my performance, even when it’s an activity intended to glorify God? Perhaps I have the opportunity to speak encouragement to a friend, to babysit for a family in my church, or simply give a hug to a stressed-out mother. But as I walk away from each encounter, my thoughts all too quickly turn inward. I should have prayed with Kathy – how stupid of me to forget!… I should have kept Janie from hitting Bobby – I’m a horrible babysitter… Maybe I should have volunteered to bring Mrs. Miller a meal this week, even though I will be busy every evening after work.
Mellinger reveals a hidden cause of this particular over-analyzation that he gently backs up with scripture and examples. He says; “Here’s what I’ve realized: “That was fun!” revealed a man focused on Christ and the joyful privilege of proclaiming the good news. In my case “That was pathetic” usually reveals a man focused on self and the assessment of others.” 2
I’ll be honest. I often analyze myself, but I never realized just how much until Jared Mellinger’s book came as a much-needed shock to my mental habits. Introspection, or self-analysis, is a practice that sits on a delicate fence between helpful self-examination and excessive focus on self, which is both harmful and sinful.
Relevant to Daily Life
I really wish that I could simply copy and paste the entire manuscript of Think Again onto this post so that each of you could just read the book itself, and not my short commentary. It is one of only a handful books which I think absolutely everyone should read. This is no ordinary self-help, feel-better-about-yourself book. It is rooted clearly in the truth of God’s word, and thoroughly doused with the relevance of our Savior to each situation. (Actually, Mellinger himself points out that “self-help is a monstrous oxymoron. We cannot help ourselves; we need help from the outside [Jesus Christ].”3)
Judging the book by its bright cover, simple designs, and narrow spine, one may assume this book would be a quick and easy read. This was, in part, correct; and being a typical millennial, I appreciated its extremely approachable and conversational tone.
However, the truth within these pages was so impactful that I frequently stopped to re-read a paragraph in order to fully absorb its message. Each day increased my awareness of the mental traps evident in my own life.
The self-criticism I mentioned above was one of those traps. But another powerful topic included in the book was Mellinger’s exposition on how we think of ourselves. Which is better: to think- “I’m awesome” or “I’m pathetic?”
Self-Love vs. Self-Loathing
I’m sure that the rise of “Love Yourself”, “Do what makes you happy”, “Be Awesome”, and other popular self-esteem mottoes has not escaped your notice. Mellinger addresses this trend. Certainly there is nothing wrong with viewing oneself as the uniquely-created, beloved child of God. But the tendency to nurture self-love in our own hearts is never encouraged in God’s Word.
Christians are not encouraged to be ashamed of themselves, hate their own existence, or view themselves as hopeless failures, either. “Thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought is pride,” says Mellinger in response. “But thinking of ourselves as worthless and hating ourselves is not to be mistaken for humility…. Both distorted views are based on the proud refusal to believe what God says about who we are.” 4
The book expounds on the truth of our identity. We are utterly sinful, wretched, and hopeless without Christ. Yet, under the light of the Cross, we are forgiven of all sin, and overwhelmingly assisted to live holy lives with the grace God pours upon us. And so there is a single problem with both self-love and self-loathing, and that is: self.
Mellinger sums it all up: “It is through the gospel alone that the idol of self is displaced, as Jesus silences our self-hatred and self-esteem. How does he do this? By joining us to himself. In Christ we gain a view of ourselves that is not based on anything in us, but on the work he has accomplished for us…. Only when the idol of self is removed can the proud become humble and the insecure become confident.” 5
A Few Notes
Mellinger has well researched his subject, and very frequently shares insights gleaned from other authors. I found this a little unusual, but after I got used to it, the quotes became a similar source of inspiration.
He also uses relevant examples from many sources, including secular movies. While the examples are individually helpful, I have done some brief research and cannot recommend these movies as a whole.
Think Again dives into a number of prevalent thought patterns that are contradictory to God’s standard. Each issue addressed challenged me, and made me much more aware of how God has called me to renew my mind. Mellinger explores many topics, including identity, despair, false-guilt, and hyper self-awareness. He also talks about Biblical self-examination, embracing God’s promises, and practical ways to look away from self and toward creation, community, and Christ.
The recurring theme of the book is that the gospel of the cross is the only alternative to unhealthy introspection. This then inspires worship. “The path to joy in God is not self-consciousness; it is Christ-consciousness. Worship is a gift from God when we are stuck in ourselves. This is what we were made to do- rejoice in the glories of the One who is truly glorious. Seek the Lord and experience the joy of self-forgetfulness.” 6
If any of this resonated with you at all, please: get the book. I have hardly dented the surface of wisdom it holds.
Rachel Brubaker is a pseudonym, because she prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons. She is frequently shocked at her journey towards missions, which God has led her on throughout the past several years. She loves her dear family, a good pun, anything artsy or musical, real-life God stories, people who expect an honest answer to “how are you”, and of course, coffee and chocolate. Oh, and she also really wants to go skydiving someday.
- Mellinger, Jared. Think Again: Relief from the Burden of Introspection. New Growth Press, 2017. p. 92
- Ibid, 92-93.
- Ibid, 51.
- Ibid, 36-37.
- Ibid, 37-38.
- Ibid, 121