The Problem of Self-Forgetfulness

There is a strange intersection between prayer and weakness.

At first, most prayer requires me to immediately run up against a broken world. For many of the reasons I stop to pray are the reasons the world needs to be made new. There are many problems I would like to see solved, many societal systems I would like to see change, much suffering I would like to be eased.

But then, something deeper happens. Something offensive, even. For in the posture of humble prayer, I run up against many of the broken parts of myself as well.

Brennan Manning states that “Prayer is death to every identity that does not come from God.” I think what he might be trying to get at is this brokenness, this humbling that comes from genuine prayer. For as I hear myself pray, I recognize the part of myself that wants to run from suffering and pain. I recognize the pride that asks for success in my next public speaking event or leadership endeavor. I recognize the bruised ego, the selfish desires, the asking for God to give me just a little bit extra.

There is certainly a joy and an intimacy in prayer. Thankfulness and praise are such important responses to the greatness and graciousness of God! Yet even in my praise, I hear echos of what it did for ME. I find myself thankful only for the pleasant, the comfortable, the convenient. It doesn’t take long to recognize my own self-absorption.

And here is where the pendulum stops. Here is where the path is chosen. For once I run into an area of brokenness in myself, as we all do, I have three choices.

First, I can repress or ignore these feelings. I can focus on the more positive aspects of who I am, the gifts God has given me, who I am in Christ. This may work, for a time. The problem? It’s still just all about me.

My second option is to be hard on myself about it. Plagued by guilt or a deep sense of inferiority, which many would mistake for humility. Personally, this is probably more of my natural bent–and along with it, the desire to cover it up, keep anyone else from witnessing my brokenness. Yet once again, it’s still an endless cycle around me.

The third option is the antidote to pride and self-absorption. It is true freedom, a breaking out of the cycle. It is self-forgetfulness. For if I can finally bring myself to grasp the reality that it’s not all about me, and it never was, I am freed from the pressure I’ve placed on myself to play this starring role well. If I see myself as more of a background player, a supporting role, then whether I succeed or fail is much less important. If I truly understand my identity which is firmly rooted in the unchanging Christ, then whether I’m loving and admired or my every weakness is exposed, my confidence does not change.

And yet, the self dies so reluctantly! I crave the freedom it would bring to truly let go of my own self-importance. Yet at the slightest offense or failure, I’m right back at the beginning again, chafing under the restraint of my own weaknesses and inadequacies. Like Paul, I cry out, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer is important for many reasons, the main being a beautiful relationship between ourselves and the Creator and Sustainer of all. When I come before him in praise, thanksgiving, or petition, I am reminded that none of this is about me.  I think Henri Nouwen said it well:

“In the end, a life of prayer is a life with open hands–a life where we are not ashamed of our weaknesses but realize that it is more perfect for us to be led by [God] than to try to hold everything in our own hands.”

I think this is what Paul meant when he later wrote that he rejoiced in his weaknesses, “that the power of Christ may rest on me.”

For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever!

Amen.

One thought on “The Problem of Self-Forgetfulness

  1. Pingback: Confessions of a Distracted Do-Gooder | downwind of grace

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