According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was the son of the god of water who was endowed with incredible beauty. While there are variations of the story, they all seem to agree that one day he was walking through the woods and came across a pond where he saw his own reflection. He was so enamoured with his own good looks that he couldn’t stop admiring his own reflection. Wanting to get ever closer to his object of desire (himself), he eventually fell into the pond and drowned. Before his tragic end, Narcissus had several suitors attempt to get closer to him. But his own opinion of himself meant that he viewed everyone else with contempt and refused to keep company with anyone else but himself. His name is now used by Psychologists to refer to people who are self-absorbed with themselves and completely indifferent to others. They refer to such people as narcissists. Narcissism, which is self-focus, makes a person incredibly prone to depression and unable to form a meaningful relationship with others. But there is a remedy and it doesn’t need to come in a bottle or an appointment with a counsellor.
¶ Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. Matthew 16:24
Most versions of the Narcissus myth describe him becoming increasingly depressed as he struggled to find anyone other than himself to satisfy his desire for beauty. The more he cut himself off from others, the more depressed he became. Technology expert, Brad Huddleston, writes in his book, Digital Cocaine, that today’s narcissists aren’t so much looking into ponds as much as they are looking into screens. But the effect is still the same. The most “socially-networked” generation in human history is ironically the most socially disconnected, and also the most depressed generation in human history! To make matters worse, the remedy that is often prescribed to those blighted by this malady is turning out to be the very poison that caused their condition in the first place! This means that we are now possibly witnessing the most hurt, broken, confused generation ever to live.
“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. Proverbs 9:17-18
I can’t blame them for being confused, and neither should you – because they are doing exactly what culture tells them is right, normal, and good – and not only is it not working – it making them worse! (There was also a time when doctors thought arsenic was good for ill people!) Despite these false assurances from these false remedies, they are ending up feeling even more lost, lonely, unloved, and disconnected. The fruit of all this is evident. Some of these deeply wounded people have 5,000+ Facebook friends and yet no friends. Many of them are addicted to internet porn but have never experienced intimacy. All of them ‘chat’ digitally but never talk face to face with anyone.
THE MOVIE WE CAN’T ALL STAR IN
If Joan Rivers actually said this, she was wrong. In one sense, life is a movie. There is a script. History really is His-story. There is a Star in this movie. But we are not Him. The truth is that we all play a “supporting actor” role. Some of us only appear ‘on screen’ for a metaphoric 5 seconds. Others of us aren’t even on set for that long! But our role – no matter how long we appear for – is still the same. As supporting actors our role is to make the leading actor really shine like the star He is.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me John 5:39
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Luke 24:27
Yet, many hurting and confused people have been further lied to about their role in this grand life movie. They have been told by well-meaning people that they “can be anyone they want to be“, or “do anything they set their mind to.” This is a cruel lie. The Producer of this grand movie has assigned to each of us a role that fits us perfectly – and it’s not the lead role, His Son has been cast for that role.
Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; Deuteronomy 11:16
THE GOSPEL IS THE REMEDY
The Gospel calls us to worship the only One worthy of worship. This takes the focus off us and redirects it to where it should be – God. Perhaps the only way those infected with narcissism will come to realise this is exactly what they are looking for (and need) is when they see its beauty and power in the lives of those whom it has already redeemed. These redeemed ones are those who live lives of Godward worship and thus experience the peace and joy in the midst of life’s inevitable storms that result. By surrendering to God in worship, a person is coming home to where they have always belonged. We were all created to worship God – the One who is altogether beautiful and magnificent. Worship is offered by an act of surrender to our God and is an acknowledgment of His right to rule our lives. We can worship God in our car, in our home, in our workplace, in a shopping centre, by continually having our hearts surrendered to God. But the most powerful, beautiful, natural, form of worship is when we sing. Christianity sings its worship. This leads me to my concluding thought and the second (and essential) component for the healing and recovery of any narcissist.
THE THERAPEUTIC COMMUNITY OF THE REDEEMED
The Gospel is the remedy for people infected by narcissism. But its full potency can only be experienced within the community of the redeemed. This is why God has designed for everyone to be in a family.
Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. Psalm 68:5-6 NLT
But not everyone’s experience of family has been what God intended. This is why the definition of ‘family’ in the gospel is much broader than just our immediate kin. It encompasses the community of the redeemed – the local church! This is why the New Testament uses family language to describe the members of a local church.
¶ Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. First Timothy 5:1-2
This is why coming together each Sunday as the community of the redeemed is like good medicine for the recovering narcissist. It inspires them to lift their vision off of themselves and onto the One whom they were made for; and, it puts them in proximity with brothers and sisters with whom they can be seen and see which reminds them that God’s plan for them is to be a blessing to others in Jesus’ Name. Simply being in church on Sunday, even when you don’t feel like it, is good for our restless souls. And it is definitely something worth reflecting on for those whose souls are aching with the same deception that ended up drowning the mythological Narcissus.
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Augustine of Hippo, “Confessions”
Each Friday morning, Kim and I go on a ‘coffee date’. It’s always interesting exploring the various new options which keep springing up around Launceston. I think we have sampled every coffee shop in our city now, but there are a handful which we like to regularly visit. Most of our favourite coffee shops are also some of the most popular ones in town as well – and I think it has little to do with the coffee. In fact, what’s interesting about going to one of these half dozen regularly frequented (and popular) coffee shops is just how often people have to walk past another coffee shop to get there (where the coffee is often just as good). Each of Launceston’s most favourite coffee shops all do the same thing well whereas the least popular ones don’t – and probably don’t realise it!
One of our favourite coffee shops has now become incredibly popular. Sometimes it’s hard to get a seat there. Yet, whenever I go in there, James, the owner, always greets me by name. His staff are well trained, efficient, and courteous. But I’m not sure that even these things continually attract us back there. It’s not a particularly big shop. In fact, customers happily spill out onto the side-walk most days because there’s no more room inside the shop. This is despite there being an even bigger coffee shop right next door which is comparatively empty most of the time.
This is not the only coffee shop where this happens. Recently, one of our other preferred places for our Friday morning coffee had a change of manager. This lady used to run her own coffee shop over in Inveresk. Before that she ran a coffee shop in George Street. Both of these under her management were really great places to enjoy a coffee with someone. Her presence at the Launceston’s waterside coffee shop has made an immediate improvement. Probably without realising it, she has now done what James has also done. And I think there’s some valuable lessons for us to learn from them.
View of Kings Bridge Launceston
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17
In each of these few cafés there is a very clear message which I might describe as a theme. I choose the word themebecause this ‘message’ comes across in the décor, the menus, the furniture, the demeanour of the staff, the cleanliness, the quality and presentation of the food and beverages, the availability of parking, and the prices – yet, unlike many other businesses, this ‘message’ is no where displayed in text. It is an unwritten theme which pervades everything they do – and it is so obvious, it doesn’t need to be written and hung on a wall! This unwritten theme appears each time a guest visits these cafés which tells them that the café is very intentional about being thematic. While some coffee places focus on taking your order and collecting your money without much thought to presenting an appealing theme to their customers, these thematic cafés present a subtle theme most of their guests probably aren’t even aware of even though they keep coming back because they appreciate it so much. This message of this theme whispers softly, “Welcome! … Make yourself at home … We’re here for you … Enjoy what we’ve prepared for you … We hope you enjoy being here with the one you’ve come here with or are meeting here … And we’ll be here for you when you come back!”
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24
THEMES NEED TO BE CONSISTENT
These ‘thematic’ cafés are consistent with their message. This includes their colour scheme, their art, and even their counters where their cakes and pastries are displayed. Most of them, if not everyone of them, have a visible kitchen to the dining area so that their guests can see how their food is prepared for them. Even this sends a message as part of their theme that they have nothing to hide, and you can be assured that we are doing all we can to ensure your time with us as our guest is the most enjoyable it can be.
Notice the little girl at the dinner table reading the family’s theme
Families need to be consistent in oder to develop their theme. As much as guests in a café or restaurant need consistency to feel comfortable, so children need their parents to be consistent so that they can read their family’s ‘theme’. This is why family meal times at a dinner table are probably more important than most realise. It is here that those most important elements of a theme are reinforced: mood, message, manner. This is where children discover what’s important to mum and dad. When dad asks their children about their day, how their team went, what they’ve read, it reinforces the family’s theme. On a Sunday, when mum and dad take going to church seriously – as an important act of devotion to Christ and an integral part of their family worship – they are reinforcing their family’s theme of honouring Christ in all they do (conversely when they choose to not go to church on a Sunday that also sends a clear message to their children about Christ and His bride).
CHURCHES HAVE A THEME
We can learn something from these coffee places that have a clear theme. By developing our theme that Christ is Lord and has a deep love for all people and wants His bride to reflect that Lordship and love to our community, we preach more than just what comes from the pulpit each Sunday! How we present our facilities; how we welcome people; whether we lead our worship with energy and passion or not; how our preachers prepare and deliver their messages; how we engage during our worship; and how interact after our services – all reveals what our real theme is. When new attenders join us on a Sunday are they experiencing our theme of Christ is Lord and has a deep love for them? I believe they are because I hear them tell me they do. I am so grateful as the pastor of our church that we are intentionally developing our church’s theme so clearly. Of course, it’s not just what our church does on a Sunday that projects our theme. It’s also how we interact on a Monday – and not just our church’s staff – each of us. And in this new digital era it’s also how we present ourselves digitally. (This is why we are now rebuilding our entire website and refining our social media presence to reflect our theme even more clearly.)
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. First Peter 4:8-11
This year, you can expect to hear an important aspect of our theme reflected from our platform: God is the Redeemer. Redemption is going to feature in just about everything you hear from us this year because it is a small twist in holding up the diamond of our grand theme to the light. In a world where more and more people are being hurt, redemption is needed more than ever. It is what Christ does for those who are lost, lonely, broken, confused, and hurting. To be redeemed is to be rescued, set free, healed, and given a new life. Redemption involves turning disadvantage into advantage. Redemption involves our weaknesses becoming a source of our strength.
¶ You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever! Psalm 30:11-12
I hope more and more people appreciate our church’s theme in much the same that Kim and I appreciate the theme of the coffee places I’ve been talking about. They may not even recognise the particulars of our theme, but they’ll enjoy and benefit from it. I suspect over the course of this year we’ll see more and more people prepared to travel on a Sunday to experience it at Legana. I also expect that we’ll see people who have arrived here from many different parts of this world joining us as well. We’ll continue to make people who have never had a church background feel especially welcome. We’ll also continue to welcome younger, older, single, married, divorced, men, women, religious, irreligious, into our church family as well. And hopefully, I won’t be the only one who senses a theme in our church.