Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Narcissism, Depression, and Other Obstacles to Freedom

For a long time, I have known that the number one obstacle to freedom in Christ is our propensity to depend on our sarks, or our flesh, rather than on the Holy Spirit. In the early 90’s, when one of my mentors told me to expect to see church folk more committed to self-protection than to knowing and doing the will of God, I was shocked. Twenty-five years later, not so much.

Last night I was listening to another mentor sharing about how to minister to narcissistic people.[1] He said that narcissism is essentially a fear-based response to shame. Focusing only on one’s admirable qualities protects one’s heart from thinking about the shameful things that have happened to us, or that we have done.

The Narcissist expresses his or her self-protection in the distinctive characteristic of self-justification. They are never wrong; criticism against them is never right. They are willing to attack, explode with demeaning expressions of anger, shame, and threaten shame on our loved ones, in order to justify themselves, and defend their own shame-filled hearts.

The only cure to sarkiness of any kind, especially this fleshly dependence on self-justification, is to set our minds on the Holy Spirit of the Living God. Paul uses the whole of Romans 7 to show us the damaging and deadly work of our flesh (sarks), and Romans 8 to glorify the supremacy of life in the Spirit.[2]

I can’t believe how many times I have heard depressed Christians defend their depression as some inherent right because it is a sickness they cannot help. God’s Spirit is the cure to our depression, as surely as he is the cure to our fears, and our lack of faith.

He is also the cure to our narcissism, or the narcissism in others, if only we would be willing to deny our selves (sarks/flesh), and be filled with God’s Holy Spirit instead.

What stands out to me these days as the wonderful way of connecting our own sarkiness (no matter how it is expressed) to the ministry of God’s Holy Spirit, is the way Paul prayed for people in Ephesians 1 and 3.[3] In particular, I am impacted by the things Paul prayed for our inner selves, or our hearts.

Why is this so important? Because our propensity to depend on ourselves (sarkiness) causes us to surround our inner selves with walls of self-protection. Narcissism is a shame-based self-protection designed to keep everyone from knowing what has happened to our hearts. Depression is a self-protective numbing of our hearts so we do not have to feel what is in there.

So, the things Paul prayed for our hearts, or our inner selves, is hugely significant in presenting hope and healing to sarky people. Even when it looks hopeless in addressing someone’s narcissism because they become so cruel in their self-justification, or when our attempts to speak hope into the hearts of depressed people seems to do nothing more than fortify their attempts to avoid feeling anything at all, we still have prayer, and prayer to someone much greater than our hearts.

As the apostle John wrote, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”[4]

Many church folk never discover this reality, that God is greater than our hearts, and, because he knows everything, he can do a far greater job of protecting our hearts than we have done. Narcissism and depression do not work at liberating our hearts from guilt, shame, and fear. But God is greater than our hearts, and so we pray for each other according to his revealed will.

What stood out to me this morning from Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1 was this little phrase, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened”.[5] Please study the whole prayer, but, for the moment, consider God’s will for you and I, that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened.

Why do we hide the eyes of our hearts behind walls of self-protection and self-justification? Because the eyes of our hearts have seen too much of shame, and guilt, and fear, and have protected our hearts the only way they have known how, by sarky self-dependence.

The way we pray is that God would enlighten the eyes of our hearts. God, my depressed brothers or sisters cannot see how good and glorious you are, so please enlighten the eyes of their hearts. My narcissistic loved ones cannot see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, so please enlighten the eyes of their hearts so they will hunger and thirst for your righteousness by faith to replace their deadly self-protection.

After considering this one little phrase, I looked up others that declare God’s good plans and intentions for our hearts. I list them here in point form so you can pray through them for yourself and any narcissistic, and depressed, and sarky, people you face in your life today.

Look at all these provisions God has made for our hearts:

·         “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6)
·         “having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9)
·         “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5)
·         “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6)
·         “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17)
·         “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7)
·         “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ” (Colossians 2:2)
·         “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15)
·         “that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (I Thessalonians 3:13)
·         “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (II Thessalonians 3:5)
·         “’This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds’” (Hebrews 10:16)
·         “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22)

We may have zero encouragement that a narcissistic loved one is open to considering what is wrong with them, but we have complete encouragement to pray for them according to the revealed will of God. We may think we have failed in every attempt to encourage a depressed loved one to put their hope in the Lord, but we cannot fail when we pray for them according to the will of God and seek what God would do for them through his Spirit that we can never do in our own strength.

The bottom line is that there is far too much we can pray for one another for us to accept narcissism, or depression, or any other sarky self-dependence, as is. We can accept that people are starting there, but we must pray that God will lead them to be the worshipers who worship in spirit and truth,[6] no sarky hindrances allowed.

No matter how hopeless someone appears, pray these things, watch for what God is doing, and then join him in his answers to prayer, even if they begin with the person in the mirror (his usual modus operandi). God has given us the things to pray according to his will, so pray without ceasing, and with great expectation.

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Characterized by “excessive self-admiration and self-centeredness’ (Encarta).
[2] Romans 7:1-25; Romans 8:1-39
[3] Ephesians 1:15-23; Ephesians 3:14-21
[4] I John 3:19-20
[5] Ephesians 1:18
[6] Jesus’ revelation that the kind of worshipers the Father is seeking are those who “will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23) has been a great encouragement to us in praying for people to have the freedom to do so!

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