The drive for self-fulfillment is the Kool-Aid of our culture. Everybody wants to drink it.
“Live your best life”
“Become the best version of yourself”
“You do you”
Here’s the problem with me being me-- I won’t argue that I can’t or shouldn’t try to tease out a better version of myself--but at the end of the day the more I try to be me, the more disappointment I experience. That’s because when “you do you” all you get is you! And most of my problems in my life have come from me: bad judgment, poor decisions, lack of self-restraint, selfishness and greed.
Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a path before each person that seems right but it ends in death.” Self-fulfillment seems right. We set goals to achieve, to accumulate possessions and to attain status. But even if we get there we find ourselves hitting a wall. We get what we wanted and worked for but we are nowhere near as happy as we thought we were going to be. We thought self-fulfillment would mean life but it’s a dead disappointment. Why is that? So we double-down and set bigger goals and work harder than ever to achieve.
Where does this end? Many people reject Christianity out of hand because they are afraid that Christianity will interfere with their self-fulfillment. If they take seriously the Bible’s teaching about sex or money or power they won’t be able to “live their best life”; they’ll feel cheated out of being themselves.
One complication of “you do you” thinking is the definition of “you” is always changing. Fifty years ago most people thought of themselves as citizens. Citizens have rights and responsibilities. But today this has been erased in favor of the word consumer. We think of ourselves almost exclusively as consumers. We use to think of ourselves as people but today we are just viewers or listeners. Even in the church we used to think of ourselves as disciples but increasingly we talk about crowds—how many attendees were there at any given church event—what’s the size of the crowd? What is self-fulfillment in the age of consumers mean? Where does it take us? Right into a wall. Here's a better definition of the self: the self is the soul without God.
Jesus offers another way to look at life. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world but lose their soul?” (Luke 9:23-25)
He wants you to die to yourself and learn to suffer. What? Our culture has no place for suffering. Suffering just means you need to work harder and believe more. Suffering is something people seek to eliminate through self-fulfillment. But what if Jesus asks you for something? Your time? Your money? Your effort? A pastor remarked, “Have you ever noticed there are no inspiring stories of accumulation, only inspiring stories of sacrifice?” What if the fulfillment I seek doesn’t come from something I seek but from something I sacrifice?
Why is a life of self-fulfillment more attractive to me than a life of self-denial? May be I’ve been looking at things all wrong. May Jesus is right. I believe he is. In the words of the Proverb, what for me is the path that seems to lead to life but ends in death? What or who do I need to let go of?