We live in arguably the most individualistic culture in one of the most individualistic periods in history. The proof alone can be found in the 2013 Oxford University Press word of the year—“selfie.”
Apparently Microsoft Word hasn’t trended toward self-centeredness yet. It doesn’t recognize the word.
But we do. Boy, do we ever.
Consider that nearly 45 million pictures on Instagram alone are tagged with the word selfie. There’s even more than that on Twitter. In fact, #selfies are so popular today that Facebook has more than Twitter and Instagram combined.
I want to clear the air before I go further—I don’t hate all selfies, just most of them. I don’t need to see your curves, cleavage, abs, or behind on social media. Especially through a mirror.
What bothers me most is that we’re living in a selfie generation.
Without belaboring the point, consider one last piece of evidence. Research on college students over the past 30 years reveals that narcissism (or self-centeredness) increased by 30%, while empathy (the ability to step into the shoes of another) decreased by 40%.[i]
So what’s this have to do with God’s plan for our life?
I want to humbly admit that I’m as much a part of the selfie generation as anybody. Though I don’t take or post selfies, I am as self-centered as they come. First, because it’s my sin nature. And secondly, because I live in the most individualistic culture at one of the most individualistic times in history, and everything I say, do, think, and act on is through this lens. I cannot separate myself from it.
And therein lies the problem.
Our Christian faith is tainted by the culture we live in. We read our Bible through a #selfie lens. We pray through a #selfie lens. We give thanks through a #selfie lens. We meet in small groups through a #selfie lens. We even preach and teach from the pulpit on Sunday morning through a #selfie lens.
Yet, as I read my Bible, I’m reminded by Paul that in order to become a more loving, joyful, patient, peaceful, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled person, I must crucify my #selfie with all its passions and desires.
My journey to becoming more like Christ is supposed to be less of self, not more.
But as Western Christians, our cultural lenses taint our faith journey. We take verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and plaster it on all kinds of trinkets, claim it as our verse that God has a plan for me to prosper and have a hope and future, yet we never really look at the verse in its proper cultural context. We just assume it’s God’s verse for me in 21st century America.
I know this because I’ve done it.
I thought God had a plan for me. But it was through my Western #selfie lens. I was told for years by well meaning Christians that “God’s plan for my life” was amazing!
Maybe you’ve been told something like it. And you got excited. Perhaps it meant that God was going to make you popular. Make you wealthy. Give you the ideal spouse. The perfect family. Even provide you with a rewarding and influential career.
Or maybe you thought it meant you were going to be a Christian celebrity. Even have your own TV show. Write a best seller. Or have people knocking at your door to have you speak at their events.
Here’s where God’s plan for your life is a myth.
In a #selfie culture, we must be very careful how we encourage other Christians. They’re taking in what we say through a Western lens.
The other morning I was reading Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and I was struck by his suggestion that when God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he didn’t have Moses in mind.
He had His people in mind!
Does God want to use me? Absolutely He does. But He wants to use me to further His Kingdom, not mine.
I'm not saying God doesn't want to bless me either. I believe he wants what's best for his children. But that doesn't always mean what we think it does in 21st century America. I think his blessing me oftentimes looks more like Roman 5:3-5.
God’s plan for my life is about His people—people He wants to lead back to Himself.
And if I don’t get my #selfie out of the way, He’ll use somebody else.
Perhaps we need to begin changing how we pray, asking God instead what His plan is for His people—and how we could be privileged to take part.
Joshua Straub, Ph.D. serves as the Marriage and Family Strategist for LifeWay Christian Resources and is the President and Cofounder of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower parents, spouses and families. Josh speaks and writes on emotionally safe parents and spouses and the influence of technology on today's family. He is the author of the newly released Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well (Waterbrook Multnomah) and along with his wife, Christi, is the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st Century. Josh and his Canadian wife Christi reside in Nashville, TN with their son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy.
For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century, you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.comand follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.
[i] Twenge, J. & Campbell, W. K. (2010). The narcissism epidemic. New York: Free Press.