I’ve not done a book review before, but I’m about to. I read constantly. I read the Bible, and commentaries, because there’s so much to learn and I love learning it, and because the Bible makes sense of life (it has, after all, been given to us by the creator and ruler of the universe). I read a lot of fiction, and political commentary (hmmm… sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two). And nonfiction as well.
Last year I read “Think Again: Relief From the Burden of Introspection,” by Jared Mellinger.The title caught my eye because, as you might have guessed, I’m a deeply introspective person. I’m prone to reliving every action and comment of my day, with myself in the starring role, of course. You don’t have introspection without massive feelings of guilt, just like you don’t have bacon without eggs. Okay, maybe sometimes you do, but they usually go together. Hundreds of times in my life I’ve been told that I take everything too seriously, and that I should stop. Well, let’s change my eyes from hazel to brown while we’re at it. It will be just as successful. We’re all wired differently, and this is the wiring I was born with.
Healthy introspection isn’t bad, but too much of it is toxic. In my case, perfectionism combined with introspection, plus being an oldest child, is a bad thing. Mr. Mellinger describes it well, which I can’t quote here without violating copyright, but basically he says that awareness of sin and failure overtakes us. We are exhausted by guilt that should be left at the cross. God’s incredible grace through Jesus Christ is greater than our failures.
This is foundational Christian theology that I learned early in life, but have struggled to experience. Maybe you’re shocked by that admission, but maybe not. Evangelical Christians, for all our talk of amazing grace, are human. And humans, even Christian humans, have the ability to make everything about themselves, instead of making everything about God’s glory.
Let me explain. Being overly introspective, which leads to a feeling that I’m the lone person in the universe who’s too sinful to forgive, is nothing more or less than pride. It’s making myself an idol. If I meet my standards of perfection, which seldom if ever occurs, I’m awesome. If I fail, which is a given, I’m devastated. If you’re not an introspective perfectionist you may not understand this. But the fact that someone wrote a book about it is proof that there are a lot of us. We have the theology down, but we struggle with our feelings.
The best part of Mellinger’s book is that it points you to Jesus – no self-help here, because self-help is impossible. My favorite chapter is “Cheer Up, You’re Worse Than You Think.” I love this! Mellinger throws us into the pit (or more correctly, shows us the deepness and hopelessness of the pit), only to show us the way out. Sometimes we’re too down on ourselves. Other times we try to fool ourselves into thinking we’re actually not that bad, because the reality is too hard to deal with. Either way, we’re looking at ourselves, not Jesus. Our hearts should be broken by our sin – we have to face it squarely. But we can’t let our sin break our hope in Christ, who loves us more than we can imagine, and who has conquered sin.
The author tells of a time as a teenager when he refused to get out of the family van to take in the view of a sapphire blue lake in Wyoming, with the Grand Tetons in the distance. He was told it was magnificent, but he only ever saw it on a postcard, because he wouldn’t get out of the van. He says that’s what extreme introspection is like. We spend all our time in the van, meditating on what miserable failures we are.
Only Jesus can deliver me from this. As Mellinger says, I am so sinful that he had to die for me, but I am so loved that he was glad to die for me. When I fail, his grace covers me, and the resulting joy leads to confidence and humility, and I desire to be like him. My joy is in Christ, not in my own wonderfulness. This is incredibly freeing.
A true understanding of the gospel gets us out of the van, taking in the glorious view of our incredible Savior. We are able to focus on him, not ourselves. The knowledge of his powerful grace rolls over us like the incoming tide, relentless and dependable. The more we understand grace, the more able we are to give grace. Reading the Bible isn’t enough; it’s making it real in how we live that makes the difference.
I’m spending a lot more time out of the van than I used to. It’s pretty sweet out here. If you’re stuck in the van, open the door and stick out your head for a minute or two. Breathe in a lungful of pure, grace-filled air. Be amazed at the view of Christ’s unbelievable love and forgiveness.
“In Christ I have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on me with all wisdom and understanding” (The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 1:7).