It’s no secret that many of us have emotional issues of the soul that have been our lifelong companions. Many tears may have been shed in pleading with God to take it. He has not. And accepting defeat is not our style. So, what do we do? We probably begin a serious search for answers.
Where we search and how we go about searching is what I want to explore with you.
Introspection, in the sense of the observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes, may have a little value. Morbid Introspection, however, is an excessive, depressing, unhealthy, over examination of one’s own thoughts, feelings and emotional shortcomings. The result of which is often the opposite of what we’d hoped for — more inner turmoil, sometimes to the point of despair. In other words, over analyzing ourselves is not overly productive.
Many years ago my brother suggested I read a book titled, Handbook to Happiness – A Guide to Victorious Living and Effective Counseling. If it had been someone other than my brother, I may have procrastinated. The title sounded a little hokey for a Christian book. But, nohing could have been further from the truth. This was, and still is, my ‘go to’ resource book for understanding, spiritually, life’s many inner struggles.
One particular section of the book has always stuck with me. That brief, one page section is titled “Morbid Introspection”. That hit home for me because in times of turmoil my tendency has been to ask myself, “What is wrong with me?” and then, proceed to try to figure it out through excessive self-analysis!
Here’s the thing — “Many Christians… spend much time in looking inward… The result? The more they look inward, the more miserable they become, in spite of the fact that they may view their self-searching and self-condemnation as proof of their sincerity, or as a kind of punishment by which they get even with themselves … At best, our searching can only turn up garbage, and sorting garbage is a most depressing avocation. Too, if we could ever complete the interminable task, we would wind up with neatly sorted piles of garbage, but still blind to the source of all garbage–self.” — Charles Solomon, Handbook to Happiness
This mental picture of a mound of garbage sorted into neat piles of garbage remains fixed in my mind still today. It’s the result when I (as in, myself apart from Christ) decide to over-analyze my emotional issues. If copious amounts of self-searching were the answer, I would be fixed, cured, emotionally stable, without problems, always victorious. Sadly, not so. And, this morbid introspection could be part of the problem. Actually making things worse!
This begs the question: How Could Introspection Be Creating More Problems Instead of Fixing Them?
One possible problem is this — “If you are a subjective person prone to “thinking with your feelings,” bearing the scars of rejection from childhood and past painful circumstances, the possibility will be that of becoming discouraged. The introspective monitoring of your slow progress [of spiritual growth] will only hinder the release of Christ’s life and if you are not careful, you will become depressed!” — Eric Maddison
We are often mistaken when we hope that we can cope with disappointments by becoming self-absorbed and overly introspective. We often end up feeling sorry for ourselves, beating ourselves up, focusing on our suffering, and playing the role of a victim. Has rigorous introspection ever really worked for us? In honesty, we’d most likely answer, not as well as we’d hoped.
As Christians, when we are looking within, we are occupied more with counting on ourselves than counting on the work of Jesus in us. It is His work. His Power. His Wisdom. His Grace. Yet, we continue to try harder, all in our own self-effort, while Jesus waits for us to let Him do His work. Knowledge and insight are valuable but our eyes are in the wrong direction and we are looking at the wrong person when we practice morbid introspection. But when I look more to the Person of Jesus, His work, His character, His deity, All that He is, I find that being overly self-absorbed, loses much of it’s initial appeal.
I read an excerpt from the British preacher, Stephen Olford, where he talks about a time when he ‘was haunted by the memory of past defeats’. He said, ‘instead of turning to the Lord for deliverance, I tried to conquer the problem by self-effort. The result was disastrous!’ In desperation he went to hear a missionary speaker who said, “Do you know that such introspection is a violation of the principle of grace? God has condemned, crucified, and buried your ‘old self.’ What right have you to visit the cemetery of your moral past and dig up the bones?” Olford concluded, ‘the grace of God set me free!’
For those of us who are naturally curious — seekers, searchers, analyzers, researchers by profession, and the like — we might be wondering, Why Do I Continue to Be So Overly Introspective? Charles Solomon may be able to shed some light on that question: “When an overly introspective person ceases or attempts to cease this useless and harmful indulgence of self, he usually feels guilty for falling down on God’s job! He always fails at it because he is playing God. That is a sure way to fail.” (Ouch! Did that sting a little for you, too?)
Here’s how H. L. Roush describes this issue of introspection and how we might begin to change our perspective: “The testimony of the writers of the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments abound with a single theme: the faithfulness of God. No time is wasted in dwelling on the unfaithfulness of man, for every believer is well aware of the deceitful and desperately wicked heart within [the flesh]; and when walking under its influence and dragging its heavy chains of unbelief, his only hope is in the faithfulness of God. We are often defeated by a morbid introspection of the heart and mourning over our unbelief, our failure and sin, when the source of victory is not to be found in our hope of perfect obedience, but in the perfect faithfulness of God to us. We seem to forget that if we should succeed in doing all those things commanded us, an honest heart would still force us to say, “We are unprofitable servants…””
There it is then, at least for me — even if I, in all my self-effort, were to self-analyze until I thought I had my issues figured out, I would yet continue to be plagued by the feeling that it was still not enough. Do you know that feeling? Have you been in that place of ‘never enough’?
This excessive introspection which prompts us to feel such negativity is in direct opposition to the spiritual truths that God has given us in His Word. In other words, morbid introspection is self-defeating! This might be a good time to ask, How Do I Begin to Introspect Less?
As I’ve searched Scripture, I’ve found that there truly is a better way to deal with our inner struggles than to attempt problem solving by morbid introspection. God’s solutions are always far better than anything we can find within ourselves.
The cure for morbid introspection.
1. Look less at yourself and more at Christ. Look to Jesus. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
2. Believe God’s faithfulness. “Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God.” (Deuteronomy 7:9a) “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13) “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
3. Ask God to do the searching. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23, 24) Allow the Holy Spirit who dwells in us to bring conviction to our hearts. (see John 16: 8-11)
4. Repent when we err in lining up with God’s word. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
5. Beware of the enemy of your soul. Satan is known as ‘the accuser’ (see Revelation 12:10) and the ‘father of lies’ (see John 8:44). He distracts, discourages, and deceives us, attempting to turn us away from Christ our Advocate.
6. As Christians, we are ‘in Christ’ so, daily live in Him. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” (Colossians 2:6)
7. Be a blessing. Be love in action. Let Christ’s life live through you to bless others. “Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:11)
Charles Solomon continues with this thought in Handbook to Happiness: “During the day we do well to remind ourselves several times, “It is not I, but Christ” [Galatians 2:20] and to expect that He will govern our plans and actions. We are not to become introspective and test every thought and action to see if Christ is responsible or self or Satan. We are merely to commit the day and our life to Him and trust Him to control us and each situation to His glory. Committing, trusting, reckoning — all are terms indicative of a functional will.”
A century ago Jessie Penn-Lewis counseled with these words: “Look away to Calvary. The Lord Jesus died on your behalf, and as your Representative carried you with Him to His Cross. Are you honestly determined to part with every known sin, and willing for the death with Christ to be wrought out in your experience? Then from this crucial moment see yourself as nailed to the tree with your crucified Lord. Relying upon the Holy Spirit, and in faith in the word of God, ‘Let not sin therefore reign’… Hidden in Christ upon His Cross, and joined to Him in His life, thy part, O child of God, is the continual choice of thy will… Do not struggle with aught that comes to thee, but hand over all to Him Whose life thou dost share, and thou shalt find that He is able to deliver and to keep thee day by day.”
I’ll close with a Scriptural summary of what we’ve been examining. (And just in case you’re wondering, the irony of writing an introspective post on ‘introspection’ has not been lost on me. How about you?) : )
My summary is from Psalm 42: 5, 6. I’m often drawn here when my soul struggles in a dark place. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?”, the Psalmist asks, as he looks within himself in tiring introspection. He is searching, and though he is looking inward momentarily, he reasons with his soul to “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance”. Then, he leaves his self-analysis and speaks directly to God, to his God. “O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore I will remember You.”
I will remember God. My God. The faithful God who chose me, sent His Son to redeem me. He is able. Nothing is too hard for Him.
That morbid introspection with eyes turned inward takes on a whole new perspective when we look to Him, remember Who He is and what He’s done on our behalf. Did you notice it? Look up, out, away to your God. God’s perspective overcomes morbid introspection every time.