Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A world of empty selves

The book I am currently reading as part of my devotional time is Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life by J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler. In the first chapter they  discuss how self-centered most people are. Such people tend to view everything and everyone based upon the pleasure they bring them. They refer to such people as "empty selves."

They quote a description of an empty self by Philip Cushman, "The empty self is filled up with consumer goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists." They then discuss several traits of empty selves.

  • The empty self is inordinately individualistic.
  • The empty self is infantile.
  • The empty self is narcissistic.
  • The empty self is passive.
You can't read such words without immediately thinking about people who would qualify as an empty self. I thought of many people in the media, in the entertainment industry, in sports, and in political office. I also thought of some people I know in the ministry. In the church I pastored there were a few empty selves who created what problems we had.

One of the primary problems of the empty self is that he or she is seldom satisfied. That's why they have to have the latest gadget when it comes out even if they have to stand in line all night to get one. It's why they buy things on credit that they don't even need. It's why they go from one relationship to another, eat too much or too little, and jump around from one thing to another. They are trying to find something that will satisfy, something that will make them happy. And when it doesn't work, they move on to the next thing.

We should not think that it is just bad things that empty self people seek. I wonder how many advanced degrees have been pursued by ministers who were really looking for something that would fulfill them as a person. Could being a workaholic really be a sign that one is an empty self? How many empty selves have gone into the ministry seeking to be affirmed as a person in hopes that would satisfy the emptiness they felt?

The danger of spending too much time reflecting on such things and trying to identify the people who would qualify as an empty self is that eventually you find times when you fit the description. I hate it when that happens! But it does, and it did. More times than I like to admit I've shown some of the traits of an empty self.

So what's the answer? I'm still early in the book so I can't go into much detail, but the authors point out that the ancients believed that true happiness was a life of virtue and character with a deep sense of well-being. Such a life comes through practicing the spiritual disciplines that help us achieve such happiness. The remainder of the book points out how to practice these disciplines.

I don't normally recommend a book I haven't completed, but this book is having an impact on me even though I've just started reading it. I find it explains a lot of the issues I've faced in my life, and it helps a pastor better understand those he or she is serving. I believe the wisdom contained in this book will help anyone grow in his or her personal and spiritual life.

Most of us, at one time or another, will demonstrate some of the qualities of an empty self. We need to be able to recognize when that is occurring in our lives and the steps we need to take to address it. I think this book can help us do that.

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