Get Over Yourself (by Changing the Way You Read Scripture)
Words by Sarah Pape // Image by Dianne Jago
I caused a scene at church this week. The pastor was teaching out of Psalm 139, a passage I know well and have tagged as the “fearfully and wonderfully made” chapter. As he read over those particular verses, the pastor playfully commented that Christian women all over the world likely have some memorabilia with these verses embroidered on it.
I belly laughed. Like, loudly. The comment seemed to hover above the heads of my immediate company, so much so that my very audible burst of laughter felt out of place; but I knew that it wasn’t out of place at all. It was funny because it’s true. Somewhere tucked away in the attic at home I still have the coffee mug I got when I was 13 that says, “Fearfully and wonderfully made.” This is but one item of Psalm 139 paraphernalia I have accumulated over the years from attending events for Christian women.
The chapter is an undeniably rich passage; please don’t hear me suggesting otherwise. What intrigues me is the notion that this passage has become a laughable cliché associated with women’s ministry—as if the two go hand-in-hand. Having attended innumerable such events, I can confidently say that the cliché is not off base.
This begs the question, why? Of all 1,189 chapters in the Bible, why is so much emphasis consistently put on this one particular chapter, focusing particularly on these two verses? The passage is true—we are fearfully and wonderfully made, by an indescribably powerful, creative, and intricate God. Nine times out of ten we happen to overlook those minor details about the grandiose character of the Lord. This passage and these verses are generally taught in a context that focuses more on our value as God’s creation than the value of God himself, as the Creator.
Our twenty-first century, secular culture is enticing women to believe that we need to love ourselves. We are told that it is as necessary as food, shelter and water. After all, how could I possibly love anyone else if I don’t first love myself? We are encouraged to accept ourselves just as we are—whatever size, shape, background, education, socioeconomic status—love yo’ self, and shake the haters. We are reminded through the anthems of female icons that we don’t need anybody else; it always has been and always will be about me, myself, and I.
As Christian women, we kind of dig this philosophy, but we also know better. We hold our heads high and carefully analyze the matter: Like, do I simply accept habitual sin and just coexist with it? That can’t be right. How do I avoid complacency and accept myself just the way I am? I know I need to be more like Jesus, and “just the way I am” has got a long way to go! We know better than to be lulled by these seductive self-love statements. Good Christian women are supposed to love Jesus first, others second, and ourselves last, because, like, Philippians 2, duh. So we make our new year’s resolution, “He must increase and I must decrease 2016,” and concoct a detailed regimen on how we will specifically “decrease” ourselves this year (Yes, that legitimately has been my new year’s resolution three years in a row).
Rather than adhere to the social movement of self-infatuation, we overcompensate so as to not love ourselves too much, lest we begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We repackage this homemade ideology and call it humility. We then spend the rest of our days trying to wrap our minds around the audacity of the Gospel, that this Jesus might not be constantly disappointed with us and that he might have even made us on purpose. I say all this in jest, because Lord knows this has been my personal thought process, but beneath the playful delivery exists a greater underlying issue.
Please notice that there’s a common denominator in both the secular and the Christian scenarios: self. Being fixated on our unworthiness and our insecurities is no better than being fixated on how great we think we are; the matter of self remains the focal point. So it’s really not surprising that women’s ministries spend so much time harping on these two verses from Psalm 139; it’s more or less course-correcting damage control to remind us, or rather convince us, that God does in fact love us and does not make mistakes. This is not altogether a bad thing. It is, however, somewhat concerning that this has become necessary to revisit before the body of Christian women. I fear that in doing so we have become fixated on finding ourselves in the passage and consequently have missed God.
I have been reading the Bible since I was a child and have only recently come to find that I’ve been doing it all wrong. Maybe you can relate—ask yourself, what is your favorite verse in Scripture? Now, do you like that verse because of what it says about God, or what it says about you?
Let’s use one of my favorites as an example. Proverbs 31:25 is my jam; I am all about that life. Don’t mind me, just over here trying to “laugh at the days to come.” I have been so taken with what my life could look like, or what I should strive to be like, that I never noticed that this verse, or really the entire Noble Wife passage, doesn’t explicitly mention God one time. I’m finding that this same approach applies not just to this passage, but also to Psalm 139 and countless others as well. I’ve developed a habit of reading Scripture to see what it says about me, and if I learn about God too, bonus! I’m not saying it’s wrong to love any specific passage; I’m simply suggesting that we start taking notice of why we love these passages to get a pulse of how we are reading Scripture.
The continual repetition and redirection back to the “fearfully and wonderfully made” part of Psalm 139 carries certain implications with it. It implies that we must first be convinced of our own loveliness, our own worth, and our own individuality before we can ever move forward. We have started to read Scripture to see what it teaches us about ourselves, rather than to first learn what it says about who God is.
Should we not channel this same amount of energy and effort into discovering Christ’s loveliness, his worth, and his individuality? Should we not aggressively realign the way we read a passage of Scripture, seeking to find what it tells us about God instead of what it tells us about ourselves? This is a humble invitation, from a very guilty product of this time and this culture, to get over yourself.
We were fearfully and wonderfully made, and that is nothing short of a miracle. But let’s move along. Spoiler alert: this life is not about us and our happiness; it’s about God and his glory being displayed through his redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of mankind. And he uses us, all things considered, to take part in that. Yes ma’am, we weren’t the backup plan, either; he wrote that into the story (see Psalm 139:16, and yes, there is a verse 16). C.S. Lewis says that we meet no mere mortals; everyone who walks the earth is an eternal being and will spend eternity somewhere. People are brushing shoulders with us every single day on their way to an eternity in one of two places. Dare I say that the redemptive plan of the Lord is a bigger deal than my dress size? Him receiving glory from all mankind is actually more pressing of an issue than my feeling insecure when I compare myself to other women. Half the time I don’t recognize my opportunities to share Jesus with someone else because I’m too busy worrying about whether or not she will like me. We don’t have time for this. Let us not spend another minute looking inward at ourselves to see what we don’t like, or outward toward others to see what we want to be. Let us instead look upward, to the Lord, and ask him to reveal himself, rather than ourselves, to us.