Stop Taking Yourself So Seriously

Disclaimer: I’ve had several friends tell me my recent posts have sobered them and made them think twice about their own spirituality in regard to illness. I feel a deep need to clarify my thoughts with this follow-up. This isn’t a correction to anyone, just the other side of the coin which I so often fail to articulate.

When I was in college, I was that guy. I could recite Hebrew and Greek from memory, bench 295, ride a bike 50 miles no sweat, and even perform 5-8 minutes pieces on the piano on weekends. At each discipline I degraded myself when I didn’t measure up to my standards. Spiritually, I was the same way. Electrified. Everything was a spiritual lesson to change my life. When I saw a sunset or a cross or even a smiling baby on the bike ride I was convinced it was a divine message of God’s love for me. I would get very philosophical about simple things, absolutely oblivious to the power of endorphins.

And I took those ridiculously high expectations into my spiritual walk. I mistook simple, everyday things to be some sort of spiritual moment: every trivial trial was a hill to die on, every feeling of happiness a sign of God’s pleasure with me.

And it was all roses until the oven got too hot for me to handle. I had no experience with that intense heat, that burning suffering, and could make no spiritual connections anymore. Volatile. Then one day my professor, Dr. Varner, said to me, “Adam, you’ve just got to stop taking yourself so seriously.”

Well, I thought, if he only knew how serious all this really is! Of course he knew how serious all that really was, but he also knew the thing it would take a solid year of bedridden sickness to teach me. He knew how small I really was, how slow I learn and grow, and how easy and human it is to overthink everything. A pious young man seeking godliness will make a mountain out of any molehill and call himself a saint for doing so. Go to a Christian (or otherwise religious) college or seminary—you’ll see. Dr. Varner is a wise man, and that advice has never left my mind.

In the last couple posts I’ve been focusing on the more spiritual lessons I’ve drawn out of my time in this extended suffering. But that isn’t the whole story. I am also dying to communicate this simple message Dr. V. taught me.

Stop taking yourself so seriously.

Instead of philosophizing and finding spiritual lessons in everything, often God just wants us to be good humans. Solve problems, promote peace, love others, remain faithful, get through the trial in one piece, cry when we are hurting, etc. It’s very spiritual to say suffering is about holiness—which it is—but never let me fail to say that suffering is also about alleviating it.

We suffer so that God can comfort us, and God does that through the encouragement of family and friends, the wisdom and skills of doctors and the healing qualities of medicines.

My point: given the choice, I’d choose a good doctor over a prayer session. Maybe I’ve just confessed my “earthiness.” But, the great news is God doesn’t make us choose between earthly and heavenly. We are to do both. Because we are both: both soul and body. Jesus is both too, and he healed both people’s bodies and their souls. We are to grow in holiness while simultaneously doing everything we can to alleviate our pain. Jesus would do no less.