On the morning of Jack’s 5th birthday, he wakes up and says good morning to all of the things he loves in his world: “Hello TV!” “Hello sink!” In the moments that follow, he tells a delightful narrative of his existence in this world that he calls “Room.”
But his narrative is not reality.
The movie Room is about Jack and his mother, Ma. As the story unfolds, you realize that Ma has shielded Jack from the harsh truth that “Room” is a shed in which they are held captive.
Jack has never been outside of its walls.
Jack was born into this shed. It is sound proof. It has a steel door. It has no windows, only a skylight above. Ma has been held here by a man who abducted her when she was a teenager. When this man visits at night, Ma hides Jack in the bottom of an old wardrobe—attempting to close Jack off from the reality she wants so badly to protect him from.
But Jack won’t fit in the wardrobe forever. Ma decides it’s time to tell him the truth. For the first time, she tells him of the outside world in which she had a life, a world in which everything that he dreams of, like his imaginary dog, is real. In so doing, she presents Jack with a new reality, a life greater than the one in which he currently lives.
Jack doesn’t respond with childlike wonder: “This story is boring! I want a different story!” he yells. “Too bad!” Ma replies, “This is the story you get.”
Jack’s world crumbles in the face of reality outside the walls that have been his comfort. He cries out to hang on to this world that he knows, to retreat back into it despite the proposal of something different and even better, and to avoid it at all costs.
Ma is the voice of reason: Son, this is the story you get, this is the world we’ve got. But there’s a world out there worth risking all that we have now, because that’s the only chance at life we get.
Jack reminds me of myself. Every time I am faced with a problem or a decision that will flip my world on its end, no matter how good the promised outcome, my response is usually: “No. Nope! Ha….did I say I actually wanted that new job/relationship/city/opportunity? Huh. That’s weird. Seems like hard, scary work. I’ll stay here. Thanks so much though.”
Instead of embracing the season ahead, I retreat back into comfort, what I know and can control.
Where’s the beef?: Without vision, people perish. They whine a lot too.
Jack and I, we’re not alone. The Israelites did this too. After nearly 400 years of slavery, Pharaoh decreed to release the Israelites.
God’s people packed up, looted the Egyptians, and high-tailed it to the promise land Moses told them about. They walked straight to the shores of the Red Sea, when, with an army at their heels, God parted it to usher them into a new world.
But they didn’t get there quite yet. There were a few more miles and circumstances to endure on their way to the land God promised. For all practical purposes, things were going fine…
until someone brought up meat.
And you know what? Meat sounded pretty good by that point.
“Hey Moses!” they called out, “You know, we at least had meat in Egypt! …Huh? What’s that about leaving 400 years of slavery, looting our captors, walking through a sea, and heading towards a land flowing with milk and honey? Well… I don’t know about that, but I know the meat was good. Sucks that we’re here, in the wilderness, on our way to a place we’ve never been, eating this bread that God causes to miraculously fall out of the sky each day.” (paraphrased)
This is a problematic pattern for humans.
In Room, a clear antagonist kept Ma and Jack from freedom, and Ma knew that the only way out and into freedom was solving the problem at hand and choosing to move through it towards life on the other side.
But she had seen the promise and had lived it, Jack had not.
Jack’s willingness to believe Ma, to trust her, and to work with her to change his narrative and participate in Ma’s plan propels them forward as characters in the film.
The process of participating in God’s plan is hard to do, especially when, like me, you’re a recovering narcissist.
Reality Check: It really isn’t about you.
God has me in a season of making decisions about how to move forward in life. No matter the decision, I find myself stuck in a state of indecision, lamenting over the task ahead.
I’m stuck because I’ve idolized my own efforts instead of trusting God’s sovereignty, I’ve traded in approval from God for approval of those I respect or even merely want to like me, and I’ve overestimated my own abilities to impact change in the world on my terms.
In my life, narcissism has distorted the truth and replaced God’s narrative with another.
In the context of social change, narcissism conditions us to crave the approval of others and to invest our time and talents into our own vision of saving the world. It replaces hope in a world renewed with the hope for applause and notoriety.
But you tend to dislike yourself, you say? Choosing to wallow in self-pity, self-loathing, self-hate, or false humility—it’s narcissism. It’s searching for the wonders of creation in your belly button. It’s focusing on your ability above God’s, your perceived lack above God’s abundance, your perspective above God’s, and your prestige over God’s purpose.
Feeling burnt out from good-deeding? I’ve been there. That is a difficult, painful, and downright disillusioning place to be. I’m sorry you’re experiencing it. But that can be narcissism too, because often our tendency to “do overtime” for God is rooted in self-righteousness and works, fueled by a performance mentality or guilt, and results in more self-effort rather than the grace, goodness, and glory of God.
When you boil all this down, the self-absorption, self-idolization, and self-consciousness of our modern “narcissism”—you will find pride.
No, narcissism doesn’t move us in the direction of God’s promises.
It does the opposite.
It goeth before a fall.
You Sow, You Reap: Narcissism’s Fruit
God hasn’t called us to live for ourselves. He has called us to lay down our lives for others—in the world that Romans 8 says “eagerly longs for the revealing of the sons of God.”
In Room, Ma knew the truth and had the plan, Jack was faced with accepting reality and choosing to participate in it, and an enemy kept them in a state of captivity. We can see this interplay of characters today.
Poverty, injustice, and systemic evil keep the whole of creation in captivity. Often, blaring inconsistencies thwart our attempts to solve these problems. Most times, our great calls for action are matched with so-so follow up.We choose #indifference and #busyness as an excuse not to act Click To Tweet
We profess to have a God like Ma. A loving, faithful God we can trust. A God who tells the truth and has a plan. A God so committed to our freedom that he sent a Messiah to flip history on its end, defy the status quo, reset reality, and make possible a life we have only dreamed of.
We profess it, but we don’t act like it.
Like Jack, we don’t respond in childlike wonder when the opportunity to move towards transformation (be it individual or societal) presents itself. Instead, we cry out in doubt and frustration for a different story.
And our enemy doesn’t mind. As long as we stay here, he’s got us right where he wants us.
In a time when the Church has ample, near hyperactive access to information about these issues and arguably more skills, wealth, and social capitol to utilize in solving the problems facing the world, we choose indifference and busyness as an excuse not to act. We pass responsibility to others “more capable” or those in “occupational ministry” to do something about it all.
Fear makes us retreat into lives we can control. Lack of vision and lack of commitment to the difficult work ahead keeps us going in circles. Each of these reactions is rooted in narcissism, the focus on our comfort rather than our calling. A focus on ourselves instead of the God who created us for such a time as this.
Narcissism results in a perpetual wilderness in which we wander aimlessly, fashioning false narratives to make ourselves feel better about our existence. We pause only to yell at our circumstances, to talk about the good ol’ days when we had meat in Egypt.#Narcissism results in a perpetual wilderness in which we wander aimlessly Click To Tweet
Narcissism begets narcissism. It lacks the stuff to enact lasting change. It is a wilderness we will tarry in until the last of our generation dies out.
And creation groans.
God created us to accept His reality and work through the tension of the “already-not yet” nature of his Kingdom on earth. He uniquely fashioned us to stand up, take a look around, accept the truth of our circumstances, and then by faith move with Him to the full expression of Himself through his people on earth.
That promise is a world renewed. It is wholeness and freedom and health for those in our world who do not yet know these things exist. It is Heaven meeting earth and revealing a bit more of God and his people when it does, that secret bit of our created selves buried deep down beyond the problem, a strength and beauty and Christ-likeness just waiting to be fought for, uncovered, and fully experienced.
We will never be able to work towards or even see this world come about if our focus is our own ability, control, or comfort. Changing the world requires repentance from individual and corporate narcissism. It requires letting God reveal truth to us and a new narrative as we ask for the vision, endurance, and faith to fully participate in His plan.
This is the story you get. This is the world we’ve got. But there’s a world out there worth risking all we have now, because that’s the only real chance at life we get.
What are you going to do about it?
Are you ready to leave your Room?