"I’m going to hold my breath till I turn blue!”
Most parents have heard similar words from toddlers who don’t get their way. Outbursts like these are some of the earliest expressions of our fallen nature. Upon hearing this, a reasonable parent begins the long process of teaching the child that selfishness and temper tantrums are not appropriate. That would be a reasonable parent. Unfortunately, reason seems to be a diminishing quality in today’s parents. For many parents today, narcissism on steroids has replaced reason.
For example, many are shaking their collective heads over a bizarre situation playing out in football crazed Texas. A 14-year-old incoming freshman high school student tries out for the junior varsity cheerleading squad. This happens every year in big and small towns across America. What happened in Yorktown, Texas, however, is a dramatic illustration of just how narcissistic our culture has become.
The young lady in question didn’t make the squad. She was cut. Again, a reasonable parent would use this as a golden opportunity to teach their daughter that this is an important “life lesson." The lesson may have sounded something like this: "Honey, life often is not fair. This is going to make you stronger.” Not in Yorktown, Texas! In a television interview the rejected cheerleader said she cried constantly for three weeks, claiming that being a cheerleader was her entire life.
At this point the parents needed to do something. So what did they do? They did what has become the "American Way" in a situation like this—they sued. Yep, they sued. The family’s attorney said, "We have no other option but to move forward with the lawsuit." The details at this point are sketchy. The school is saying one thing; the girl, her parents and their attorney, another. But a lawsuit because she was cut from a JV cheerleading squad? What do these parents think they are teaching their child? “Honey, whenever you don’t get what you want just remember those three wonderful letters S.U.E.” and “Sweetie, just remember, today there is an attorney for everything!”
Life is seldom fair. Reasonable people—and Christians above all—understand this reality. However, this sad commentary on one family's response to a perceived injustice is an ideal time to rehearse a distinctly Christian understanding of life's tests and trials.
The Christian knows that God "causes all things to work together for our good" (Rom. 8:28) and that trials are one of the means God uses to mold us more into the image of His Son. Consider, for example, Romans 5:3-5: "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." The Christian understands suffering as producing perseverance, proven character and, ultimately, hope. And unlike the fleeting pleasures of this world (e.g., cheerleading), God's hope will not disappoint.
A similarly counter-cultural message comes from the book of James: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (1:2-4). Consider trials as "pure joy"—how can this be? Only by understanding that when the Christian's faith is tested, perseverance results. And ultimately Christians find themselves "mature and complete, not lacking anything." In other words, we can become hope-filled people rather than narcissistic grumblers suing for our "rights."
The ultimate example, of course, is our Lord Himself. Heb. 12:2-3 reminds us: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." If anyone's rights were wronged it was the Son of Man's. He willingly endured unspeakable injustices at the hands of sinful men. Jesus "humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:8). Therefore, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, we do not grow weary and lose heart!
What are our children being taught by displaying such extreme narcissism as in the case of the rejected cheerleader in Yorktown, Texas? We're teaching them that they are the most important reality in the universe and, therefore, should always get what they want. We're confirming for them the truth of what happens when human beings try to live apart from God: "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator" (Rom. 1:25). Isn't narcissism really the worship of created things, namely, oneself?
The story of the Yorktown freshman is a parable for our times. In it we see some of the devastating consequences of our "rights" oriented culture and what happens when narcissism replaces reason and, ultimately, Christian truth. The parable is also a challenge to us to respond to our present and future trials in a way that honors not self, but God.