by Sandy Mayle
When I was four and in kindergarten, I received a beautiful cowboy suit for Christmas. (Not cowgirl. My favorite book was Cowboy Eddie, so no girly suit for me). Black pants, red shirt, boots, hat… I think there was even a little bolo tie. The only thing missing was the pony.
Sometime after school resumed, I wore that outfit to school. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Until I realized that in my cowboy suit I looked quite different than the other kids (they must have gotten toys for Christmas). I stood out. I suppose they eyeballed me and asked questions and for all I knew thought it was a silly getup to wear to school.
And that is my first recollection of hating the feeling of “all-eyes-on-me.” Of being uncomfortably self-conscious. It’s a feeling that has persisted into midlife and beyond.
In contrast, throughout my growing-up years I had a friend who loved being in the limelight, who sought looks that would garner attention and make her stand out from everybody else. She loved the thrill of “all-eyes-on-me.”
Really, we both shared the same problem: self-consciousness. Self-consciousness. Being the focus of our own attention. I think most of us would confess to leaning one way or the other, to having a problem with self-consciousness, whether I-hate-being-the center-of-attention or I-love-being-the-center-of-attention.
And the Scriptures tell us that neither perspective is God-pleasing.
I Love Being the Center of Attention
There was nobody Jesus denounced like the Pharisees. Their glaring self-promotion stole honor that should have gone to God as they walked around in flowing robes and prayed publicly on street corners and announced their charitable giving with trumpets.
Jesus condemned their charade, “Everything they do is done for men to see. They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues” (Mt. 23:5-7 NIV). What did He say their posturing accomplished? “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces” (Mt. 23:13 NIV).
I Hate Being the Center of Attention
Timothy, the apostle Paul’s “son in the faith,” seemed to be a sensitive and timid soul. To the church at Corinth Paul wrote, “When Timothy arrives, see to it that you [put him at ease, so that] he may be fearless among you… So [see to it that] no one despises him or treats him as if he were of no account or slights him” (1 Cor. 16:10-11 Amp).
Paul exhorts Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but… of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. Do not blush or be ashamed then, to testify to and for our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for His sake” (2 Tim. 1:7-8 Amp). Do not be timid, Timothy!
Crippling self-consciousness either ties us up and holds us hostage to the scrutiny and opinions of others and to fear of humiliation and failure, or locks us into a pattern of self-assertion and self-promotion. There are varying reasons for self-consciousness, among them an unsurrendered ego, conceit, people-pleasing, perfectionism, innate shyness, fear of rebuke or rejection, and a sense of inferiority – but at its root it’s the result of that choice in the Garden of Eden: self over God.
However that choice manifests itself in our lives, the Holy Spirit works not just to get our attention off ourselves, but onto where it should be – onto God.
A Better Way
So these days God has been asking this innately (and apart from God, incurably) self-conscious soul to become God-conscious. To grow more aware of Him and allow let Him develop my spiritual senses in order to stay aware of Him on an ongoing basis. To say with the psalmists:
“I have set the Lord always before me.” (Ps. 16:8)
“Seek his face always.” (Ps. 105:4 NIV)
“As the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.” (Ps. 123:2 NIV)
This is higher ground for me. And it’s quite a climb – but by His grace I’m beginning to gain some height.
I’m also beginning to sense that living this way is not so much a command as an invitation; not about sensing God’s approval or disapproval, but experiencing His delight in my awareness of Him. Not thinking of Him-seeing-me, but thinking just of Him. Him alone. How freeing and joyful to live this way!
If God gives you, too, this hunger to live in God-awareness, I encourage you to begin with prayer. With confession of inner self-ishness. With wholehearted self-surrender. And then something like this:
Lord, please awaken my spiritual senses to you. May they be God-sensitized, God-aware, and God-responsive. Teach me to recognize and reject self-sin in my heart and life; help me grow daily more and more able to walk mindful of You. By Your grace, give me the wonderful privilege of living God-conscious.