Monday, 27 May 2019

The Fragile Self

'Such and important message!'

'So beautiful, and so so needed!'

'It's so wonderful to see such empowerment on display!'

Accolade after accolade followed their performance, and deservedly so for a fantastic and important, oh so important message.

I watched the performance of the all girl dance group The Khronos Girls in the semi-final of BGT and echoed many of the sentiments shared by the judges above. I shared them but for different reasons. It is a needed message but I fear so few can hear it. Their dance depicted the struggle of teenage girls everywhere to match up to others' expectations of themselves and their fight for self-acceptance in a world that makes them feel constantly like they don't measure up.

It was heartbreaking to see such a clear presentation of one of the main problems with our psychological age, and baffling that so few people see the huge fissures that seem to be opening up beneath our feet. Fissures evidenced by the terrifying rise in mental health disorders, the suicide rate and the traction that the message of The Khronos Girls gains.

Our self-expressive and individualistic age has surely created one of the most vulnerable and likely to shatter versions of the self I can imagine there ever existed.

People have commented that World War I and its awful sequel, together with its holocausts killed dead the widespread story of modernity, namely that the human race is an ever improving species destined for moral beauty and greatness. Yes, believe it or not, that story is dead (although due to our shared amnesia over recent history many people still insist on parading it through the streets). What has arisen in its place is not a grand story of our species' potential along with its big vision of what we can achieve together, but the rise of the individual demi-gods. We have transferred our optimism over the potential of the group and have instead put that hope onto the individual. We have put all the weight of hope and longing onto the shoulders of each one of us.

Every one of us is now meant to the be the star of the most impressive and meaningful display of human virtue and rags-to-riches story there can be.

What the dance act portrayed was the struggle faced by every teenage girl to accept who they are, but what lies underneath it is the cultural narrative of why that pain exists in the first place.

It is frankly a crushing weight to grow up under. Be brilliant. Be smart, be beautiful. Be yourself.

The dance ended with the battle cry 'we are all beautiful' (or something similar) at which point surely, for those who are willing to hear it, could be heard the desperate longing of a sick soul, longing to be enough hoping to high heaven that it is enough, praying, dear god let me be enough. It was the noise of a soul struggling under a weight it cannot bear, and our society won't see how impossible it is to realise its expectations.

The longing is real, the angst is real, the crushing weight placed on the individual is real and the need for our symptoms to be treated by something other than the earnest plea to 'just be yourself' and 'you are enough!' is real as well.

The reality that those pleas don't often break through and don't provide us with the foundation we need to actually live on them needs to be acknowledged. They don't do what we want them to because deep down we know that we're not enough, we're not beautiful or amazing or incredible; at least not truly/fully; not enough. And the reason those statements don't cut it is because - we each know what we're really like, deep down. We know what we're like when we're alone.

What's needed is an encouragement to see ourselves for who we really are, to stare the cold hard truth in the mirror and see our lack and our insignificance for what it really is. The angst we feel about ourselves is meant to be there in order to help us sober up, and the reason we need sobering up is because we're drunk on our potential and our self-importance.

I dare you to stare at and allow your vulnerability to over power you; dare you to feel the terror of reality that you'll never be enough, you'll never be the hero you want to be. I dare you to stare at it because there in the light of cold hard truth surrounded by your nakedness and your fragility, in the dust and dirt of life, stands (or rather hangs) a true demi-god if you can see him. There you'll see a saviour who sees you for who you are and who calls you out on it.

Jesus sees your brokenness and fragility and impurity and wickedness. He sees it and he calls it what it is. It is only once we see it and bring it to him that he is able to replace it with something far richer and thicker than anything our image obsessed, individualistic age could ever offer us hope to get by with.

It is then that we see perhaps what the Bible writer meant when he said: My life is hidden with Christ in God. Christ is your life. All other ground is sinking sand.

Only Jesus offers you a self that won't be crushed under the weight of our self-expressive and individualistic society.

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