Identity, Ruminations, Idolatry, and Prayer
by Curt Wildy
A hyper-active brain, I’ve always had one. Constant ruminations, ideations, a nigh obsessive (if not outright obsessive) need to research, analyse, and vet everything that interests me sums up the workings of this mind of mine. Some people hoard junk, collectibles, money… I covet and hoard both breadth and depth of knowledge. I do the same with my time, time that could be shared with others, especially family. What you are reading therefore, if you are reading this, is the confessions of an information and time hoarder (“an information and time hoarder” — note the identity terminology — I’ll be coming back to this shortly). There is hope however, this isn’t all negative. God does not leave his children to wallow in the mire nor to grope about in the darkness forever. No, He leaves them in such a state just long enough (though it may be very, very long indeed) to teach them the hard lessons, lessons they should have learned long ago (were it not for their pride, obstinance, and rebellion).
Consider the root cause of it all. I’ve had this compulsion because I hate being (or should I say feeling) ignorant; I don’t like “not knowing;” I don’t like being wrong when I “should have known better.” I desire to be accurate, competent, knowledgeable, and helpful. I disdain that sense of lacking, that sense of failure; so I’ve been driven “to know.” If I lack knowledge of something pertinent/interesting, it’s a ‘near’ compulsion for me to look it up, research it, delve deeply into it, all until I am satisfied that I have a thorough (though not necessarily comprehensive) grasp of it. Once done, I’ll probably write about it, but I’ll definitely move on to the next thing, seeing that there is always a next thing.
Ecclesiastes 12:12 “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books [there is] no end; and much study [is] a weariness of the flesh.”
It’s also about needing to take a comprehensive, holistic, consilient approach to most everything of significance. I don’t want to learn just one side (think Democrat as an example); I don’t want to hear both sides (think Democrat and Republican); I want to take in the data and opinions of all sides, as I seek to analyse, harmonize, vet, and then internalize what I am digesting. This in itself isn’t a bad thing — in fact, it is a great thing (more people need to do this). The problem is that my wants go beyond this: I want high-quality-machine-level precision, an android mind, a degree of accuracy, efficiency, and optimization that dwarfs that which I and others can ever truly achieve. In my pride, what I really want is to be like the Most High — in my own understanding (by nature) that is, not in His.
For as long as I can remember, this state of mind has been a natural, constant part of my psyche. As such, I viewed it as being an intrinsic part of who I am as a human being. What I have come to realise however, is that what I’ve always chalked up as being manifestations of my psychology, my psyche, is nothing more than manifestations of my ungodliness, my blatant idolatry. Think about it, did you notice all of the “I’s” and “I wants?” in the paragraph above this one? That level of covetousness and self-centeredness is also part of the idolatry. It’s important to identify these things for what they are. As Pastor Gistand declares, a (God-made) honest man will not go to hell. Confess your sins, admit the truth, repent, and rest in Christ. Trust and obey, just be honest, just keep it real, don’t try to hide things, don’t try to pretend that you’re something more/better than you are. All God’s people are wretched, filthy, and undone by nature. We can do nothing without him but in/by/through him, we can do all that He has ordained for us to do.
Consider this important aspect also: that with which you identify the most, and that which defines you the most, is either your God, or your idol. A Christian should find all of his/her value in their union with Christ — everything else should flow through and from this. Your identity, who you are, and what you are, should be rooted and grounded in “whose” you are. The Christian’s identity must be in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Triune Godhead of whom He is the fullness bodily. The proper mindset is to say (in Spirit and in Truth): ‘I am Christ’s, I am the Father’s, and I am the Holy Spirit’s, and thus God is mine — my identity is in no one else, and nothing else, but in Him.’
Sadly, this hasn’t been me. I’ve defined my identity not by whose I am (Christ’s); not by what I do (as it relates to title or position, both of which are virtually meaningless to me); not by what I own (material possessions hold little value or pleasure); but by what I know and by how accurate I am. My identity has been wrapped up in what I’ve learned, comprehended, perceived, discerned, and distinguished. My intellect has been my idol, my accumulated knowledge my false god. It isn’t enough to serve this “god” a little bit; that is, it isn’t enough to know a little about something that interests me — no, I must learn all that I reasonable can about it, soaring high, and delving and diving deep — because this is where I get my sense of self-worth; this is where my identity lies. This is where I can feel good about myself and where I can feel that I have accomplished something. Because of this, this is also where I bow my knee to the idol I’ve created; and not just created, but adorned, polished, magnified, and glorified. What an abomination this all is. I would trade it all in, a billion times over no less, for (1) greater communion with God; (2) a stronger prayer life; and (3) more time with my family (nuclear, wife and daughter, but also extended). So much time lost to this obsession, to this compulsion, to this need to define my value by what I know, by the accuracy and depth of my reasoning and insight. What nonsense.
Yet consider my reasonings, see the depths of my foolishness. Consider “who I am,” consider “my identity” (that is, in addition to being an “information hoarder” — remember that? The reference from above?). I studied Myers & Briggs personality typing, so my identity is in being an INxP. I studied the Keirsey Temperaments, so my identity is in being a rational-idealist cross-type. I studied the Enneagram, so my identity is in being a cross between a 4w5 and a 5w4 personality type. I studied the Wu Xing (Chinese ‘Five Elemental’) system so my identity is being a Water-Metal type. I studied the Ayurvedic Dosha system, so I identify heavily as a Vata Dosha with some Pitta, and even less Kapha tendencies. I studied personality typing associated with the modern, scientific forms of physiognomy (i.e. face-reading: also known as personology and behavioural genetics in the West; Mien Shiang/Xiang in China; Gwansang in Korea; Ninsougaku in Japan; Samudrika shastra / lakshanam (or at least a subset of it) in India; Al Ferasa to the Bedouins/Arabs; Socionics (a transliteration) to the Russians, and so on), so my identity is in the personality-traits associated with my facial features. I studied the Big Five personality system so my identity is associated with my degree of Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Neuroticism, and Openness. Do you see how utterly stupid this all sounds? You have no idea how much harder the truth of it all hit me just by writing it out above.
Yet wait, my identity (when it comes to religion) is also in being a High Calvinist, a Supralapsarian, a Predestinarian, and an Evangelical Protestant. My identity (politically-speaking) is in being a Constitutional Libertarian, a Conservative Libertarian, a Black Conservative (subjectively), a Conservative of mixed descent (objectively), and a free, Independent thinker. From an educational perspective, my identity has been formed from my knowledge of political science; law; sociology; anthropology; Neuro-Linguistic Programming; other aspects of behavioural, cognitive, and abnormal psychology; informal logic (logical fallacies and cognitive biases), alternative health, and so on, and so on.
All of the above is but dung to me now; all of it is mindlessness, senselessness, and uselessness, in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t mean that I will not make use of what I’ve learned if I can do so prudently. However, it does mean that if it, or anything else, stands in the way of one’s identity in/with the Lord, or one’s ability to build relationships, or one’s ability to think/relate like other people, it needs to be forsaken. All of this hoarding, all of this pursuit of knowledge, makes it difficult to interact with others because they often lack the exposure, the depth/breadth of knowledge, to understand my motives, my reasonings, etc. My motives are so often imputed and impugned because of “how differently I think from others” (not just my own words but what I’ve been told by several others) that it sometimes becomes quite uncomfortable. My opinions and points of view have been developed over thousands of hours of careful vetting and study over the decades (not a boast, just obsessive reality); as a result, I often can’t adequately relay why I take the stances that I do to those who haven’t spent nearly the same amount of time/effort, if any, in reviewing matters (think C.O.K). This has led to feelings of significant isolation, disconnectedness, “otherness,” which (in turn) has lead to serious depression/weltschmerz, and at times, serious anxiety. This is what idolatry will do to you. This is what happens when you make a god out of knowledge. This is why (amongst other things) we are told in Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” Consider also:
1 Corinthians 8:1 “Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.”
Isaiah 5:21 “Woe unto [them that are] wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”
Ecclesiastes 1:18 “For in much wisdom [is] much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”
Romans 12:16 “[Be] of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.”
Conclusion: There is hope, however; there is a positive to all of this. I’ve written the above because I have been in a process (a slow, but thankfully, a progressive one) of moving away from this information/time-hoarding mindset, this need to accumulate knowledge, this ‘phobia’ of being ignorant/wrong/unaware. With the help of godly men like Pastor Jesse Gistand, Elder Angelo Demma, Deacon Steven Clough, and others at Grace Bible Church, Hayward (listening to their messages remotely); with the writings and messages of author and pastor John MacArthur; with writings from godly men of old (1600’s to 1800’s), and even with the help of personal development and self-help books (i.e. those that specifically align with biblical principles), I have not only seen the error of my ways but have taken real steps, continuous, positive steps to address said error (all by God’s grace and effectual working).
Prayer is also vital; I’m still struggling with this aspect (acute ADD doesn’t help) but find that when the ruminating, ideating, and ‘call to research’ starts, redirecting my mind to God in prayer has been the best, the very best antidote. It’s a warfare, a very real one, I’m not always successful, and when I am, it takes time in battle to get my focus in check, keeping my thoughts on God, and what I am praying about. The struggle is definitely worth it though. It is an honour and a blessing to be able to pray for our own spiritual well-being, for the spiritual well-being of others, and for physical/mental/emotional needs as well.
I have a long way to go (been clinging to those idols for decades) but I see there is no value in them. My prayer, goal, and desire is to forsake these things all the more, and to find my identity wholly in the Lord; seeking that felt sense of communion with Him; that richer, deeper prayer life concerning Him; and seeking closer ties with family (near and far, blood, marriage, and spiritual). God has given me a hatred for the old idols, though force of habit finds me reaching for them, and even grasping them still. The difference is that now there is a warfare, now I’m actively fighting against these tendencies, now I desire to forsake them ASAP. The battle is for both our hearts and minds, and Christ, His word, His kingdom, and His glory, should have the preeminence therein. Everything must be subject to him and His lordship. I do not anticipate an easy journey. In fact, for me, it will likely be a long and arduous one; but like Pilgrim, we must progress, I must progress, I must press on, fighting the good fight. False peace and complacency in light of evident stagnation is for devils, cowards, and fools. May God grant me, and all who are His, the wisdom, strength, and grace to walk more closely with Him, finding our identity and value in Him. May our eye be single on Christ that His great light may illuminate us with His truth.
To God be the Glory, forever and ever.