I was a camp counsellor at a "Sports Resort" in Canada in 2009, where I had the privilege, or maybe I should say the task, of looking after a cabin full of boys each week for 10 weeks in a row over their summer.
The narcissistic little brutes (I mean campers) were high school aged and came in all shapes and sizes, all walks of life, but most kids were from very well-off families – considering the camp cost a minimum $1000 a week. Some paid up to three times that.
The weeks would go by with me trying to contain my cabin which was always bursting with testosterone, exaggerated stories, play fighting, bragging, goofing off and boys just being boys. Most of the time it was a blast, but the one thing I couldn't stand, was the persistent and underlying attitude where the kids thought they were a god of their own little world.
It was against the rules, but I could totally understand when I caught my boys sneaking out to girls' cabins at night. I caught some with alcohol, some with porn, and plenty had bad mouths. However, the worst thing to combat was that egotistical self-absorbed attitude, where the boys thought the world revolved around them.
Occasionally, much to my delight, the odd kid really surprised me with their adultness and humility. One or two kids each week would stand out as being a little older and wiser than their years. They didn't see themselves as superior even though they lacked for nothing in this material world.
Often these kids were a little more independent, and didn't care for running with the pack. It seemed like someone in their brief 13-17 years of life had taught them, or modelled, that life wasn't all about them.
These kids were interested and asked what I did, and where I was from after I asked them about their lives. They'd started to grow out of their inward facing lives.
I mentioned porn briefly before, and it's a very real epidemic in teenage boys today! However it usually just starts there, and sadly the stats don't lie; it's an epidemic for us all. Some stats say 35% of all internet traffic is porn. I'm sure it doesn't surprise you, in fact fantasy and all kinds of escapism is a huge problem in our culture. People submerge into their own technologically enhanced utopias for all sorts of reasons. We escape into alternate realities and we run from our lack of self-authentication by any and all means.
Who's to blame?
There's a dog eat dog world out there, and there's no wonder kids grow up with a me-focused, self-centred view of life. Our consumer culture promotes style and form. We end up comparing, crawling over each other to get ahead and to define our identity which becomes our only importance.
All day long we humans are pulling ourselves up by our own bootlaces. We're lost in comparison, envy, competition and co-dependency. We have no inner compass, no foundational significance so we spend our lives self-validating. We become governed by our own neediness and judgements. We then try to escape the harsh reality that we don't matter by creating false meaning in more toys and better stories, but they don't cut it. Consumer culture doesn't feed the soul.
Getting off balance
Why should someone – whether they're just starting out in this cut-throat world full of competition and comparison or have stumbled into addictions and escapism – come to a place of acknowledging they're just not that important? Being aware they're just not that important allows one to surrender control. When they're off balance they'll be ready to grab onto something solid.
The 12 steps of the AA, in order to overcome alcoholism or any form of addiction, take the addicted one on a journey. They discover (by means of turning up, and leaving their ego at home) that they're not that important, and they're in need of help.
From that starting point they can start the process of overcoming and living with their addictions. They're told they need a higher power, something bigger than themselves to pull them out of their dark place. And once they're on the road away from addiction they're encouraged to examine their past and help others on the same journey away from addition. It's a simple but powerful programme. And it starts at that place of submission and self-denial.
Jesus' master teaching
When it comes to Jesus' teaching on overcoming addictions – our love of the world and our love of self – he can seem quite harsh. The AA sounds a little wishy washy compared to some of Jesus' teachings.
He says we should, "gouge out our eye if it causes us to lust." He says to "cut off your hand if it causes you to sin." He says, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul."
I think this is Jesus' way of jumping straight to the heart of the matter with a little bit of shock value. You know when you pretend to listen to your mum as a teenager, but you're really thinking about something else because you think you've heard it all before.
Jesus cuts through that layer of predictability with a dramatic command. If you sin using your hand, cut it off! There'd be a lot of blind and limbless people around if we took this literally.
The small things first
Jesus, as a master teacher, deconstructs then reconstructs. He implies that you're not that important, and then says in Luke chapter 10, verse 20: "...rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Jesus validates and uplifts, and yet is also extremely cutting. He's a pastor and a prophet and it can be almost too much for us to take in.
I believe Jesus wants us to get rid of our small self: our self-image, our self-love, and our ego. Jesus says, "Come to me like a child" – now this is far from conventional western thinking.
When we go to University, get a new job or meet new people, we're told to be the best versions of ourselves. In his kingdom Jesus talks about, he says we must enter as a small helpless infant in need of practically every basic thing. Do we need God, or are we clinging to the world's version of us?
Eternal gifts, two-headed beasts and a beautiful paradox
It's funny how in this life, material wealth and gifts and ego-praising all diminish with time. When you're at the top of your game, there's only one way to go from there.
Luckily, in this kingdom Jesus talks about, the gifts he gives only keep giving. The more you use your spiritual gifts the stronger they become. The kingdom way is an abundant way, full of mutual flourishing, but first we must admit we're not important.
I guess this is another way of looking at how God saves us. For so long Christians have preached being saved from hell or being saved from the world. I think Jesus also came to save us from ourselves.
Once we're at our weakest, and we're needy enough to see that what we really require is way bigger than we are, we're ready to let go of our egos. Is this another reason why Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert at the start of his ministry? He did say he became the least of us. Once we have the right perspective and meaning in our lives, we need very little else.
As a write I am reminded the ego is lurking and will always creep back to the surface, like the beast lernaean hydra in Greek mythology, you cut one head off, and two grow back in its place.
The people who Jesus was most critical of in the Bible were the people who thought they had it all together.
This idea is a beautiful paradox. We're not that important, but we're also infinitely important. We need to admit we're worthless, yet celebrate that our names are written on the palms of God's hands. It's certainly very hard to do the first thing, when we don't believe the second part.
Brad Mills enjoysthe outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Media in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html