Dust may be gathering on your hard-earned degree. Your gifts and passions may seem to grow rusty while you leave them largely unattended for a season to care for little ones in their most significant years.
The world, with its agenda of self-actualization, shouts loudly that you are wasting your time, your gifts, your passions—and often your flesh hums in agreement.
Self-actualization began as a psychological term employed by many with a fluid definition, but it reached its place of prominence in the world of psychology in Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” However, like many words coined in a clinical or academic setting, its accompanying concept bled over into popular cultural and thinking. As such, self-actualization (also called self-realization) has taken on a popular meaning and a life all its own. While memes and t-shirt graphics shower a variety of messages like “Carpe Diem,” “Chase your Dreams,” and “You do you!” most share the same underlying principle: the goal of life is for you to realize your greatest potential by using all your gifts and fulfilling all your deepest desires.
While the message of self-actualization goes down smoothly, it does not mix well with the gospel. In fact, this predominant cultural message is completely antithetical to the gospel of Christ.
In the incarnation of Christ, the unlimited, uncreated Son of God submitted to the shocking plan of the Father he loved. In his years as an apprentice to his carpenter foster father, Christ emptied himself, as the hands that wove the wonders of the galaxy learned to sand and saw. Then, on the cross, Christ poured out his rightful reward and took the wrath of our just punishment on himself. Paul beautifully captures Christ’s emptying of himself in his letter to the Philippians:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8)
In the gospel, we not only benefit from the self-emptying of Christ, but we are beckoned to imitate him by emptying ourselves.
The path of self-emptying as a mother looks like foolishness to the world and to our own flesh; however, that same path is the one trodden by the feet of God himself. When we empty ourselves daily for the sake of obedience to the will of our Father, we too receive his son, our Savior, and share in his likeness.
A Moving Act of Self-Emptying
A few nights before his impending death, Christ was taking refuge in the home of his dear friends in Bethany. Mary, seeming to know what was coming, decided to break her alabaster jar of perfume to anoint Jesus’ body for the coming sacrifice. Worth more than a year’s wages, this jar was her costly gift and outpouring of love to her Jesus.
The disciples and gathered friends scoffed at her choice, calling it a waste. There were so many other ways she could have spent her life savings, her choicest gift. Yet Christ saw what they could not. He saw her devoted love and adoration in what they considered a waste. Rather than chide her, Christ applauded her, saying, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6).
Throughout the sometimes short, sometimes terribly long moments and years of mothering our little children, I found myself making my own alabaster jar. Every time I felt a wave of sadness over gifts that were sitting quietly on the shelf or desires going unmet, I would mentally place them into my own imaginary alabaster jar. Rather than see these years as the waste that the world might call them, I began to see these years as a chance to pour out an expensive gift to Jesus. He continues to receive my costly outpourings as beautiful acts of adoration and obedience to him.
Rather than viewing our self-emptying as a waste, Christ invites us to view our self-emptying choices as alabaster moments poured out for our worthy Christ. One day, we will receive the proud commendation of our Beloved saying, “She has done a beautiful thing.”
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:
Where do you hear hints of self-actualization around you and within you?
In what specific areas in your life are you tempted to actualize yourself rather than follow Christ’s pattern of emptying yourself?
What are you currently putting into your alabaster jar?
How does it change your perspective to know that Christ proudly receives what the world may deem a waste?
Aimee Joseph works alongside her husband, G’Joe, who directs Campus Outreach San Diego, She also serves as the women’s ministry director at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Encinitas, California. Parenting three boys keeps her busy, but writing and studying the Word of God keep her sane. She has a passion to see women trained to love God, His Word and His people. She writes regularly at aimeejoseph.blog.