The Narcissism of Knowing

In the age of Twitter-isms where people ineffectively whittle truths down to grotesque snippets of useless information, it’s significantly rare for a tweet to grab my attention, much less cause me to linger for hours in thought. So, it took me off guard when I scrolled across a tweet from Kevin DeYoung (who remains one of my favorite authors despite our vast theological differences) that stopped me mid-sip of Coke Zero.

Loads Only God Can Carry

DeYoung’s tweet said: In our internet age, it is easy to be overwhelmed with burdens that only God is meant to carry (@RevKevDeYoung). Admittedly, I’m a bit weird and prone to introspective fits of circular thought, but if you chew on DeYoung’s tweet for just a minute, undoubtedly, you’ll feel anxiety lift off your shoulders too. Because it’s profoundly satisfying to admit some burdens are too heavy for we finite humans to carry. Some loads are so enormous only God can carry them.

The Global Mental Crisis

We live in the golden age of the internet with global this and global that. Our economy is global. Our food is global. Our goods are global. With the click of a button, we have access to worldwide information. And while much of this is excellent, with it comes worries that previous societies did not entertain. For example, take the love-hate relationship most people have with social media. It gives us more unfettered access to daily information about other human beings. That steady stream of data can be nice, but it can also be stressful and worrisome. People often say our world has grown smaller, but the reality is that the world is just as big as it’s ever been. However, our sphere of awareness has increased exponentially. This ever-growing sphere of awareness means our sphere of worry has grown and continues to grow at the same pace. New knowledge generates new anxieties from which we once had a measure of blissful ignorance.

Worried About What?

Psychologists have recently begun to notice a concerning pattern in their patients that ties into our topic at hand. Frequently individuals who are otherwise healthy seeking help for their anxiety are suffering from worry, but they aren’t sure what precisely has them worried. In other words, they’re anxious, and they don’t know why they are anxious. This troubling trend has led some health care professionals to prescribe a temporary distancing from the news, the internet, smartphones, and social media. Interestingly, in most cases, this led to a dramatic decrease in reported anxiety. A quick Google search will tell you that most psychologists attribute this almost wholly to social media. Mainly because of the unhealthy comparisons social media causes individuals to make either consciously or subconsciously. For many people, when they distance themselves from social media, their happiness increases drastically. But what if there is more to the story? You probably don’t need a statistic to tell you stress and anxiety levels are at all-time highs. And it certainly isn’t just because we’re all comparing ourselves to someone else’s Instagram.

Global Problems at the Local Level

I’m not anti-technology, nor do I look at the past with rose-colored glasses. Technology is just a tool that can be used for good or evil, and every past generation had its particular set of struggles and dangers. However, you don’t have to go too far back in history to find a time when people, in general, were far less neurotic and narcissistic (self-absorbed). For the most part, they were consumed with the problems of their families and their local communities. Those problems were real and very concerning, to be sure, but vast universal problems were only vague shadows on their radar screens. In my opinion, the rapid proliferation of modern information leaves the average individual feeling helpless and hopelessly aware of problems beyond their ability to solve. And, when they try to solve global problems, a significant disconnect from local reality occurs. For example, it isn’t uncommon to see local churches diligently striving to solve major water shortages on the other side of the world. That sort of social gospel works like a placebo that triggers a temporary dopamine spike. Everyone wants to feel like they’re making a global impact. Meanwhile, in their local community, their neighbors are still struggling in countless physical and spiritual ways.

The Disconnect

You see, global awareness can produce shortsightedness in our local area. Many people have settled for “feeling” like they’ve made a difference instead of making a difference. Flying into a third-world country for a photoshoot is way different than the hard work of loving our actual neighbors. That disconnect alone is enough to cause all kinds of anxieties. The concept of being a world changer is alluring. It almost makes Jesus’ call to love our neighbors sound a little shortsighted. But Jesus gave us achievable goals that, if followed, do change the world.

I Don’t Want to Know

For a good portion of my life, I genuinely longed for the ability to know the future. At the very least, I really wanted to know the details of my future. The tension of not knowing how certain things would turn out left me feeling frustrated with God. In those days, much of my prayer life revolved around asking God to reveal things to me. I arrogantly assumed that knowing would give me confidence. God never answered those prayers. And I’m glad He didn’t. If past Ryan had known some of the things future Ryan would endure, he would’ve run away kicking and screaming. I look back on those times and shake my head in amazement. Now I understand that only God can handle knowing the future with all its twists and turns. It was incredibly narcissistic of me to long for something I couldn’t have managed. I’m at peace with not knowing because I know God knows, and that’s enough for me.

Laying Unbearable Burdens Down in Prayer

Oddly enough, that brings us full circle back to the little tweet that started this whole thought process: In our internet age, it is easy to be overwhelmed with burdens that only God is meant to carry (@RevKevDeYoung). How often do we narcissistically worry about things we cannot fix? We have so much knowledge and so little power. My worry won’t fix a thing. Just knowing about a whole lot of issues and problems won’t change a thing. But I can pray. I can lay all these burdens down at God’s feet and trust that He knows what He’s doing. He was the solution long before there was a problem, and He was the answer long before the question was asked.

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