Curved Inward

A few months ago, I was playing with my son Theo. Only a few months old at the time, one of his favorite things to do was staring at himself in a mirror (a typical past-time for infants who are a few months old).

This particular playtime, Theo was propped up and sitting in my lap. I brought over the mirror for him to look at. He was so enthralled by his own reflection, he leaned forward– and started to fall and face-plant into the mirror!

Luckily, I managed to catch him before he smacked his face into the mirror. I held the mirror up again, hoping to keep him upright. But every time he saw himself in the mirror, he pitched face-first into his own reflection.

The Story of Narcissus

Theo’s forward fall into his own reflection reminded me of the ancient Greek story of Narcissus. One day, Narcissus saw a reflection of himself in a pool of water. He fell in love with his own reflection, and couldn’t drag himself away– eventually dying there (either of starvation and thirst, or by his own hand).

It’s from this story that we get the terms “narcissism” and “narcissist,” describing those who suffer from an overblown sense of self, needing constant admiration, and lack of care and empathy for others.

Obviously, Theo is not in danger of narcissism, at least right now– he is still figuring out that the baby in the mirror is actually himself. But the story of Narcissus serves as a cautionary tale for those of us who follow Jesus and are attempting to live more minimally.

Curving Inward on Ourselves

Hearers of the Narcissus story often focus on how he died because he wasn’t able to tear himself away from his own reflection– which is obviously a tragedy.

But what gets less notice is how, because Narcissus was so taken with himself, he was unable to see anyone or anything else around him. And as humans, we do this. A lot.

Augustine and Martin Luther used the Latin phrase incurvatus in se to describe the human tendency to only focus on ourselves. Incurvatus in se means “curved inward on oneself.” Basically, only looking at ourselves keeps us from looking at others and the world around us.

Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

Luke 13:10-13

This woman was bent over, curved inward on herself, for 18 years. When Jesus healed her, for the first time in almost two decades she was able to see not just herself and her own path, but those around her and the world. Jesus not only healed her physical ailment– he healed her view of the world. She could now see outside of her own experience.

Our Own Curve Inward

We may not be physically curved inward like the woman Jesus healed in the Bible, but we are often mentally and spiritually curved inward. We can get so fixated on our own path and our own wants, that we are unable to fulfill our calling to love and serve others.

Being curved inward and only focused on ourselves in consumer culture is the origin of greed and mistreatment of employees. When making money so that we can be rich is the focus, we lose sight of those around us, including those who are in need (see: Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol).

In other words, when we are curved in and only focused on using the gifts God has given us for our own benefit, we are using God’s good gifts at the expense of others. This is the exact opposite of our call from God to love and serve others.

Even when we try to live as Christian minimalists, it’s easy to get so into our own minimalism journey that we become unaware of others. Living more simply can help us to become more aware of wealth inequality, and motivated to be generous with others and work towards bridging the widening wealth gap in consumer culture.

But if we are curved inward on ourselves all the time, only focused on ourselves, we will never be able to use the gifts God has given us to serve others in Jesus’ name.

Healing from our Curve Inward

But there is hope! We do not have to stay curved inward on ourselves all of the time. Just as Jesus healed the bent-over woman, Jesus is in the process of healing us from our constant focus on ourselves.

Here are some practical suggestions of how to lean into Jesus’ healing and to be less curved inward:

Pray. Spend time with God, and listen to how God is calling you to use your God-given gifts to love and serve God and others.

Serve. Find ways in your congregation and local community to volunteer.

Share. If you’re able, be generous with your monetary resources and possessions. Donate things that are in good condition that could be used by someone else in need.

Advocate. Research ways to help make a difference for those who are struggling to find affordable housing and make ends meet.

Be. Practice being in the moment, noticing those and the world around you.

God has given you gifts for a reason. How is God healing you and calling you to be less focused on yourself, and more focused on others and the world?


Did you like this post? Check out the Christian Minimalism book!

 

About 
Becca Ehrlich, AKA The Christian Minimalist, is striving to be a Christian minimalist in a consumer society. She currently lives in Upstate New York with her husband Will and their son Theo. You can read more about her story and how her blog came to exist by clicking the website link above.

6 Comments

  1. Peggy

    September 4, 2023 - 9:08 am
    Reply

    Article was very good. Certainly made me think of similar situations that have occurred in my own life.
    Blessings to you …..

  2. Succor

    September 4, 2023 - 10:34 am
    Reply

    Thank you Sister Becca.
    Yes and Amen! Other-centeredness is selflessness. Giving. Loving others. God’s kind of giving and loving. Selfless love. Unconditional love. “Comfort others and you will be comforted. Encourage one another…” Thanks be to God! To God Be the Glory Forever more.

  3. Danyelle Braud

    September 4, 2023 - 1:16 pm
    Reply

    Thank you so much for being obedient to Gods calling on your life! Your words of wisdom have spoken to my spirit and helped me connect to who God made me to be. God bless you and your family!

  4. Peter

    September 4, 2023 - 6:46 pm
    Reply

    Thanks. Really appreciate your thoughts. They certainly resonate with me

  5. Julian

    September 5, 2023 - 4:28 am
    Reply

    Hi Becca,

    Wonderful reflection. My
    Son is 16 months and he still sometimes does the exact same thing with the mirror!

    Thank you for the gentle challenge of keeping our sights on others.

    It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in focussing just on ourselves. Just the other day I was talking with someone about how we are to be fruitful Christians, and the fruit is not for the tree, it’s for others.

    Always a pleasure to read your posts!

  6. Amber

    September 20, 2023 - 6:03 pm
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing these wise words. Always love ❤️ reading you work and how you put things. Love how lil Theo enjoyed the moments lol

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