the self prison

Recently a few of us had a nice conversation based on a chapter from Tuesdays with Morrie.  The chapter we read and discussed centered on the role, power and enticement of money in our present day cultures.  As we wandered through the ideas of this chapter, a central question emerged: how do we live in such a way that we are not consumed  by our wants and desires? I was inspired by the thoughts that arose.

The simple effort to distinguish between wants and needs is a life revolutionizing activity.  There are bigger things to live for than my own wants and my own desires.  (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily advocating a monastic lifestyle.)  Training my soul to perceive the needs, value and interests of others can help break the hold my own wants have on me.  The clearer I see others and the world, the smaller my problems become.  We must train our souls to attend to others. 

One of these unviersity students communicated a sense of frustration, “we work so hard just to ready ourselves to participate in this consuming society….to be consumers.”  Is this what it is all about?  Are we simple consuming creatures?  Or are we designed for more? 

But what we are looking for is a deep fundamental shift in our being, an essential change in our orientation from self to others.  We are talking about breaking out of the “self” prison.  Can this redirection of the heart be developed through discipline?  Perhaps to an extent.  Paraphrasing what another friend said, “we can’t make these kinds of profound changes without some kind of an awakening of the heart, mind and soul.”


  1. I think that this is where the gospel comes in. I can’t imagine getting away from a total self-focus unless I have something bigger to focus on. To me, that is what happened when I gave my life to Christ.

    To be sure, I still look at myself more often than I should. And I also think it is possible to break out of selfishness without the gospel. However, I think that is not a real, fundamental change. The behavior may change for a while, but in the end we need a heart change (Ezekiel 36).

  2. This is one of those questions that makes me feel truly human: “how do I break out of the self-prison?” I love this question because it is essentially human; it has been tackled by the great philosophers and religions throughout history. We share this pursuit.

    Like you Jason, the hope-filled words and actions of Jesus have deeply and fundamentally changed me, particularly in the context of this question/struggle of the “self.”

    Being loved unconditionally enables me to love unconditionally. Being graced enables me to grace.

  3. You say “We must train our souls to attend to others.” That’s so true. And it can occur on our own. The problem is that we spend so much of our lives training to attend to ouselves it takes a real transformation to reorient our thinking with any lasting effect. Without a doubt that’s where Jesus comes in. He’s the only way to achieve the focus and desire to give to others, to serve others, to submit to others, and break away from self.
    My problem is applying this to the different areas of my life as Jesus did. Can I have the same heart for my family, my church, my community, my friends, coworkers, strangers, street people, foreigners, addicts, AIDS victims, ex-cons, the poor, the rich? Without a doubt there are groups I reach for and others I don’t. Jesus wouldn’t do that. That’s where I need constant training. Only the power of his grace and his steady presence in my heart, mind, and soul can change me from the self-centered sinner I am to the selfless saint he wants me to be.

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