Morbid Introspection

Introspection: a looking into one’s own mind, feelings, reactions, etc.; observation and analysis of oneself.

Morbid: having, or caused by disease; unhealthy, diseased.

It is good to check up on ourselves from time to time to see if we are tolerating some major blind spot or nursing along some grudge or other. But there is a way of self-examination that is unhealthy, that dwells on self to the exclusion of others.

If we are conducting a little spiritual check up on ourselves and being mighty pleased with what we see, patting ourselves on the back and congratulating ourselves and giving ourselves a high five, then we may be prideful, wouldn’t you say? That’s pretty straight forward. But what if we are checking up on ourselves and bemoaning the fact that we are wicked and bad and big fat failures and no goods and losers? Isn’t that essentially the same thing? Both are self-absorbed. And whether it is positive pride or negative pride, both are self-centered.

The essence of pride is self-absorption; it is all about me, me, and me some more. Whether it is positive or negative, pride is what is at the bottom.

When my kids were little and I fell into bed at night exhausted, I sometimes would give way to the ol’ “I’m such a terrible mother” routine. As I was lying there waiting to drift off, I would think about how I should have read that story one more time. How I should have done this and that and not done something else. Pretty soon I would just feel like the worst mom ever. My dear husband would say something practical like, “If you sinned, confess it. If you didn’t, go to sleep!” Very sound advice. In the bright morning light, over a cup of coffee, I might revisit my thoughts about my mothering and decide that I wasn’t such a horrible mom after all. Pretty good in fact! I learned that after ten o’clock at night, I was not such a good judge of my mothering (or anything else).

Morbid introspection delights in finding faults, and goodness knows we all have plenty to keep ourselves entertained if that is what we want to do. While a little bit of godly self-examination will keep us humble, morbid introspection paralyzes and discourages us. It is not fruitful.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of specific sins, like snapping at Johnny with annoyance. The accuser has another agenda all together, and accuses us of “being a bad mom” or “being a bad friend” or whatever. You can repent of snapping at Johnny, but how do you repent of being a bad friend? What specific duty did you neglect? Accusations of this sort are usually muddled and general and designed to confuse and disable. False guilt never goes away, even after confession. Real guilt can be dealt with, cleansed, forgiven, and put away for good.

So, if you are “listening” to a lot of bum dope about what a punk you are, you need to start ignoring such stuff and change the station. Learn to recognize the difference between accusations and real conviction of sin. If you are God’s child, ask Him to do the examination. He is much better at it.

Ps. 26:2 Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart.

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13 thoughts on “Morbid Introspection

  1. Thanks for some practical thoughts on what can seem like a somewhat subjective topic.
    I really like your thought about not self-examining after 10:00pm. At my bridal shower one of the ladies gave the advice to never have a serious “discussion” with my husband after 9:00 at night. :o)

  2. That last paragraph (the wording) makes me laugh! So true…

    I read your article “Self Evaluation at 11 pm” once right after my first child was born, and the message, similar to this, has always stuck in my head and encourage me. Now that I have three more kids (all still preschoolers), I can certainly go to bed every night with plenty to dwell on if I want, but thank you for reminding me to choose to preach the gospel to my heart and get some sleep!

  3. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

    Here’s a vivid, if not very pretty metaphor: morbid introspection is refusing to flush the toilet, but going back again and again to gaze at its contents. Faith flushes. Faith trusts that Christ’s blood really is powerful enough to have washed away whatever ugly, filthy thing I’ve done or said or thought. It receives His grace and becomes clean again.

    Who am I to think my I’m some sinner almighty whose misdeeds are stronger than His grace? Who am I to think that I am somehow too pure and perfect to have committed that? “Get over it, sister!” I so often have to tell myself.

    Repentance isn’t godly repentance if it doesn’t culminate in praise. Get over it, and then rejoice in what Christ has done for you. There are two verses I connected in my mind a number of years ago: Psalm 51:3b says, “my sin is always before me” and Psalm 16:7a says, “I have set the Lord always before me.” I can sit staring passively at the sin that is always before me or I can actively and deliberately turn to set the Lord before me. David doesn’t wallow in his sin, grievous though it was, but ends Psalm 51 glorifying God. Lord, help me to do likewise!

  4. Dear Mrs. Wilson,

    You made a helpful distinction about the way the Holy Spirit convicts of sin with specifics, vs the general, vague accusations of the enemy.

    Also helpful is your explanation of the difference between healthy, right self-examination and the morbid introspection with pride at its root.

    These are really important tools for God’s people. Thank you!

  5. I am very amused Nancy, that you used the terms “bum dope” and “punk”. Very young and urban of you.
    Really- the warnings against morbid introspection are always helpful to me. Thank you for your wisdom and ministry.

  6. This comment is not related to the specific post, but I wanted to ask a question (concerned with previous posts), and thought it would be better to make it on the most recent of your blog entries.
    I am only fourteen and not experienced in politics. That being said, I have listened to Governor Palin’s speech a couple of times (and really enjoyed it except for one or two things), been reading all–well, most at least–of the various posts and comments on your and your husband’s blogs, and have discussed this very fully with my parents who encouraged me to comment. I would really appreciate your (or Pastor Wilson’s) opinion on some things.
    First, people have used the examples–as Pastor Wilson has, himself–of women such as Lydia, Deborah, and Esther to support Mrs. Palin’s vice-presidency, but did any of these women actually hold any poisitions of civic authority? To me, it seems that Esther merely exercised wifely influence over the ruler, her husband, and did not have any sort of ruling position herself (of course, I realize that he did not use her example, but merely to address what others have said). Lydia was a head of household, but was she a civil or ecclesiastical ruler? In Deborah’s case, things seem a little less clear, which is why it required much more consideration.
    This is the opinion I have come to hold: In the Book of Judges, we see a pattern of Israel turning away from God and being led captive, followed by repentance and God “raising up” a deliverer (Judg. 3:9, 3:15, 3:31). But in Deborah’s case, she was simply “judging Israel at that time”. The author of Judges says nothing about God having chosen her in the same way as Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar. Can we say that because she was there and God used her (as He uses everything), she is an argument for female rulers? My parents believe that she did not hold any position of authority, but merely provided judgement and counsel when it was asked of her (she sat under a tree on a mountain not at the gates of the city). The passage from Hebrews which Pastor Wilson quoted on his blog, adds, I think, to this view. It is a listing of faithful MEN, which naturally fails to mention Deborah, a woman, but why is that? Why does it list Barak and not Deborah? Is it perhaps because she was not the leader God established?
    I very much agree with what Pastor Wilson has said about I Timothy 2. There is a universal sort of principal Paul gives and APPLIES (but does not limit) to the church. I believe that being given this general principal in such clear, straightforward language is much more weighty than one–I repeat, ONE–arguable example.
    In conclusion, I do not think a woman ought to be vice-president, and I think that Sarah Palin’s elction to the vice-presidency is seen by most as a femministic victory and does not follow the Biblical model of God “raising up deliverers”.
    All that being said, God uses all things for His glory and can use a woman who is an ungodly position; and, if I had a husband to counsel about voting, I would probably, after further consideration, think as my father does that there is nothing wrong, given the options, with voting for a MAN (John McCain) despite the fact that he is running with a (pretty insightful) woman–although I would probably pray for his good health when elected :).
    So my question is, do you think that Deborah (or any other woman in the Bible) supports the idea of female presidents, even as exceptions?

    P.S. I have had the pleasure of listening to many of your series’ for women and reading your books for many years. Thank you so much for providing godly counsel (not to mention example) to my sisters and I.

  7. Rachel,

    You are to be commended for a very well thought out discussion of the whole Sarah Palin deal. Thanks for your comment. The way I would respond is this: neither my husband nor I have claimed that Sarah Palin is a Deborah. But we do admire Deborah, and when Barak is commended in Hebrews 11 for being a man of God, it is referring to him in the whole episode where he is following Deborah. He is not criticized for his willingness to follow her.

    Blessings to you,
    Nancy

  8. I am so thankful you wrote this bit on ‘morbid introspection’ I have spent too much time in bed late at night thinking silly thoughts like the ones you gave, I’m glad to hear a wonderful Biblical perspective on the matter.
    Thank you

  9. I am always and forever battling morbid introspection. Is there hope for me? If you say ‘repent’…well, I’ve pleaded with God for help. It seems that only God’s sovereign intervention can save me from my self. Without it, I may as well try to stop a train. I am also painfully boring.

  10. Mary,
    The main exercise you need is changing the subject, and it really is a mental exercise and just as difficult as lifting weights. When your mind goes to its “favorite subject,” jerk it back to something else, anything else. Put up a fence and stay off the grass. And, that should make you lots more fun to be with.

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