Earlier this year, the Research Institute of Child Development and Education at the University of Amsterdam released the findings of a study on parenting that could lead to narcissism.
Among the findings:
- Children whose parents overvalue them are more likely to be narcissists;
- Parents who overvalue their children tend to think their children are better and smarter than others;
- Children who feel their parents are keenly interested in them are more likely to have higher self-esteem.
“When children are seen by their parents as being more special and more entitled than other children, they may internalize the view that they are superior individuals, a view that is at the core of narcissism,” the researchers wrote in the study. “But when children are treated by their parents with affection and appreciation, they may internalize the view that they are valuable individuals, a view that is at the core of self-esteem.”
So, the question is: However you were raised, are you narcissistic?
Before you answer, let’s look at a few definitions of narcissism and some of its synonyms.
Narcissism is excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance. Synonyms: vanity, self-love, self-admiration, self-absorption, self-obsession, conceit, self-centeredness, self-regard, egotism, egoism.
In psychology, narcissism is defined as “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.”
Did you notice how the word “self” is prevalent in these definitions? In American culture, if we’re honest, we have to admit that many children are consumed with themselves.
Some studies believe that social media is a contributing factor in narcissistic behavior. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201306/do-facebook-and-other-social-media-encourage-narcissism
In the Bible, perhaps no teenager had more reason to be narcissistic than the Virgin Mary, the one who was blessed to give birth to the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Mary was only 14 or 15 years old when the angel Gabriel told her she had been chosen to give birth to the long-awaited Messiah.
If social media had been around then, Mary probably would have posted a selfie of her and Gabriel on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. She would have done the same with her baby bump. When she visited her cousin Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s unborn child (John the Baptist) “leaped” in the womb upon Mary’s arrival, Mary would have uploaded it on YouTube and it would have gone viral. No doubt the months leading up to Jesus’ birth would have been turned into a reality TV show: Mary, Mother of God.
How obnoxious and preposterous all of that sounds when you read the biblical record of Mary’s reaction in Luke 1 after she learned that God had selected her for this world-changing event.
Look at what she said to Gabriel after he told her the Holy Spirit would impregnate her: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Later, after Mary visited Elizabeth and Elizabeth screamed that Mary was blessed (Luke 1:39-45), Mary burst forth with a song of praise (vv. 46-55). It is called The Magnificat because of the Latin translation of the word “magnifies.”
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
So, what lessons can we draw from Mary in this miraculous story?
Lesson 1: Humility, gratitude and praise should be our first response whenever God does something for us, in us or through us.
Mary began her song by praising God with everything in her. She humbly acknowledged there wasn’t anything special about her – she called herself a servant (literally bondservant or slave) in v. 38 – but God chose to bless her with His mighty power by having her give birth to Jesus Christ. There was no narcissism on her part. Personal application: How do you respond when you know God has done something for you, in you or through you?
Lesson 2: Knowing what the Bible teaches is critical to our understanding of God.
As a Jewish girl, Mary was brought up studying the scriptures. Her Magnificat shows her rich biblical knowledge because some of it was taken from Hannah’s prayer when God blessed her with a son after she had been barren (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Mary’s knowledge of the Bible stands in sharp contrast to what is happening in churches today. According to a Christianity Today article earlier this year, biblical illiteracy is an epidemic. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/july/epidemic-of-bible-illiteracy-in-our-churches.html Personal application: How much time do you spend reading the Bible to grow deeper in your relationship with God?
Lesson 3: It’s not about you.
For centuries, the Jews had been waiting for the Messiah. And now Mary was pregnant with Him, but she wasn’t self-absorbed, thinking she was “all that” because God had chosen her to give birth to the Son of God. She knew the birth of Jesus meant that God remembered the covenant promise He had made to Abraham when He separated Abraham from his family to start the Jewish nation, from which the Savior of the world would come (Genesis 12:1-3). Mary might not have known all the details about the child she would give birth to, but she understood the significance. Personal application: Do you understand the significance of Jesus’ birth and what it means for all mankind?
Many have put Mary’s Magnificat to music. Here is my personal favorite by trumpeter Phil Driscoll. Take a listen:
Next week (bonus lesson):
Samuel: The Boy Who Spoke for God