Have you noticed people talking about self-actualization a lot these days?
It seems to me like it’s the next “go to.” When I was a kid growing up in Encinitas (north of San Diego), self-actualization took place in the form of the commune by the beach where the people looked serene and everyone wondered what they did exactly. Now as an adult, I’m more concerned with the actual definition of self-actualization. In Webster’s dictionary to self-actualize means to fully realize one’s potential. Another way to say this is to pursue a better version of oneself.
Here’s the problem: self-actualization doesn’t work. One reason: it can’t. Here’s why: it presupposes a power we don’t have. We believe as people that we have the power to do anything we want. The people we look up to as heroes are no different. Here’s the problem with that: no human has ever come close to anything like the earth-shattering magnitude and fundamental perfection of getting exactly what we want, except one.
We are bent for self-actualization, meaning we are drenched with longing for that which we don’t yet have. Just because it isn’t within us doesn’t mean we aren’t made for it. So, we do just about anything we can to get what we don’t have: we work longer and take less time off, our stress level increases, and then we get psychotropic medications prescribed to us to deal with the anxiety and depression created by our increased workload. Throw in the caffeine for our exhaustion and Netflix for a bit of enjoyment and we’re higher still.
Yet in the Bible, self-actualization takes the form of discipleship. The way to really find oneself is to aspire to become someone else. Instead of becoming ourselves, we apprentice ourselves to the One we follow. In the Christian story, the Son of God came down and laid down His royal life for one, alarmingly specific reason: because it was the will of someone else. He actualized according to His Father’s will.
We believe the well-known line “not my will, but thine, be done” (John 6:38-40) is the touchstone moment of actualization that both completely changed the history of the world and defines what self-actualization really is: laying down our lives for our friends. The Son of God submitted His will to His Father and then faced the veritable firing squad on behalf of people He loved. Then He was brought back from the dead by the power of the One who loved Him. Now, anyone who comes with Him can also be changed in this frank and fundamental way. What a wild definition of self-actualization! In the Christian faith, self-actualization is the process of becoming so completely with and like Jesus—submitted and formed into the will of God in the love of God and the people in one’s life—that the good stuff, the love of God and the heart of God, the most powerful force, and powerful thing, comes true.