“It’s not about you”

Quiz time.

What’s wrong with that statement in the title?

Answer . . .

There’s no antecedent for the “it.” 

(As a writer, editor, and English teacher, I’m troubled by a missing antecedent because of the ambiguity it creates. And yes, that sentence was a little bit “about me.”)

So I had to do some research to find out what people think the “it” refers to. Turns out different people think it refers to different things. Imagine that. Gotta love ambiguity.

The various meanings of “It’s not about you.”

  • The “it” in “It’s not about you” sometimes means the other person’s rude behavior that indicates his hang-ups. (This includes the use of these words as a break-up line.) It’s used to help people feel better after being snubbed or otherwise treated badly.
  • The “it” in “It’s not about you” sometimes mean “this social gathering of mutual interaction.” So yeah, in that case it’s not about you any more than it’s about anyone else. Which reminded me of this Brian Regan skit, which I believe is timely to watch again right now.

Ahem. More to the point . . .

  • The “it” in “It’s not about you” sometimes means “your life.” After all, the very first line of the wild bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life is “It’s not about you,” and immediately Rick Warren makes it clear he’s talking about your life. Your life is not about you. Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado have echoed the sentiment, among many, many others.

Your life is not about you?

For most Christians, when they say, “It’s not about you,” that’s what they mean. After all, how can such heavy-weight Christian leaders be wrong? (Even though as you can see here Rick Warren himself obviously believes that his life is about him to at least some extent.) 

This translates for most to mean we shouldn’t talk about ourselves. So on a blog, for example, on the page that says “About Me,” a Christian blogger might say “It’s not.” (I actually saw this once.)

Now you may tell me that you know Rick Warren, et al, weren’t really saying your life isn’t about you at all, because that doesn’t make any sense, but simply that you’re not supposed to draw attention to yourself. I heard it again just the other day in a similar vein. “Christianity isn’t about us. It’s about God.”

But consider that besides the fact that this line is confusing, compare it to what really is in the Bible.

Is it in the Bible?

David the psalmist believed his life was about him. Have you ever noticed how many first-person-singular pronouns are used in the psalms? Paul the apostle believed his life was about him. Have you ever noticed how many first-person-singular pronouns are used in the epistles?

David, Paul, and others who have followed in their footsteps with a solid identity, have understood that their lives, which have as their focus knowing God and themselves and loving God and understanding His ways and making Him known to others, are still about them.

Used to shame and silence . . .

I sit with people who have been deeply betrayed, abandoned, and abused, telling them that in the Kingdom of God they really do matter . . .

And I find that “It’s not about you” is one more tool to shut people down who have a story that needs to be heard. Their lives, which are of necessity about them, contain stories of trauma and moral injury, that they desperately need someone to hear and believe.

And yet, when they’ve tried to speak, perhaps in a church small-group setting, about their trauma, they’ve been told that their lives aren’t about them.

One day some of them who have been so silenced will be able to tell it to others when they ultimately speak or write their book. Many of them will be able to give testimony to the One who was faithful through all the trauma they endured, to bring them to healing.

One day . . . when they have voices.

A few Scriptures that are “about you” as children of God in Jesus Christ

As one of my readers, Jane Bartlemas, observed to me, 

Maybe some believers do need to be taken down a notch or two in their assessment of themselves, but the Truth should never be twisted in order to accomplish this. There are also those sitting in the pews who have the opposite problem. Our self-image doesn’t need deflating. On the contrary, we need to be reminded of God’s personal and limitless love.

No, it’s not “all about me,” but it is about how much I am loved and valued by the one who always tells the truth.

God has told us in Romans 8:38-39 that nothing, 

nothing can separate us [those who are in Christ] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Is that about you, O weak child of God? Yes, yes it is.

In 1 John 3:1 John says,

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are!

Is that about you, you who have trusted in Jesus Christ? Oh yes, yes it is.

In Ephesians 3:17-19 Paul prayed a beautiful prayer for the Ephesian Christians, a prayer that extrapolates to all Christians, to know the love of Christ for them . . .

that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

Amazingly, His love for you is about you. 

Ten years ago this month when I joined Facebook, this is what I wrote under the “About Me” section. (That’s what it was called in those days.)

When my bones were broken so that I couldn’t reach out to Him, my mighty Savior, Jesus Christ, whose bones were never broken, picked me up out of the pit and set my feet on a rock. Through my God, scales continue to fall from my once-blinded eyes. My once-feeble knees and once-crippled feet are continuing to be more and more strengthened and lifted up.

Jesus Christ, who turned the wrath of God away from me, resurrected me when He arose and presented me with the astounding gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ in me, the hope of glory. He ascended victorious and carried me with Him into the heavenly places, where I am seated with Him.

Jesus is the spring and fountain of my faith. Jesus is the ocean to which my faith is flowing. He has amazed me and overwhelmed me with His love. He has set a fire in my soul.

I want to be the spring out of which the mighty Holy Spirit river flows that my Savior promised in John 7. I long to run, with patience and joy, the great race that is the Christian life, and to point others the way. “Look! There’s Jesus! The Beautiful One! Run to Him!”

As I look to Him alone for all my holiness, eating His flesh and drinking His blood, I find that I am compassed about with songs of deliverance, I am clothed with the armor of light, and a two-edged sword is placed in my hand.

There are giants in the land. But we are well able to overcome them.

Here’s the Joy for the people of God. Your life is about Him. But it is about you. 

Because you are His. And He is yours.

And He cares . . . about you.

Amen. 

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Rachel
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Rachel

Such a good post Rebecca.

As I continue to heal, two years out from awakening to the abuse and lies that had permeated every aspect of my life, I gain more and more awareness of how it happened. A big part of what cultivated the environment for abuse to flourish is that often, the church teaches messages with very little nuance.

One simple example from an otherwise good sermon delivered yesterday at the church I’ve been at for more than 10 years (who thankfully directed me to counseling when I came to them with issues of abuse. They were humble enough to know that they weren’t equipped/trained.) One of the lines was “there’s no one who needs to be more selfish in their life.”

Five years ago, that would have sent a message to me that even though I was giving absolutely everything I could to my husband, I needed to give more. It would have firmed up in me a resolve to do even more, try even harder, to expect even less.

There are probably plenty of Christians who could benefit from a more “others centered” viewpoint. But I know others who have suffered because someone has taken advantage and abused their selflessness, and there are no messages I’m aware of in the mainstream church culture that tell them that it’s not ok for someone to drain them of life and worth. The message over and over is, give more. Expect less.

The church has got to wake up and see these things, and start understanding people are not one size fits all.

The “It’s not about you,” or “no one needs to be more selfish,” and many other bite sized sayings sound so pious. But as I was reminded this morning reading in Luke 14, Jesus was about people. He embarrassed temple leaders when he healed a woman on the Sabbath who had a curved spine from demonic possession. The temple leader basically said “that’s all well and good but you had six other days of the week you could do that.” So pious!

But Jesus rebuked them that they take care of their animals in trouble on the Sabbath, and this woman possessed more dignity and worth than their oxen.

Keep preaching truth! I’m so grateful for you Rebecca!

NGal
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NGal

I was sure I had seen a similar post from you about the very topic, written some years back.. but maybe it was just a comment.

The ‘it is not about you’ line.. when you are struggling to make some sense about your life and just struggle to survive day by day. You can see someone living their dream and talking about their exploits while you don’t even know what to do with the very demanding practical issues surrounding you… and when you dare to mention your questions, you are silenced and belittled with this.. you don’t matter, you are worthless (of course no one says so dircetly)… while ruthless, unscrupulous people are building their kingdom by trumpling on you and others.

The very concept is so absurd: if ‘it is not about you’ (aka your life has no value), why would you want to invite others into that mindset? Why bring others to a community where they are not cared and valued?
There are places in the secular world with more respect and kindness. (not that I have any illusions about the world in general or think it to be ‘safe’) The church should be that place of love. It is a shame that it often isn’t.
These days I have been blessed with a friend who is seemingly less spiritual than those I used to be close to. That person is kind, loyal, non-competitive, has healthy boundaries and is very honest – she has no great ambitions to turn the world upside down or build a mega ministry (nothing wrong with those desires in themselves..), but I know she won’t stab me in the back for her own advancement or place in the sun 🙂 That is more than I can say for most super Christians with visible ministries I know.

Hope
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Hope

God’s love is all about me. And God’s love is all about each unique human he has created. But that’s what love does, focuses on its object, the “Beloved”.
I struggle with the admonition to be “like Jesus” because we really can’t be. Many who try to present themselves like Jesus are doing so by pretense, trying to use power in ways that Jesus never did and warned us not to.
My mindset has been for many years to be the person God created me to be in His hands. Jesus showed us how much we each matter to our Father in Heaven. Not one of us can be God or anything like Him, but we each get a piece to reflect, so that the fuller picture of who He is shows up in community. I don’t need to do what anyone else is doing for the Kingdom and I stay out of competition. I am dependent on God moment to moment to be authentically myself.

If it is my life, it is a love story about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and me.

Cindy Burrell
Guest

This piece is so gracious and God-honoring. Thank you.

Jesus made it abundantly clear that we mean more to Him than we could imagine, and His involvement in our lives is wondrously personal. Why would anyone intentionally try to make our relationships with our living Lord less than they should be? It boggles the mind.

(I appreciate the Brian Regan segment, too. Gotta love him!)

Jane
Guest

Cindy, I’m trying to figure this out too. I’ve been reading articles. It seems that some find loving one’s self and glorifying God mutually exclusive. In other words, if you believe that you are valuable, you diminish God’s value, His glory… you are a “lover of self!” This is the verse they point to:

2nd Timothy 3:
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,

But this verse is talking about people who are self-centered, arrogant, and abusive! How dare they use this verse to rob Christians of their value, their worth, their God-given dignity! That’s abusive! It’s using (twisting) God’s Truth to demean believers! It’s calling good, bad… and Isaiah has a warning for them:

Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

It couldn’t be intentional; but that doesn’t mitigate the damage it does to sincere believers! And what about unbelievers? Every human being, whether they admit it or not, has a deep, legitimate (God-given) need to be valued and loved! It’s not the “flesh” that cries out for significance! And here’s the irony… when this legitimate need goes unmet, that’s when people (with low self-esteem) become “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, and abusive!”

NGal
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NGal

Heureka! I found the post I was referring to. Yes, it was the March 26th blog post. 🙂

Similar concept and way too common. Especially in those churches that don’t want to be too inward looking, but reach out to others… The problem is, if members are only valuable as tools or laborers in recruiting others into the same ‘labor camp’, where are the new members supposed to get help and love? Speaking to others of love of God and promising them a loving community (and bringing them to church where they will in time treated just the same…) is just misleading advertisement. But that is how many cults operate. Love-bombing first, then – enslavement.

Jane
Guest

When I was seventeen, I met – and fell hopelessly in love – with Jesus Christ.

You see, the home I grew up in was not a very healthy one… I was yelled at, called names, and intimidated by a cruel father… but the worst part was I couldn’t even tell anyone how much it hurt… if I knew what was good for me!

By late high school, I was so twisted into knots that I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Out of desperation, I took a leap… Jesus had become a man; He walked in my shoes; maybe, just maybe, He could understand my pain. The moment that I believed, His love pierced through me with a beauty that took my breath away… and convinced me of my immense value and worth… and, oh how I needed that!

That was a long time ago. The sad thing is that over the many years of Church attendance, Christian fellowships, etc… the message hasn’t always been clear. I’m sure it’s rarely, if ever, intentional, nonetheless, biblical truths seem to get distorted, and it causes confusion and pain.

A wonderful youth ministry, Young Life, was instrumental in leading me to Christ back in high school. I love one of their sayings: “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it!” …. and I believe it’s true:)

Brenda Linn
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Brenda Linn

I minister to women who have been abused by their husbands and by the church.

One of the things they need assurance of is that

“You are supposed to exist.”

Yes, they actually need to hear that.

They have been convinced that they should feel guilty for casting a shadow.

They have been shamed for having feelings, voices, opinions and dreams.

Erasing people does not glorify God.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

What you say, Brenda Linn, is so very true. Feeling guilty for casting a shadow, taking up space, existing. And if the abuser is really relentless, he’ll eventually start in on her as to how she needs to suicide, so as to stop wasting oxygen, food, water, etc. with her continued existence.

“You are supposed to exist.”

Yes, indeed, such is needed. I’m glad you tell them that and reassure them of such. It’s so important. 🙂 Glad they have you, Brenda, supporting and encouraging them.

So many people don’t want to get involved and risk their worlds being damaged, harmed, or otherwise negatively affected. And it’s hard to be in direct contact with someone being abused, beaten, and worse.

“You are supposed to exist.” You are worthy of existing.