Self-talk. Soul-talk. Positive affirmation. Your inner coach. If you read headlines from modern psychology you may be familiar with these phrases. The Huffington Post’s website has just under 50 articles listed under the tag “self-talk,” and an Amazon search turned up 34,793 results in books alone (I made it to #5 before I quit). The idea behind the phrases is that each of us has a constant inner monologue going on, a torrent of words, perspectives, and evaluations that no one hears but ourselves. By changing the tone and content of this self-talk, the experts say, we can change ourselves. Hence we have books titled “What to Say When You Talk to Yourself” and “Self-Talk Your Way to Success.”
I think, as usual, the psychologists are on to something…and have simultaneously totally missed the deeper point. Let me explain.
Do you and I experience something that could be labeled “self-talk?” Absolutely! It’s a very accurate description of part of the human experience. Think back on the last hour. Tune in to the thoughts you’ve had. Did you evaluate yourself? Did you think about a problem? Have you compared yourself? Were any of your thoughts self-congratulatory, or self-condemning? Odds are that they were. You could translate many of those thoughts into statements about yourself to yourself. He was wrong when he did that to you – he doesn’t respect you at all! You just sounded like an idiot – you’re never getting that job. Those kind of statements could be called “self-talk,” and if we pay attention I think everyone would have to say we experience something like that.
But here’s where the psychologists totally miss the real issue. If you change from “negative self-talk” to “positive self-talk,” what doesn’t change? Self. The autonomy of me. My perspective matters most. Whether I’m saying positive or negative things to myself, I’m still at the center – and that’s a problem, especially for Christians. Though we live and move in God’s world, in the arena of our minds most of us are functional atheists. And a me-centered conversation can only go so far before it derails into pride or despair.
Here’s the good news: for a child of God, self-talk can become God-talk. No place models this for us better than Psalm 119. As David Powlison points out in his article “Suffering and Psalm 119,” no two words are more common in this psalm than “you” and “I.” The psalmist makes statements to God about God: “You are good and do good;” “You are my hiding place and my shield;” “But you are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true” (vv. 68, 114, 151). He talks to God about himself: “I am a sojourner on the earth;” “I am yours; save me;” “I am severely afflicted;” “I am your servant;” “I am small and despised” (vv. 19, 94, 107, 125, 141). He asks God for life, for understanding, for deliverance, for protection. He tells God about his trials and his struggles with sin. Self-talk meets God-talk. God-talk redeems self-talk. The result? Sanity. Health. Life. Hope. “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word” (114).
For those who have trusted in Christ, who now call the creator of the universe “Father,” an inner monologue is an absurdity. Why talk only to yourself when you can talk to the Almighty, your Maker and your friend? So yes, tune in to your self-talk – but don’t let it remain self-talk. Speak to the Lord: about who he is, about who you are, about what you face, and what you need. Turn self-talk into God-talk. “Blessed are those…who seek him with their whole heart!” (v.2).
Photo by Mrsdkrebs.