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I’ve been reading Charlotte Mason’s fourth volume, Ourselves, and while it is full of wise words, this section I’m sharing here today struck me by its almost surprising timeliness.

It’s easy to get the idea that folks over a hundred years ago lived lives so vastly different from ours that they were somehow either more boring and serious or else more backward and superstitious than people are today. The reality is that humanity is humanity, no matter what the era. And apparently there were people getting obsessive over special diets in England at the turn of the 20th century. They may not have the same names or focus, but they perhaps share the same craze. And it’s the craze, the self-absorption, that Miss Mason calls attention to in her chapter on temperance. I’ll let her take it away:

Conscience is not, in fact, so much concerned with the manner of our intemperance as with the underlying principle which St Paul sets forth when he condemns those who “worship and serve the creature more than the Creator.” This is the principle according to which we shall be justified or condemned; and, in its light, we have reason to be suspicious of any system of diet or exercise which bespeaks excessive concern for the body, whether that concern be shown by a diet of nuts and apples, of peacocks’ brains, or of cock-a-leekie. England is in serious danger of giving herself over to the worship of a deity whom we all honour as Hygeia. But never did men bow down before so elusive a goddess, for the more she is pursued, the more she flees; while she is ready with smiles and favours for him who never casts a thought her way. In truth and sober earnest, the pursuit of physical (and mental) well-being is taking its place amongst us as a religious cult; and the danger of such a cult is, lest we concentrate our minds, not upon Christ, but upon our own consciousness. We ‘have faith’ to produce in ourselves certain comfortable attitudes of mind and body; this serenity satisfies us, and we forget the danger of exalting the concerns of the creature above the worship of the Creator. The essence of Christianity is passionate love and loyalty towards a divine Person: and faith, the adoring regard of the soul, must needs make us like Him who is ‘meek and lowly of heart.’ A faith which raises us to a ‘higher plane’ should be suspect of the Christian conscience, as seeking to serve ourselves of the power of Christ, less to His glory than our own satisfaction.
(Ourselves, Book II Part I Chapter III, p. 230-231)

Wow. Fad diets aside, isn’t it so easy to fixate on improving our physical and mental well-being apart from the glory of God? Our culture is drunk with this sort of thing. And while Christians certainly seek to learn and grow, our aim ought to be entirely different.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added,” Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew.

It’s good to be reminded that in all our living and striving, our eyes ought to be on Christ and not on …ourselves. Even when writing a book with that title, Miss Mason makes clear that self-knowledge isn’t an end in itself. And neither is self-improvement. In all of our growth, are we growing more “like Him who is ‘meek and lowly of heart'”? It’s a good question to grapple with before the Lord.

What have you read lately? Anything quote-worthy? I’d love to hear about it! Drop a comment below.