Perseverance and God's-Eye View

Self-distancing is taking a step out of ourselves
Self-distancing is taking a step out of ourselves

Did you know that those who refer to themselves in the third person show a higher capability for perseverance and more self-patience? It's true. Try it … maybe not out loud at first, but in your internal dialogue. You'll likely find it's much easier to say nice or reaffirming things about yourself when using the third-person voice.

A recent study highlighted in Psychology Today suggests the same trick works for children. So does inviting them to dress up as Dora the Explorer or Batman. The whole process is known as self-distancing. It allows children to disengage from negative feelings of self-doubt and boredom and invites them to identify — or even channel — some of the positive traits of the character they are portraying.

(Sadly, the study was only performed on children. If you'd like to conduct your own personal study by wearing a Batman suit to your place of employment, please measure the results carefully and email me at the address below. Pictures are encouraged.)

 73 Your hands have made and fashioned me;
   give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
   because I have hoped in your word. (Psalm 119)

Though the Psalms were written thousands of years ago, they are still relevant to us today. They are relevant because they have an ability to supply us with words when our own fail. They speak to us in times of distress. They give us words for times of grief, for raging at God or for celebrating. They tell us about the nature of God. They also tell us about ourselves. At times, the Psalms put us in our place — reminding us that there is a God and we are not it. But Psalms also speak to us words of encouragement for perseverance and diligence — much like the words we might use about ourselves in the third person … or when we're assuming the role of Batman.

Instead of buoying us through a bit of make-believe or character adoption, the Psalms provide us with words of identity. They tell us who we are. The Psalms do not buoy us by allowing us to see ourselves as someone else. Rather, they buoy us up by allowing us to see ourselves through someone else.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother's womb. 
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well. 
15   My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
   intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
   all the days that were formed for me,
   when none of them as yet existed. 
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
   How vast is the sum of them! 
18 I try to count them — they are more than the sand;
   I come to the end — I am still with you. (Psalm 139)

The Psalms give us a God's-eye view of ourselves. In reading the Psalms, we catch a glimpse of ourselves from God's perspective. There is a bit of self-distancing that happens in this. We step out of ourselves to see a new, or different, perspective. This is the perspective of the One who created us. It's a perspective that sees us as creatures of value, worthy of love, with our own creative abilities, imbued with a Divine strength.

5 You, Lord, are all I have,
    and you give me all I need;
    my future is in your hands.
6 How wonderful are your gifts to me;
    how good they are! (Psalm 16)

The Psalms point us to a perspective we often adopt in looking at our own children — and they provide for us wonderful, poignant, relevant words to ourselves and to speak over our kids. Our society tends to provide children feedback based upon achievement. And so often children can feel that their personal value is derived from achievement. The Psalms remind us that value is not derived from achievement. Our value is gifted to us by the Creator through love.

I have a tendency to leave important messages for myself on the bathroom mirror. It's a place my eyes go fairly often (I'll let you interpret that however you want). Some days it's a place I could use some positive reinforcement — those days when I'm just not feeling great about the guy who looks back at me. The bathroom mirror is a great place to self-distance — to invite some perspective through eyes of love. The words of the Psalms interrupt my moments of self-doubt or angst when they're displayed on the bathroom mirror. Perhaps you, too, can find some places of interruption, where the words of the Psalms could be used to offer some healthy self-distance. Perhaps there are some places where the words of the Psalms might offer healthy self-distance and perspective for your children: a lunch sack, a book cover, a bedroom wall, a pocket note or spoken words (use Batman's voice when necessary).

These words of affirmation will assist our children (and ourselves) in finding our own innate strength when the tensions of life threaten to paralyze us. While it is fun to channel the adventurous spirit of Dora or the grittiness of Batman, may doing so not keep us from seeing the reality that we have our own adventurous, gritty abilities. May you and your children persevere, knowing that you have been gifted with strength of character, unique ability and infinite worth.

1 Protect me, O God; I trust in you for safety.
2 I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord;
    all the good things I have come from you." (Psalm 16)


Ryan Dunn is the author. Ryan serves as the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church.