Book Review: “Think Again” by Jared Mellinger
The next book that I would like to share with you is entitled “Think Again – Relief from the Burden of Introspection” by Jared Mellinger, who serves as the senior pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.
“Does your self-examination turn into a Cross-examination? Stuck inside your own head? Pastor Jared Mellinger demonstrates how the hope of the gospel rescues us from too much introspection. With short, story filled chapters and practical instructions for fighting false guilt and unhelpful self-examination, Think Again offers real relief from the burden of excessive self-analysis.” -Author’s note, back cover
Before I discuss how refreshing and how life-changing Think Again was for me, let me ironically tell you a little bit about myself (!?) and the struggles that I have had in this area to make the book incredibly pertinent! Just to set the record straight, it is important that you know that I am the MOST introspective person who has ever lived. Ever since I can remember, I have been constantly and consistently (consciously and subconsciously) evaluating everything that I do. I have lived staring at myself. As a kid (with as much introspection that a kid can have), I have memories of playing soccer and basketball and choosing to quit because I was SO focused on how much better others were at those sports than I was. It made more sense in my young mind to eliminate my participation because of the fear of disappointing my teammates. It was better to not continue because I didn’t want to be made fun of and ruin their experience. I cared very deeply as a high school student about what I wore and what I looked like, I feared failure, and I feared not being able to perform as well as my friends did. No matter what I tried, I could not shake the burden of not feeling good enough and the continual process of self-evaluation. The level at which I thought I was supposed to perform was always heart-wrenchingly out of reach. I couldn’t be funny enough. I couldn’t play music well enough at school. I couldn’t get the 4.0. I couldn’t make it into AP Calculus or AP Physics.
I wish I could say that things turned around completely when I went off to college, but that wasn’t entirely my experience. Thankfully, God showed me who He is and He showed me who I am through His Word, the Church, and the Christian friendships I had and I began to learn that Jesus Christ and HIS work is where I find my identity. However, the residue of the past years of life had left me still struggling to achieve perfection for myself. I had unknowingly sucked myself into continual introspection. I was ALWAYS staring at me. I was deep in (and I still struggle with this!) self-obsession and I was addicted to myself. I was filled to overflowing with upside-down pride. This would eventually show itself in nearly every area of life throughout college and after. As a student at UNC, I constantly felt as though I had to sincerely apologize for doing well in my classes because I didn’t get through them with perfection. I could not receive any praise for any of it. I had difficulty being myself around many people because I was deathly afraid of them seeing what I was really like, which resulted in further examination of whether or not what I was really like was good enough for them. This was prevalent throughout my time in college and it culminated in my graduation, and when I was handed my diploma for earning my degree, it was one of the most underwhelming moments of my life. I couldn’t find the balance between acknowledging what I had done well to earn this degree and feeling a tremendous amount of guilt and shame for not having had the perfect road of attaining it. These feelings also continued throughout my time as a young professional after my time at UNC. I have very vivid memories of being in tears as I drove to work, holding it in throughout the day, and then being in tears again as I drove home. I felt as though I could do nothing well. As I look back now, I realize and rejoice that God had not stopped pursuing me and showing me glimpses of Christ, which I recall feeling as sweet balms to my soul because I was able to behold Someone other than myself. And this is the person that I am now: one recovering from a life of self-addiction and self-analysis to one who beholds Jesus.
Toward the middle of this summer I had read a post by Jared Mellinger on the Desiring God webpage entitled “Self-Examination Speaks a Thousand Lies” and it immediately drew my attention. In the article (which you should also read!), he discusses how easily self-examination turns into self-absorption and how dangerous it can be to live in this pattern of analysis. Scripture does command us to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5), but the examining that I was doing and had been doing for a long time was Christ-less. The examining that I had been subjecting myself to had resulted in seasons of deep sadness, frustration and fear, feeling egregiously behind in my walk with Christ, a continuous sense of being overwhelmed by my sin, and little to no joy or relief because I had been looking to me. Please know that it is good to feel some of these things and to take our sin seriously and to weep bitterly over our condition, but if we have trusted in Christ, these should not be the final word and should drive us to Jesus. I was clearly missing the second part of this in my life because I was the only person I was beholding.
Mellinger’s writing was very helpful for me to read because I felt throughout that he and I struggle with similar issues associated with excessive introspection. He gave an example of having recently stepped into a leadership position at his local church and due to his misunderstanding in a particular incident, he missed an appointment and experienced eerily familiar thoughts that flooded his mind, such as “Just how pathetic are you, Jared?” and “What will other people think of you?”. He is painfully aware of the bondage that comes from self-absorption. This makes for a very valuable book to read. He is acutely in touch with how this has played out in his own life and displays a tremendous sensitivity in showing this to the reader.
I was struck often by the up-front and nearly medicinal statements that Jared often makes, such as “We tend to base the way we feel about ourselves on our appearance, our performance, or how we measure up against others. We look for value inside ourselves, in our gifts and attainments. This produces fear and insecurity. But Christ reassures the children of God that we are more valuable than we know, and our value is grounded securely in the unchanging reality of being cared for, protected, and loved by our heavenly Father” (Mellinger, 25), and “Our deepest hope for the future is not discovered by looking at ourselves, but by looking to Christ” (26). In one particular section, I found myself almost brought to tears because I felt the importance of looking to Christ, the amount of energy and time I had spent looking at myself, and the hope for change come colliding together. Jared says this: “The Spirit’s goal in showing us our sin is to drive us to Christ and the sufficiency of his grace. The reason we look inward is so we know what to look to Christ for” (Mellinger 46). That’s it. That is the key. The only reason that I should look inward is so that I know what to look to Jesus for. My help does not come and will never come from thinking about myself or analyzing myself. My help comes from the Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone. I need help from outside myself. I MUST look upward.
As one who has spent much of his adult life staring inward, I plead with you to look up and behold Jesus. You will never regret one moment of looking to Him and looking at Him. Only He can satisfy you and only Christ-ospection can rescue you. Look to Jesus! Look and live!
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2