In the past few weeks, I’ve become acutely aware of my usage of the first person pronoun “I.” I’m not sure why exactly I’ve suddenly become so cognizant about this part of my speech, but it has become like an annoying clicking sound in the background. On a scale of one to narcissist, I’m in the ballpark of wherever self-conscious would fall because I’m noticing it all the stinking time. “I did this. I do that. I, I, I, I.” In my head, I sound like a dolphin or those annoying birds from Finding Nemo that can only seem to say the word “mine.”
As I go to add to a conversation with a personal experience, the sound of “I” echoes in my mind. It feels out of place, forced — like I shouldn’t have said anything at all but simply listened in silence.
As I answer a question, I begin with “I” and yet somehow it feels wrong.
I might be blowing this way out of proportion. In reality, my degree of “I” usage might not be as narcissistic as it sounds in my head. Or maybe it is, and at this moment, I desperately put the desire for a more selfless me in the hands of my brothers and sisters who I hope are brave enough to rebuke me if this is in fact the case. I pray that they would love me enough to kindly correct me.
But more and more I’ve become hyperaware of this single-syllable, mono-letter word that is so incredibly small yet so freely scattered throughout our conversations and internal dialogues.
While this utterance is so incredibly small, it tends to fill a large number of our daily word count.
Part of me wonders what would happen if we all collectively had a transcription of every word we said in the last year or so and punched “command+f” (or whatever the equivalent is for PC). Part of me wonders how many times the word “I” would appear. Part of me wonders what the percentage of our “I” usage would be. And then there is another part of me that’s okay with living in ignorance because I might not like the results.
We can definitely chalk this up to the flesh and our desire to be first. After all, it is called the first person.
Every shortcoming can be traced back to our humanness. However, I would also throw in the subliminal parts of our culture and syntax that feed our flesh.
Fun Fact: “I” is the only pronoun we are taught to capitalize when we’re in grade school. And what else are we doing when we capitalize something other than emphasizing or bringing attention to something?
And Fun Fact #2: What’s actually really fascinating in a very disheartening way about this is that in “proper” writing, there are times when using the first person (“I”) is acceptable. But even when referring to Deity, to God, capitalizing the third person pronoun Him like I just did is incorrect, frowned upon, a big no-no in more formal writing.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Doesn’t that define culture as we know it? Because culture says, the world says to put all of the emphasis on “I,” on one individual before him or her or them and especially Him. Culture says it’s all about boasting in me, in my accomplishments, in my abilities, not in anyone else and especially not in Jesus Christ.
Over spring break, I went on what I like to call a mini road trip. My high school best friend and I decided to go to Waco, Texas for an overnight stay – something that would get us out of Oklahoma and away from the stresses of school. About a week before we left, I realized I hadn’t made arrangements for where we would stay. I had thought about it in my head, but for anyone who knows me knows that sometimes I think about doing something so much that I have actually convinced myself that I’ve done it. Just one of my minor character flaws.
For this trip, I had an idea of who we could stay with. We had options, but it was last minute. We ended up staying with my Bible school teacher from when I was a kid. Her husband is a preacher there at Lake Shore Church of Christ, and I thrilled at the idea of getting to spend some time with them even if it was for only a couple of days.
Our time with them didn’t disappoint. Even though it was a little last minute, she was ready for us. She said she never knows when she’ll be having people over night so she’s always prepared with freshly made beds though she warned us about the possibility of finding cars and other toys hidden under the covers. Her grandchildren like to play on the beds.
Instantly, she welcomed us with Zimbabwe tea and cheerful conversation, but what was so amazing about the conversation is that nearly every word was filled with Jesus, a concept I had heard of all my life but had never seen to such magnitude until that week. Every point of conversation pointed back to Christ. And she wasn’t trying to squeeze Him in. That is just who she is – a boaster of Jesus Christ.
Never have I seen Paul’s preaching of boasting so clearly demonstrated. Being human himself, Paul understand the fleshly compulsion we have for the word “I” especially in context with building ourselves up and making us seem more than we are. While Paul boasted about others (2 Cor. 7:14) and “boasted in our hope” of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:6), he warned against boasting about ourselves and in our own abilities and actions.
In spite of all the reasons he had to boast in his flesh, Paul did quite the opposite.
“On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—”
2 Corinthians 12:5
I think most of us would much rather talk about all the good things about ourselves than the parts that look more like a rat infested sewer. I know I would rather talk about all the countries I’ve gone to or how I’m getting an advanced degree or all the books I’m reading or have read. But Paul said to boast about the stumbles that make us humble. Basically, I need to boast in how I’m super jealous sometimes, in how I’m overly cynical, in how I have a tendency to be a little judgmental especially about other’s intentions, in how sometimes I assume the worst in others based on very little concrete evidence because I forget that my intuition is not infallible. (Side note: I feel like I’m describing a crazy person right now.)
What’s even more amazing about Paul is that when he wasn’t boasting about his faults and short comings, he was pointing a flashing arrow in neon lights at our Savior in order to bring as much attention to him as he possibly could. Because Christ was made strong in Paul’s weaknesses and he is made strong in my weaknesses and the shortcomings of every believer.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
And as I finish this blog, I wonder if I used “I” too much, and I pray that the message of Jesus resounded louder than the empty, hollow, and powerless “I’s.”