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You're So Vain

I struggled recently over a simple word—and I blame it all on Dr. Phil.

Not long after I signed onto the popular Internet social networking site Facebook, a little pop-up ad for Dr. Phil's personality quiz appeared on my home page. I'm a sucker for magazine quizzes and online polls, so I figured, Why not? What have I got to lose?

I clicked and proceeded to answer a short series of multiple-choice questions. Then I hit "send," confident I'd receive an assessment that affirmed how nice, caring, and empathetic I am. When the results arrived, I eagerly scanned them. One word in my profile caught my eye: "Vain."

Surely there's some mistake, I reassured myself. There's no way I'm vain! I reread the results—this time, with my glasses on. Unfortunately, the words didn't change. So I retook the test. To my consternation, I received the same unwelcome assessment: "Vain."

Whenever I thought about vanity, I associated it as something those people on Dr. 90210, the cable TV show that features Beverly Hills plastic surgeons, exhibit with their obsessive self-preoccupation with physical appearance. Or that '70s Carly Simon song with its catchy refrain: "You're so vain/I'll bet you think this song is about you/Don't you? Don't you?"

Well, I didn't really think this word was about me. After all, I'm not "high maintenance"; I don't spend much time on my hair or makeup. Okay, my weight bothers me, and I think about it a lot. Was this what qualified me as vain? Me—and every other woman I know.

So I double checked what God's Word says about vanity. Although the word doesn't appear in more contemporary versions, it's used frequently in the King James. From Ecclesiastes, with its well-known "'Vanity of vanities,' says the Preacher, 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity'" (1:2) to the Psalms to Job—"Surely God will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it" (35:13). Sobering, indeed.

But perhaps one of the most sobering verses I read is Hosea 12:11: "Though Gilead has idols—surely they are a vanity—Though they sacrifice bulls in Gilgal, Indeed their altars shall be heaps in the furrows of the field" (NKJV, itals mine).

Idols and vanity. An unsettling connection. And then I reread Jesus' parable about the rich fool (Luke 12: 16-21), the successful farmer who congratulated himself on his accomplishments (over which he really had no control) and decided to build bigger and better barns and bask in his wealth. "But God said to him, 'You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get it all?'" Then Jesus says, "Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God."

No Dr. Phil personality quiz can tell if my heart's as foolish as the man in Jesus' story. But the Holy Spirit can. And as I pondered my indelicate diagnosis of vanity, God's Spirit prompted me to confess to deeper, darker leanings than preoccupation with appearance. I had to admit to the idols I set up in my life, the ones I sacrifice my time and attention to in an ultimately vain exercise of misplaced affection and worship. How often I make my own best-laid plans or attribute success to my strengths or perform hollow acts of service! God's Word warns me my life is like a vapor, and that God—not I—is in control. Without that awareness and motivation, truly the life I live will be fruitless, meaningless, foolish, conceited, and, yes, vain.

I'm so vain. There, I've admitted it—with or without Dr. Phil's personality quiz. Since the Garden, it's been part of our human condition; frankly, it's part of my condition. But through Christ, God replaces the hollow, futile vanities of life with fullness, purpose, and fruitfulness. That's the kind of personality traits I desire most of all!

Do you think you're vain? What are you overly preoccupied by? And could you be worshiping any idols?

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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