Posts Tagged ‘selfishness’

Saying I need to care for myself sounds so self-centered.  Many of us who follow Jesus Christ might even feel a little nauseated at the idea, because it feels like letting our flesh, our sin, have its way.  Entire sermons are preached and books written against living this way, but we must be careful and specific, because words matter and self-loathing or condemnation can stealthily slip in wearing godly clothes.

Self-care and self-indulgence are not the same; in fact, they couldn’t be more separate and distinct.  I believe the confusion arises from the term “self”, which frequently invokes an image of self-centered living and selfishness, which are, almost universally, considered detrimental to human health, relationship and a functioning society.  In fact, love, compassion, service in integrity, putting others needs before one’s own all run counter to, and are essentially incompatible with, living with self as my focus, because my immediate feelings and desires for me will without exception out-prioritize needs of others.  This is not to say a self-centered person can never serve others; rather, it means they are only capable of doing so either once their own perceived needs are met or perhaps under a guise of integrity crafted in fear.

Motivations behind our will are often obscured to the eye, quietly churning and hardening like stony gravel concealed in our hearts and flesh.  For those known by Jesus Christ and who trust his offer, God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:26-27 is fulfilled and the heart of stone has been supplanted by our loving creator with a refreshed heart of flesh as the catalytic initiation of new life in God, deliverance from the desperate and dark hopelessness of sin’s prison.  This deliverance has been presented by some as requiring a complete despising of one’s self, even one’s identity, typically referring to the word of Jesus in Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”  But let’s take a broader look to include the context of this event.  Jesus said these words immediately after correcting Peter for his self-centered protest of Jesus when he warned the disciples of his approaching death: “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.'” (v. 22-23, my emphasis) Now reread v. 24. So, did Jesus intend for Peter to wholly neglect his personhood, his identity as a man?  Or was Jesus instead pointing to the sin lurking in Peter’s flesh?  Was he calling out the fear rising in his mind from hearing of his Lord being murdered and prompting him to refuse the possibility?  After all, Jesus created Peter; not with sin, but with all his gifts and character in an original, unique design, as he has each human being.  Surely that design is what God is working to restore, not reject, and even enhance along with the rest of his creation (Revelation 21:1-5).

So, then, how do I care for my self in a healthy way?  Self-care manifests as differently as the varied life experiences of each person yet dwells within the same existence and touches the same places in our hearts, like diverse mini-currents and eddies all maneuvering within the larger flow of the same stream.  Self-care is quietness of mind, heart and soul.  It is being willing – more fundamentally, agreeing with the need – to separate from routine engagements with other people and things and choosing to absorb, rather than expend.  A temporary closing of the valve, if you will, of the outflow of our energy and life.  Self-care acknowledges the incontrovertible physical, emotional, mental and spiritual necessity for equilibrium and that the elements of our human design always seek it out, despite potential frustration from our will pushing to stay the course.  Yet, there is much more to it than just “taking a break”.    

For many of us, the startling disorientation Peter experienced from contemplating such a horrific loss can cause our flesh to similarly lurch into denial as a means of survival, to escape and refuse reality to protect what we have secretly defined as “life”.  It exposes a crucial truth:  our hope rests on an outcome rather than on Jesus himself.  This is central, not only to our growth in him and his daily work to restore us, but also to how we care for ourselves.  Self-care is not immersion in or protection of idols we’ve grasped, motivated by fear, but the recognition of those idols as idols, releasing them as powerless and transferring the hope we had previously placed in them to Jesus and his supreme affection for us.  Self-care is a reorientation to truth and light; a consolidation of trust and following, decoupling from the myriad facades of hope and life to select and pursue the one voice that credibly and compassionately promises eternal fulfillment of our original intricate being.

The truth is, ultimate self-care is immersion in, union with, God.  My energy, my love, my healing, my fullness of life come from him alone.  Without self-care, even as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have little to offer anyone in my life because my efforts will, at best, produce a thin residue of love scraped from the remnant of my last encounter with him.  I have gone weeks before without spending more than a few minutes with him (“arrow prayers”), and it takes a toll.  Suddenly, I discover I’m less able to respond in a healthy, productive way to those who depend on me. Life just gets harder, and I start to despair.  Many people I’ve met carry the faint awareness of this in their eyes, flickers of hope losing ground to shadow.  They know deep in their being we were not intended for such an inconsequential, futile existence, but that fading hope is daily met with reinforcement of pain from the world and false helpers, often others who are equally terrified yet also refusing to risk full pursuit of union with God.  Instead, eyes shut tight, they cling to a fraying but familiar rope over a bottomless chasm.  That was me, too; it feels safe, but really caring for myself is opening my eyes and considering that what feels true may be incomplete.  Self-care is moving my gaze off the weakening strands of that rope long enough to discover Jesus reaching out just above my head as he gently encourages me to trust him all the way and instead grab his strong, immovable hand.

Scripture and scripture references taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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Gratitude feels like a lie when I’m suffering or struggling.  Remembering reasons to be thankful during trouble and hard times can be tough, because it sort of rubs across the grain of my expectations, my silently but dearly held belief that when circumstances are pleasant, God is loving me, and when they are miserable, he is angry with me.  I’m not sure where it comes from, but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in carrying it.

I suspect this concealed belief hides inside my selfishness and self-centeredness.  The “me sin”, encouraging me to turn thoughts, events, conversations and even prayers toward what I want, what I feel I deserve, what I’ve decided I’m entitled to, though I’d rarely describe it so explicitly.  After all, would anyone claim that self-centerdness is a virtue?

That’s really the heart of it, right?  We all already know that demanding our own way, insisting on what we want regardless of the consequences, is not good.  That’s certainly not how we want people to interact with us.  So how do I get from here to there; from selfish thinking to thankfulness?

I believe it begins by acknowledging that, while my needs and suffering are sharply real, I am not alone, or even the worst.  In fact, everyone, every human being alive and who has ever lived has suffered.  No matter what has happened in my life, I share it with many, although it can often appear that others are not suffering as much or even at all.  This is the birthplace, I suspect, of the belief that I’m entitled to a better life than what I have – when I look around at others and their experiences (of which I’m usually more ignorant than I realize), I set out to use their apparent lack of pain and worry as justification for resisting, even rejecting the idea of being grateful.  Grateful for what?  My pain?  That I don’t have their life, their freedom, their wealth, their family, etc.?  No.  Grateful for those I do have in my life, no matter how few or how many.  Grateful for any relationship, no matter how distant.  Grateful for forgiveness of my selfishness and the many foolish, even mean-spirited, words and actions I’ve expressed.  Grateful for the ability and freedom to even share these thoughts with whomever is willing to consider them.  Grateful for shelter, heat and food, whatever form they take, be it a cozy home or blankets and just enough food for the moment.

See, that’s the secret of being thankful.  It isn’t borne in having the right things, or having what others have; it’s borne in recognizing there is always another person who doesn’t have what you have, doesn’t know what you know, or is suffering more intensely.  Thankfulness comes from discovering I am not alone, no matter my circumstances, because when all else is lost, when all others have abandoned me intentionally or otherwise, the one who created me and gave up everything he was entitled so that I could live and enjoy his indestructible goodness and riches forever is still there, loving me and ready to listen.

I pray you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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