I have a confession. I asked myself, “Who do you love, Jen?” The answer wasn’t pretty. An honest response to that question required examination of my words, emotions, efforts, time, and talent. The soul-searching led me down a road I wasn’t sure I wanted to take, but it was worth every step. Take a peek. You might find your own brand of “brave” to take a few steps.
For people will be lovers of self… 2 Timothy 3:2a
Once upon a time I perceived my life and heart all wrong. I’m a wife, mom, teacher, friend, daughter, sister, and aunt. (Those are the roles I think of in a few seconds.) In a sense we’re defined by our relationships, aren’t we? Each relationship has its unique inner workings, expectations, and give and take. When I looked at my close relationships, I saw the “give and take” in each one, but zeroed in on the big, ol’ GIVE for some reason. I was ashamed when I realized why.
Sadly, I mistook something ugly for selflessness and sacrifice. Sacrificial love and giving in relationship has a grotesque caricature, and it looks like my own face, but green with envy, a pouty lip nearly hiding my chin, with a “martyr complex-ion.” Know what I mean? *Sigh* Who wants to own that truth? No one I know.
The first steps on this road were difficult. The truth can hurt.
How do I know I loved myself? Others weren’t excluded from my thoughts by any means. It was in those relationships that I saw the self-love playing out. My words could be focused on me, my life, and my needs. My emotions could be bigger than they should when I was on the wrong side of a conversation or situation. My efforts could be laser-focused on my interests, projects, or in my defense. My time could be used to serve my own needs, and self-care could be the thing I fought for daily. Sadly, my talents seemed to be working as a conduit for personal goals.
I notice that when I am hyper-focused on me and my life, I’m left to evaluate all of it by others’ lives. It’s ridiculously easy to fall in love with the best of what I see and hope to have. Beautiful inspiration starts as “Someday I’ll…” but translates to “I want it now-w-w-w-w-w!” Envy and selfishness distort everything, except motive and means.
I don’t think selfishness was in everything when I looked closely, but my face was at risk. I could take on the envy and selfishness, that ugly caricature, like Dorian Gray. My heart and mind could become more and more preoccupied with me. Or I could choose something else…
It didn’t take long to find what God says about the problem I might face everyday.
For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. James 3:16
I see two challenges for me there. The first is in placing myself at the top of my priorities list. The second is using others as a measuring stick for life. There’s a breeding ground for “every kind of evil.” If I love me first, I have to assume that I “hate” others in comparison. (That includes God and everybody, really.) Ouch! I can speak from experience. Envy and selfishness do nothing for relationships; they ruin everything faster than you can say, “Me, myself, and mine!”
Then I landed on something I couldn’t ignore. Galatians 5 contained a long list of “works of the flesh” which were “obvious” (vv. 19-21). You only get one guess. What do you think was included in that list? Yup, envy and selfishness.
Two things I want to remember about that passage:
• “Works of the flesh” are the things (efforts) dead set against God.
• People who indulge in the list “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Does that mean if I know Jesus and His peace, I can be disqualified from the promise of love made at the cross? No, the covenant promise isn’t fragile or fickle. If I intend to continue to indulge life patterns described by that list, there is something insidious at work. Ultimately, I love me, my survival, and my preferences more than I love the One who died to free me from my life of sin.
And that’s when I heard my own voice in my head: Now, there’s you’re problem!
I dropped the next question on the doorstep of the One who could handle it: God, I can be so selfish! What am I gonna do?
If you read my post last month (on God’s promises), you know who we can count on: Jesus and Holy Spirit. The deepest part of my soul found comfort in the verses that followed the “list.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26
Do you see what I see there? An antidote to envy and selfishness leaps off the page. I see love and various displays of love following. In my mind, there is love, and the rest follows. (Some translations punctuate that way.) Because Jesus sacrificed so much to be in relationship with me, I live lovingly toward others out of His love for me. And I do that because I can? No, I do it because the Holy Spirit is in me to make it possible. I say “Yes!” to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and I say “No!” to envy and selfishness.
That’s the “intellectual ground” covered, but that is not how faith works. Faith knows God’s way, aware it’s impossible to do alone, and takes steps with Him. For me, that looks a like praying for new desires more like His and the strength to choose them. And it looks like seeing other people and loving them well. (I struggle in my busyness or obliviousness every day.) Sure, I’ll take care of my own self appropriately, but I hope to stop placing myself higher in the priority list than I ought.
It’s going to be a bit of a fight. As I said, I can be selfish.
Do you share this struggle? Where might you begin your journey toward selflessness? If you walk the road I’ve traveled—I won’t lie—it might be hard, but you may find beauty in the destination, too.