“You deserve a break today.” “Look out for Number One.”, “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?” These popular expressions and slogans represent the attitude of our age. How did we get to the point where the masses are so focused on self-gratification, self-improvement, self-enlightenment, self-indulgence, and other areas with self at the center, while fewer and fewer are concerned with the needs and well-being of others? Granted we were all born into a fallen world and therefore have some degree of inherent self-centeredness. However, we cannot roll over and accept this as our permanent reality; it’s time to confront our selfish attitude.
The truth of the matter is that we were taught to be selfish. Now, who was the culprit, the teacher in your life? Was it the workaholic or absentee parent who set a few spending or other limits on you because he or she felt guilty for not spending time with you? The indulgent parents who wanted to make sure you experienced every privilege that was denied them during their childhood? The absence of selfless role models? Or, was it a post-childhood event such as a deep emotional hurt that left you reeling and resolved to never love so selflessly again? Or, perhaps you are so overwhelmed with your own day to day survival that you have no energy left to think about anyone else’s needs?
The causes of selfishness are endless; however, they do not justify our continuing to be the central focus of our lives. God expects each of his children “to deny” themselves and to devote their lives to unselfish service to others. Selfishness dies hard but it is a stronghold that you must break to experience the peace and joy that give life meaning. You’re going to need a lot of support on this negative attitude because your justifications for being the way you are will sabotage your desire to change. Nevertheless, you must fight it, so give this plan a try:
- Be accountable to someone and give him or her permission to monitor your progress.
- Look for an immediate opportunity to share your time or talent with a worthy cause. You need to get up close and personal so that you can empathize with the plight of others. I had only a remote awareness of abject poverty in America until I went on a field trip to the Appalachian Mountains with World Vision USA, the premier Christian humanitarian organization. There I met women who told us how they had prayed for something as basic a mop to clean her floors—right in America, the land of plenty. It broke my heart. The impact would not have been the same if I had simply read about her and sent a donation. Seeing a need firsthand nurtures your empathy and sparks a spirit of generosity.
- Give away something that you really like and would prefer to keep. (This is a good challenge for your children also.) The goal here is to begin to break your emotional attachment to “stuff” each day. Don’t keep storing up more and more for yourself. Remember the tragic end of the rich farmer Jesus told about in his parable (see Luke 12:16-21). He did not consider sharing his overflowing harvest with others but rather boasted that he would simply build bigger barns and eat, drink, and be merry. God took his life that same day.
- Engage in anonymous benevolence. Leave a needy person such as a senior citizen, student, or single parent a cash gift in an envelope. Do not put your name on it and do not tell anyone you did so. No, you can’t deduct this on your income tax return but God promises to return it so you can expect him to do so in due season. “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, And He will pay back what he has given” (Proverbs 19:17).
Let me caution that this call to selflessness is not a call to abandon your self-care. You must be on guard against going to the extreme by sacrificing for others to the point where you not only jeopardize your health and mental well being but become resentful for doing so. This is not God’s best. Saying no may occasionally be the appropriate response to a request. The important thing is to make the decision out of a pure heart of love and wisdom.
Father, I thank you for every resource and advantage that you have given me. Help me to always remember that these blessings are to be shared with others for your glory and not to be consumed totally upon myself. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Adapted from Choose Your Attitude, Change Your Life, Deborah Smith Pegues (Harvest House Publishers).