Friday, March 27, 2015

Lovers of Self

I'm reading a Junie B. Jones book with my daughter right now.  I'll read a page or two then she'll read a page or two.  Working together on this charming book is good for both of us: good for her as she stretches her ability to concentrate and good for me as I learn about being a "Shellfish."

The young heroine in the book overheard the word "selfish" as "a shellfish."  She hotly denies being any such mollusk, but when faced with the problem of Christmas her heart is revealed.  She spends 5 dollars (that she begged from grandpa) on a "squeeze-a-burp" for herself, 1 dollar each on temporary tattoos for her family members, and she's planning to steal a charcoal briquette from her dad's grill to give her frenemy/secret Santa recipient.  Nope, not a shellfish at all.

In a strange way this little book reminded me of an article I read awhile back. An unhappy mom, tired of the day to day of raising kids and being a wife, decided to move to Japan. Alone. Six fulfilling months later, she returned.  During those months her marriage - a relationship of 20 years - dissolved into divorce. So she moved into a house in their old neighborhood, sees the kids regularly but basically pursues her own life.  She wrote the article to defend her choice and explain that she's a much better mom now.

I hope that none of us are considering stolen coal as a Christmas gift for next year or planning to move abroad to escape daily sacrificial living. Still Junie B. and the writer of the article, with their extreme examples, both have an important lesson to teach us.  We live in a day and time when being a little selfish is considered healthy, where being a lot selfish is normal, and where immense selfishness is shrugged off with a "you have to do what works for you."  Seeing ourselves clearly, diagnosing our own selfishness is as difficult for us as it is for the child in the story or the real-life runaway mom. Perhaps it is even more difficult because we are apt to excuse ourselves with such extreme examples in front of us.  Our petty desires to have our own way seem so small in comparison. What we need is a good look in the mirror of the Word.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)

Over and over again Jesus did the thing that was BAD for himself.  It wasn't good for him to give up the form of God to take on the form of a human, nor for him to grow up in a carpenter's household in Nazareth.  It wasn't good for him to be the kind of Rabbi who while grieving is swamped with unwanted people, nor the kind who instead of rebuking them feeds them! (Matthew 14).  It wasn't good for him to travel to Judea (where he was nearly killed scant months before) to raise Lazarus.  It wasn't good for him to submit quietly to the humiliation and torture of the cross (John 11, Matthew 26:51-54). All of these and a thousand other selfless sacrifices were simply not in his best interest.

I can't go 5 minutes without worrying about my best interest.

I start sentences out loud with "I" all the time.  As in "I need...", "I think..." "I want..." and under my breath with the much worse, "Well, I deserve."  We're not even going to talk about the sentences that include "don't" and "shouldn't have to." 

Oh I talk a good game.  And I'm not leaving my kids home to move abroad anytime.  But I am a shellfish.  And compared to Jesus who NEVER put his "time," his "plan," his "goals," or his own life ahead of the true needs of those around him, I'm a twisted mess of sin.

Our culture lies about selfishness.  All around us people claim it's no sin at all.  Just a normal part of everyday life.  People who sacrifice themselves are "crazy," "looking for attention" or "codependent".  Yet the Bible claims plainly that being "lovers of self" is as much a sin as treachery, malicious gossip, and arrogance. I am ready to stop buying the lie and look deep into the mirror of the Word. When held up beside my Savior I see my selfishness very clearly indeed.  It's time to repent. 


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