Why does being selfless have to be so hard?
A couple weeks ago in our women’s Sunday School class, my toddler noticed a little girl carrying around her container of Cheerios and decided he should have some. Moments later, he had her snack and was shoving handfuls of cereal into his mouth. When I reached for the container, he screamed in protest. I took out his cup of Cheerios and offered it to the little girl. My son indicated that he wanted to have both snacks, but I told him to choose which one he wanted. (Of course he wanted hers.) The little girl went to sit on her mom’s lap, munching on his snack as I mouthed an apology to the mom.
It’s not like we’re born selfish, right? Oh wait. . . (see Jeremiah 17:9)
Shouldn’t I Just Give In?
A few days ago, Christopher and I were working through a disagreement, and the subject of selflessness came up.
If we really wanted to be like Christ, we reasoned, shouldn’t we give in to the other person’s wants and desires? After all, in Philippians 2:3-4, it says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
The passage goes on to talk about having the attitude of Christ who “made himself nothing” and “became obedient to death.” (vs. 7-8) If we have placed our faith in Jesus, we have His Spirit living inside us, guiding us in making choices that show love to others.
But. . .
We still sin and struggle with sinful tendencies. All of our past, present, and future sins have been paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross, but we will participate in a fallen world until we reach heaven.
We need to confess our sin before God, and ask for His help to turn away from it. According to biblical teacher, Steve Wibberley, in his book, “Knowing Jesus is Enough For Joy, Period!” there are layers to our sin, with pride, unbelief and rebellion at the root of everything.
“Selflessness” vs. Honest Communication
The battle is intense. Satan wants us to keep us from being an active part in God’s kingdom. So what exactly does it mean to be selfless? What could be a pitfall of focusing on it?
Let’s say I disagree with my husband about something, but decide to be “selfless” and silently give in completely to his desires while ignoring my own. Later, if I think about my “selfless” act, I may commit the sin of pride, thinking I am better than him for giving in. If he had given in completely to my preferences without me giving him an opportunity to share his own, I would be selfish.
Deep, rich communication could be lost if I don’t respectfully share my feelings and preferences and instead try to look “selfless.” (which could cause me to be self-righteous or resentful)
If we instead listen to and validate each others’ feelings and preferences, seeking ways to honor and love the other person, that honest communication may end up looking a lot like compromise.
Maybe Philippians 2 isn’t about how to make myself as miserable as possible.
Some questions I’ve asked myself as I’ve reflected on Philippians 2 are:
Could it be selfish to not share my feelings with my husband?
Could it be valuing him above myself when I give him the opportunity to fully express why he feels the way he does? (without interrupting)
If I feel heard, it is so much easier for me to “look to the interests of others.” But even when I don’t feel heard, I can always go to the One who is ever-present, who was tempted as we were, and who sympathizes with our struggles. (see Hebrews 4:15-16) Jesus is worth the fight against sin.
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