Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Cocoon of Selfishness


Noah didn't go to church today, so I had the rare opportunity to drive to church alone. As is typically the case when I am by myself, I got lost in my head. Ironically, in a very "meta" moment I started thinking about what it is that I typically think about. Ouch! That was a bit revealing and rather uncomfortable, because what I usually think about Not me as a person. I'm not going through a mental list of my attributes or my liabilities. Rather, I am constantly thinking about what I need to do, what I want to do, what I have to do, and when I am going to do it.

I...I...I...that is the prevailing pronoun in the soundtrack of my mind.

Now thinking about my responsibilities, obligations, wants, and needs is not a bad thing in and of itself. If I don't plan for things at work and home, then they won't get done. However, if I spend so much time focusing on MY stuff, then there is no room left to thing about anything, or more importantly, anyONE else.

Many, many years ago, when Robert was a youth minister, he preached about "My Favorite Sin." This doesn't mean a sin that we enjoy the most, but the one that becomes "favored" just because it is our default sin; the one we revisit again and again. I have several favorites unfortunately, but selfishness is definitely in the top three and most likely holds the uncoveted #1 spot if I am honest.

I think (hope!) that most people wouldn't describe me as selfish. I try to act non-selfish at worst and selfless at best. I feel I am generally successful at being unselfish in my actions. However, there is constant argument and back-and-forth in my mind. I am having to wage war against my innate desire and thought processes of selfishness. I very much understand and commiserate with what Paul writes in Romans 7: 15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." So, is with the grace of God, I have been moderately success at behaving in an unselfish matter, the next step (or first step?) is to get my head in the game. If my brain is full of "I" and "me" then it can't also be full of "you" and "them." I talk in class often about cognitive resources and working memory. Our brains, as wonderful and complex as they are, can only do so much at one time. I need to open up some synapses and neural pathways to focus more on others in my head, which should naturally result in increased actions as well.

So, all of that had been whirling through my gray matter just on the brief drive to church. Then Robert's sermon focused on this passage (emphasis mine):

1 Peter 4:7-11New International Version (NIV)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

To me, on this date, with my current frame of mind...BOOM! That hit me right where I needed it. To me this passage is all about getting out of my head (so that I may pray) which will lead to loving others deeply. In turn, that results in offering hospitality without grumbling, without thinking about how doing so interferes with my plan and agenda or how it upsets my mental schedule of what should be. To serve others unselfishly isn't about me pulling myself up by my bootstraps, but relying on the strength that God provides. Always. Every time.

That's mind-blowing. That's life-changing. That's empowering. It's also really, really hard. Something about that "dying to self" part really makes the whole thing difficult. However, things worth doing don't usually come easily.

Instead, I'll try to set the "me" aside, roll up my sleeves, and get to God's strength.

P.S., Ironically, hospitality is my spiritual gift---the one I "have received to serve others"--and I haven't been too faithful to flex that muscle either, but more on that later.