Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On Selfishness

"Self is ingenious, crooked, and governed by subtle and snaky desire, admits of endless turnings and qualifications, and the deluded worshippers of self vainly imagine that the can gratify every worldly desire, and at the same time possess Truth."  -James Allen

I am realizing more and more how blinded we are as Americans to our selfishness and our intense striving for comfort and ease. Why are we blinded? Well, partly because we're sinful humans, but partly because our (American) society literally condones it and accepts it as "normal" or "how you should be". If you're not happy in marriage, get a divorce. If it's not 'convenient' to have a baby now, get an abortion. It's all about me me me and my happiness. Those big things are obvious (and controversial, sadly), but I think it pervades down into the small stuff too- our possessions, our time, our energy, and our relationships all are supposed to makes our lives better, easier, more comfortable. It's a right. It's an entitlement.

But, I've found out that most of the world just doesn't live that way. For instance, my Romanian roommate told me that growing up she was taught to believe that life will be hard, so don't complain, don't expect it'll be easy, and suck it up. Right. Not so much what I was fed into my head. By anyone. Ever. It's hard to even conceive of another mentality in America, hard to even think of how to be different, because there's no reason NOT to be selfish, in a sense, because in America it doesn't seem selfish, especially the little things. 

I've been thinking more and more about this, as there are people in our church congregation who literally don't always have enough money for food. Or for example, a girl from our church walked into my house one winter day without a scarf on, and I was like Dude, what is your problem, it's COLD out there! And she was all, "I don't have a scarf." Oh. Oops. Sobering. And even though I have 3, my heart was all, "Which one do I 'like' least, I'll give her that one, or maybe my roommate will give one, since she has 15." ew ew ew. I'm still giving from my "excess" in a sense. I'm even selfish in my giving. 

I am thankful the Lord has blessed me with resources and money and possessions to be able to give, but my time abroad has shown me the ways in which my heart clings to them. Yet these resources and possessions are NOT mine, they are Jesus', so WHY do I still cling to them as a "right?" I think that's why Jesus said it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. When we have more, it somehow feels so much more painful to give it away. We want to cling to it.  It becomes an idol. 

I don't have a lot here, but I certainly have more than most of the students in our church, and I wonder how much MORE the Lord would have me give from what he's given to me. When God blesses us with much, it's not so that we can keep it for ourselves, but so that we can give more lavishly to others. He doesn't pour out blessings and grace on us so it can be ours, but so that we can bless others. 

Before I left the states (almost a year and a half ago, wow!) I read a challenge somewhere, I forget what it was called, but the idea was to give away 100 things. Set a goal to give away 100 things. I did it with clothing, purses, belts, shoes, etc. And I realized how easy the first 90 came. How the first 90 were things I actually didn't particularly want, or hadn't worn in years. I moved to Romania with only 2 suitcases, and I bet I have less than 100 items of clothing in TOTAL here. And you know what? I'm so so happy and content with that and don't feel like I'm lacking AT ALL. I feel simplified and freed from the bondage of SO MANY CHOICES. And I still have an entire walk-in closet full of clothes in America- obviously there is a fair amount of business and professional clothing that I don't need at all here, but still, there is a LOT of stuff that clearly I've been totally content without for over a year. 

When I went home in February I decided to do the 100 items challenge again. I had been gone a year, and all that clothing sat there for a year that could have been used by someone who doesn't have enough clothing to wear. So I did it. And it was decidedly harder, but ultimately a great thing for me to do. I'm not sure I got all the way to 100 again, but I definitely thought more intentionally about what I have and why. I'd challenge everyone to try this. Give away 100 things. I'd be willing to bet it's easier than you think. And it may even jumpstart a lifestyle of (more) lavish giving that melts over into other areas of your life (money, time, etc).  

Oddly, it's so easy as a missionary to feel entitled to be selfish. It's almost as if since I've "given up" "so much" to be here, and since so much of my "job" is serving others, somehow I can excuse the selfishness that pops up in small and big ways. And then I remember how Jesus died for me, how Jesus is the ultimate example of selflessness, how THAT is my standard as a Christian for selfless living, and I realize I've given up NOTHING in comparison. So I ask the Lord to make me more like him, to show me how to be selfless, to give me a heart that doesn't cling to time, possessions, and money as "mine" but which gives and gives. It's a slow and painful process for sure. This shedding of self, this shedding of a sense of entitlement, this not seeking comfort and ease of life first and foremost is fiercely countercultural and counter to our sinful nature. But oh how freeing it is! How wonderfully freeing and enabling it is, and I pray for more of it in my life and the lives of those around me. 

Give. Give often. Give lavishly. 

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