An Attitude We Excuse That Is Inexcusable
I need my me time.
I deserve to be happy.
I should treat myself.
I have my rights.
I should get to do what I want, when I want.
Have you ever thought any of the above? You’re not alone. If we’re honest, most of us have had those thoughts. I certainly do. They’re human. They’re culturally accepted. In fact, some of them have the sound of wisdom. Respecting self. Being self-assured and confident. Being a self-actualized and educated person.
Is having a self-first-all-the-time attitude pleasing to God?
Ouch. I’m about to step on some toes, possibly break some, including my own. Even as I write this, I’m hesitating. Someone is going to be irritated by what I say. I’m going to be irritated by what I say. Furthermore, I know I’m going to, sometime soon, prove exactly why I needed to write this because I’ll do something selfish.
And selfishness is the “heart-itude” behind most of the above Me thoughts, isn’t it?
We live in a society that praises self-worship, or at the least, self-promotion: Grab your destiny and take the wheel before some other person does. Shoot yourself to the top and sing your own praises or else no one will. Take care of number one.
Me-centered philosophies like that lead to thinking our happiness matters more than that of our children or spouse. More than anyone else. Our rights to this traffic lane matter more than the person in the car next to us. Our self-indulgence means more to us than the overall needs of our loved ones. It leads us to think …
I am more important than anything or anyone else.
The Me Heart-itude is all around us. We give up on our marriages, saying, “He doesn’t make me happy anymore. I deserve to be happy.” We get into debt, thinking, “I deserve those things.” We might even spend long hours away from our families because, “I need my me time.”
But, you might argue, I’m not talking about buying a yacht. I just need a little something. I have to think of myself. If I don’t take care of me, who will? I understand the sentiment. As a mother of a special needs child, I went for almost seven years of sleeping less than three hours at a stretch. My entire body crashed after that, including a bout with cancer. I know what self-neglect feels like.
But self-neglect is not what I’m advocating. We should use good sense to care for ourselves. We should get rest and eat the healthier options available to us. We can’t be everything to everyone. We can’t volunteer for every opportunity that comes along. We have to prioritize, set boundaries, and understand our own physical and mental limits. If we don’t care for ourselves physically and mentally, things will break down.
But the edge between self-care and self-indulgence is where the crux of the matter lies. It’s so, so easy to slide downward from taking care of ourselves into indulging ourselves. We can start thinking of our happiness above everyone else, that we somehow matter more than everyone else, that material success matters more than everything else.
Are we given this life by God to think of “me”? Are our lives about grabbing all we can for ourselves before the end? Or are we here to glorify God, alive by His grace, with jobs to do until He calls us home?
Is success wrong?
There’s nothing wrong with success. Far from it! Success is a blessing. Working hard is a blessing. But if your success comes at the expense of those you love or harms others, is it success? Or is it self-promotion?
The same goes for having healthy boundaries. Boundaries are good. They help us keep our priorities and stay healthy mentally, spiritually, and physically. But beware setting up boundaries that lead to neglecting those you love in order to indulge yourself.
Enjoy the gifts and blessings God has given us. Be thankful for them. But watch out for when those blessings become our main focus. That’s when we move out of balance and into dangerous territory.
Taking the long view
It’s easy to think of self in the short-term, perhaps even fun. Many things are pleasurable for a season. But it can come with big a cost, right? What we often don’t see is that the little things we might do to pamper ourselves today can have lasting, even negative, effects tomorrow. Spending protracted time away from family to get some peace and quiet might seem great in the short-term, but will we regret losing out on those moments when our kids are grown?
Pursuing what we want, when we want, and our own happiness above everyone else’s might be fun today, but will that mean we drive others away from us tomorrow?
A lifetime of self-indulgence and pursuing our own happiness above all else produces a spoiled person others tend to avoid. It produces a narrow point of view with an inability to see others’ perspectives. It isolates the self and alienates others.
In the long-term, a focus on self leads to loneliness and lost opportunity. Maybe there was some success achieved, but at what cost? Even if we collect all the money in a Monopoly game, the game still ends and the results quickly become meaningless.
The same goes for our lives. Collect what is meaningful and lasting: relationships with others, a heart of peace that serves others above self, and a lasting relationship with Jesus that will carry us into eternity.
“Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.” (Msg)
An honest look at the heart
Life isn’t about our own plans. It’s not all about me. That’s the truth. We so often try to squeak around it under the guise of taking care of ourselves, but we often push the boundary of self-care into self-indulgence. Harsh, but true.
It’s not always easy to diagnose, either, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can all find ways we do it. I think of myself first all the time. I over-commit to something because deep down I know it will make me feel good, and I like the praise of others. I spend time responding to a comment on Facebook rather than doing something face-to-face with my daughter with autism because social media is easier and demands less of me. I might get kudos from the world for some wise nugget I share, whereas I don’t get that kind of praise from either of my children. Plus, I can control social media, at least what I allow others to see and how much I interact. I don’t know about you, but I can’t control my children. They don’t seem to make life … about me.
A note about grace
It’s easy to point fingers at other people and think about what selfish nitwits they are, or to heap condemnation upon ourselves for being selfish. Neither accomplishes anything, nor is either the Christ view. God is not mad at us, even if we’ve been the most selfish people on the planet. Jesus took care of God’s anger on the cross. It’s over. Accept His grace and pray for wisdom from the Holy Spirit to move forward. When we blow it again, and we will, we should accept His grace again and move forward again. Rinse and repeat.
The Christian life is not only difficult, it’s impossible—at least in our own strength. Only with Jesus pouring love into our lives are we able to pour it back out to others. Putting others first is no exception. I certainly don’t do it perfectly, but I do know this: A life lived giving generously toward others is one with little regret.