The Only Way To Change Selfishness
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:42
Someone handed the following to me written by an anonymous hand. It’s labeled, “The Toddler’s Creed.” It reads, “If I want it, it’s mine. If I give it to you and change my mind later, it’s mine. If I can take it away from you, it’s mine. If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine. If it’s mine, it will never belong to anyone else, no matter what. If we are building something together, all the toys they are mine. If it looks just like mine, it’s mine.” Any parent who has ever tried to mediate between siblings, both of whom are shouting, “It’s mine!” has to smile.
“It’s mine!” Not only kids say that. The same refrain can be heard in the halls of the U.N. General Assembly, in courts where people battle each other for possession of an inheritance, as well as on sandlots where children play.
That same underlying attitude of selfishness – “I want it; it’s mine!” – is the greatest foe of happiness in life and marriages. A reporter once asked me what I felt was the greatest problem in marriage, and I answered, “selfishness,” she didn’t seem greatly impressed. The answer she wanted, I think, was something like, “Infidelity!” giving adultery a vicious blast, loudly thumping the table with my fist for good effect. Or she would have liked my saying something like, “The biggest problem in marriage today is a lack of communication,” or sexual adjustment, or whatever. No matter what the symptom is which you may describe, the bottom line is just the same as in the Toddler’s Creed—selfishness: “I want my needs satisfied first!”
A lot of folks are charter members of the AMYF Club, having enrolled as toddlers, though the stakes get higher as we grow older. Sorry, you haven’t heard of the AMYF Club, right? It’s an acrostic for “After Me, You’re First!” But never satisfying our selfish thirst, you never get your turn, so I’m always first.
There is but one thing that changes selfishness to generosity. No, not the threat of, “If you don’t stop doing that, I’m going to take my toys and go home!” That doesn’t work. The only chemical strong enough to erode the forces of selfishness is the grace of God. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” wrote Paul (2 Corinthians 5:17). The grace of God changes dispositions. But I have to add, it always isn’t a one-shot, immediate “from-grabbing-to-giving” sort of thing. It is an ongoing work of grace which the Bible calls sanctification, as God keeps chipping off the rough edges, reminding us of our brashness, our rudeness, and our selfishness.
Overcoming the gravitational pull of our old selfish natures isn’t overcome by doing a single act of generosity, over which you pompously crow. It’s a lifestyle which is marked by humility, an understanding of who you really are, and the desire to let God love people through you.
Paul wrote about his young friend and understudy, Timothy of Lystra, in Asia Minor, saying, “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:20,21).
There is hope, friend. A bumper sticker reads, “Practice random acts of kindness!” Though I’m not exactly sure just what that means, I think it’s moving in the right direction!
Resource reading: Philippians 2:1-11