Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross! Philippians 2:1-8
Recently, 'It's not about you' has become a bit of a catchphrase in our home. It sounds simple, but it is an idea which is very counter-cultural. Last year I read a helpful book considering some of the 'philosophy of this age' and showing where Biblical truth cuts through it. But recently I have been caused to reflect again on just how self-absorbed and self-obsessed many young people have become. One of the beauties of home education is that we can avoid certain aspects of culture and peer-pressure with the aim of instilling a healthier worldview in our children. This is a wonderful blessing, yet at the same time, as Christians living 'in the world but not of the world', it is important to be aware of changes in prevailing worldview and consider how we can reach today's generation with the gospel.
There are several things which have caused me to reflect on humility and selflessness over the past few weeks.
Firstly, we had a visitor who did not share our priorities and values. This person is used to having a lot more time alone, rather than being with a large, lively young family who spend a lot of time together, and so quite a number of things were understandable. However some were quite shocking, even rude - until you realised that to this person, it really was 'all about me', and there was very little consideration of what might work well for those around. I often deal with challenging interpersonal situations by trying to put myself in the other person's shoes, by considering how I might approach things had I come from their background and culture. And what sobered me was the consideration that were I not a Christian, had I not come to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ who willingly came to lay His life down for us that we might live, then I might well be just the same. 'Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends' John 15:13. And yet for many people in today's world, the idea of sacrifice is not there. Yes, be helpful when it suits you. Yes, share when you feel you have plenty. But to put the needs of others first, and to be willing to experience some degree of personal loss or discomfort in order to bless others? And to do so willingly? Where does that concept fit? In John Chapter 13, Jesus washes His disciples' feet. 'Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.' John 13:14-16. Jesus taught on this concept often - of the need to go the extra mile, to give generously and secretly, to spend hidden hours in prayer. There was one occasion when the visitor was 'shocked' that my husband was mildly irritable after having just been stuck in horrendous traffic during a humid day with a car full of restless children. She wondered why I was not upset. I pointed out to her that it was, 'Not about me', and that what was really needed was a cool drink, an encouraging word and a little peace and quiet. That perspective seemed utterly foreign, to consider the perspective and needs of another person. There were many such examples, and it was a very thought-provoking experience!
Secondly, I reflected on how having children does change you in that respect. Several years ago, I wrote a series of posts on some of the amazing things that becoming a parent teaches you (here, here, here and here). Not repeating all of those observations, I have become aware how having responsibility for young children changes your priorities - particularly away from self and towards others. I can't just settle down with a cup of coffee whenever I fancy. I can't just eat what I want, when I want. I can't just go for a rest when I am tired. There are times when I willingly get up before dawn in order to prepare for the day, particularly if I am preparing something special or some kind of surprise. Often my husband and I are up late, planning, preparing, praying, and considering both the following day and the next couple of weeks. We don't begrudge this because we love our children and because we want to provide them with what is best. My visitor was concerned about the lack of 'me time' in my life. I had to laugh - it's a concept that is not really on my radar, but as I follow the Facebook feeds of friends and read some of their 'mommy blogs' that they share, I can see that 'me time' is something that is highly desired, at least in the west. It also made me realise how much I have changed since becoming a parent, and how through the challenges, I have had to 'die to self' in many respects, and I believe have a greater understanding of love and greater peace than I have ever known before.
Thirdly, there had been a relationship in my life which has caused me a lot of pain for many years. For a long, long time I have asked myself what I have done to offend, wondered how I could possibly fix it, have made quite a lot of effort to keep communication open, have wept many tears of grief over what I have perceived as loss, and have prayed for hours for healing. People would say to me, 'It's not about you', but I was convinced it must be. However, when I found out the reason (basically an objection to us having adopted children), I saw so clearly that it most certainly is not about me, and is not something I can fix. I can't really explain how liberating this was (although of course it is also deeply sad). I had wasted a lot of time and emotion thinking it is 'all about me'!
Fourthly, consider your children (if you have any). How often, especially as the family grows, does one child have to put their desires to one side and do what is best for everybody? It can be a difficult lesson to learn. I watch only children and can see how they are often able to make their choices of games, books, activities and so forth, and often can appear to be more settled and better behaved when they are at home (there is nobody to squabble with). Often when my children do disagree it is because somebody needs to hear, 'It's not about you'.
It's easy to pass judgement. When I think of the frustrations my visitor brought, I realise that I am just as selfish and petulant before God. How often do I truly appreciate that He gave everything for me, and truly knows what is right and best? How often do I inwardly grumble or covet (my temptation is to covet rest and time more than things)?
What is the antidote? For me, as I spend time considering just who Christ was, what He did willingly and all the many promises of Scripture, I find my selfish desires weakening. I want to be more like Christ, and to be able to speak His truth to my children, to my friends and family, to my colleagues and neighbours. I want to willingly serve, not begrudgingly, not with little comments here and there to show I am counting the cost, but freely. And through God's strength, this is possible.