“Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24)
Let’s be honest. People are self-centered. It starts from the moment we leave the womb. Babies cry when they are tired, cry for food, cry when they want something: their world is focused on their own needs. As we grow and mature, we (hopefully) become more attuned to others and begin thinking about meeting their needs, at least when they do not conflict with our own needs; but we are still primarily self-centered.
Children learn early on to be mindful of others to please their parents and to avoid punishment for not doing so. As we get older, we are mindful of others because we find it necessary for living and working together. The alternative of conflict is uncomfortable and unproductive. Even our attention to others, however, flows from a place of basic self-centeredness.
We have a tendency to dislike things in other people that we tolerate in ourselves. We especially dislike behavior in others when it adversely impacts us. We may engage in similar behavior and not be upset one bit by it. We do not have the same judgment of ourselves because the behavior is usually engaged to further our own purposes. This is self-centered too.
When we give up bad behavior, we usually do it because it is adversely affecting us. Smoking, drinking too much, eating tasty, but unhealthy foods we give up when those things begin affecting us negatively. We work out to look well and feel well. In this way, our self-discipline is self-centered too.
Our self-centeredness is deeply ingrained. On occasion, personal conflicts escalate and someone is injured or even killed. The rage that leads a person to injure or kill another person often appears in emotion of the moment to be justified because people operate from a position of self-centeredness.
Even our causes tend to be an extension of our self-centeredness. People who are on the front line championing “rights” are usually in the class for which protection those rights are being sought. Most people who walk for breast cancer have been affected by breast cancer personally or through someone close to them. People raise money for causes that affect them in some way. We sometimes give money or donate time to look good to other people. I am not saying that all acts of good will are selfish, but there is an element of self-centeredness even in our generosity and the good deeds we do.
We have to be really honest with ourselves to sort out our own motivations. People lash out when they feel like they are being treated unfairly. When other people invade our personal space, we feel uncomfortable and sometimes threatened. We are quick to protect ourselves and our own comforts.
In contrast to the tendencies of our self-centered lives, God stripped Himself of all of His glory to become a man and was born into humble circumstances as a vulnerable child. He lived His life for no other purpose but to live, show us the love of the Father and to die – for us!
We are called to follow that example. Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me!” (Matt. 16:24)
What does it mean to take up the cross and follow Jesus? It means that we must let go of the control we want to exercise over our lives; we must allow God to take over the center of our lives. It means we must lose our lives by shifting from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.
We cannot do that on our own. Fortunately, God does that work in us when we simply yield to Him. When we give way to God, when we lose our lives, God saves us and gives us back our lives. The lives we desperately cling to are an illusion; the life God gives us when we give ourselves over to Him is love eternal. When you lose your life for God, God gives you back His life!