I was born in a family that gives importance to selflessness and love for others. As I grew older I discovered through series of tests hosted by our local church that “giving” is one of my spiritual gifts. I realized that I enjoy the act of sharing. I developed a passion for civic acts and got involved in numerous charitable events. However, early this year, I was faced with a new perspective on selflessness that made me question the things I thought I knew about charity. Can there be selfishness in selflessness?
One of my friends told me that her New Year resolution is to try to stop being too selfish. “What?!” was my immediate reaction. I was confused with the thought that the person I know to be kind, generous, and self-sacrificing accused herself of such a thing. I mean this girl is a dozen times more selfless than me (in my standards of selflessness). . Come on, she even volunteers to carry my shoes and other stuff back in high school even if she already has her own stuff to carry. I even scolded her a lot about being such a push-over and for not standing up for herself when people ask her to do things for them. How can she even think of herself as someone selfish? Still confused about the idea, I asked her to help me understand. She told me that she thinks that she is selfish because she feels that she is doing all those “kind” things for her own satisfaction. I got that part but when I asked her to explain further how she came up with the conclusion that she is doing it for her own pleasure, she couldn’t explain why. How can selflessness be considered selfish? I tried to analyze the situation and I identified some problem areas:
1. Our questionable motives behind the deed
Just as a car needs a driver, so do actions need intention. A car, no matter how powerful its engine is or how much gasoline it contains, will never run unless a person starts its engine up and drives it toward a destination. Motives drive our actions. It brings us to where we want to go and makes us do what we think we need to do. Therefore it is important to check our intentions before doing every deed. That’s why King David’s prayer in Psalm is very important.
“Examine me, O LORD, and test me. Evaluate my inner thoughts and motives.” Psalm 26:2 (New English Translation)
We constantly need to check the deepest parts of our hearts and ask God to help us dig it up. We need God’s help to understand ourselves and to reveal to us what we cannot see since evaluating intentions is very difficult given our own set of biases and prejudices. We have to know our sincerest motives and look beyond how everything appears to be especially since the heart where our intentions come from “is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, you have to very cautious when you listen to what your heart is telling you.
If my friend thinks that the reason why she’s doing what she does is to be the center of attention or to gain appreciation, she might be right, she needs to change her intentions to avoid being selfish. Therefore, I too should consistently evaluate my intentions to make sure that all my actions are centered in pleasing God and glorifying Him.
2. Our belief in the doctrines of the world
As a student of International Studies, I am exposed to theories that try to explain the nature of humanity. Although I won’t go into details about the theories I have to say that there are theories that believe that individuals are flawed. Scholars of these theories believe that individuals always prioritize themselves over everyone else. Selfishness is considered as the defining characteristic of humanity. This belief already gave people a definite answer to any questions about motivations. It tells people that all acts of kindness are fueled by selfish intentions. It even gives us proofs of their conclusion by exposing us to corruption in the government and the abuse of power by those in authority. The world asks us not to question our intentions anymore because it has already been proven that we all do what we want to do for our own pleasure. An act of charity makes people feel good; it makes them think better about themselves, that they are kinder and more generous than others. This thought is problematic in so many ways. First, it gives justification to apathy. Second, it puts the blame of misconduct to human nature. Third, it discourages charity by calling people hypocrites. Lastly, it makes us lose our hope in humanity. Therefore we should stop caging ourselves in the identity that the world feeds us.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (New Living Translation)
Do not let the world define who you are. Let your identity be defined by God.
3. Our lack of faith in God
Have you ever heard someone praise people’s goodness and then doubt his/her personal kindness in a single breath? I have. This is the type of person I am. I always believe in the goodness of others but consistently doubt the goodness in me. As I try to contemplate the reason behind my self-doubt I was faced with the reality that this practice reflects my lack of faith in God. “How?” you might ask. Easy. By doubting the goodness that God placed in our inmost being right from the moment He created us. To refresh our thoughts let us go back to the distant past, back in the time when God created the world.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… God saw all that he had made and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.” Genesis 1:27 & 31 (New International Version)
God was satisfied with how He created Adam and Eve, this meant that He saw goodness in His creation. Like a father holding his newborn child, he believes in his child’s goodness although he knows that there will come a time that this child may disappoint him. He has faith in us knowing that He did not create us with pure evil instead He breathed His spirit in us, making us more special than His other creations. We are made with goodness in us. But with this, God also gave us free-will and gave us the right and responsibility to decide between good and evil. Although they fell into temptation, Adam and Eve did not begin their lives as sinners. We always forget that Adam and Eve were obedient to God and were pure before they ate from the forbidden tree. Like what we normally do, we totally forget about the goodness of people right after it has been tainted by misdeed. I agree that the fall of Adam and Eve caused us to inherit sin, but we should not cage ourselves in it. Sin is a part of us, and so is goodness. So when we lack faith in ourselves, we lack faith in the one who created us. Believe that you are capable of goodness because God is capable of putting goodness in you. So next time you doubt your intentions, consider the idea that it is God working in and through you. Remember that it is not about you, it is about God and His love for the people who will receive His blessing through you. You are just a vessel and a good vessel never doubts where the blessings come from, where it is supposed to go and what type of blessing it pours.
And by the way, don’t you know that you can be selfish by merely accusing yourself of being selfish? That sounds funny but it is true. When you think that the desire to help that God placed in your heart is a product of your own selfish being, you are robbing Him of His glory. You are making this all about you instead of making it all about Him. You are taking full ownership of the idea and excluding God from the equation and worse, you are besmirching the holy mission that God placed in your heart.
Therefore if you think your selflessness is selfish remember to check your motives, change your idea about humanity, and trust God’s plan in your life. It’s not about you anyway; it’s all about God living in you and working through you.
(Photo courtesy of Randy Willis Photos)