If we want a happy marriage in the future, we need to take selfishness seriously now.
Our society glorifies singleness. The world shouts, "Now is your opportunity to live as selfishly as possible. Make the most of it!"
But God calls us to a totally different lifestyle. The Bible says, "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor" (1 Corinthians 10:24, ESV). And Jesus' entire life on earth was about fulfilling God's redemptive plan — not serving himself with countless spa treatments and the latest iPhone (Mark 10:45).
God calls us to self-sacrifice because it's what's best for us. Consider this: One of the biggest factors in divorce is selfishness. If we want a happy marriage in the future, we need to take selfishness seriously now — not eventually when we meet The One.
If we're in the habit of living for ourselves, it's hard to change. We're not going to automatically transform into a sacrificial person when we change our Facebook status from "single" to "in a relationship." To become selfless, we have to practice getting rid of "me." And it's never too early (or too late) to start.
Relationships magnify our character faults—especially selfishness. In my case, I met a man who was truly interested in figuring out whether we could serve Christ better together or apart. Yet, even within that Christ-centered courtship, God showed me that there were several potential "Selfish Strongholds" that I had to watch for.
Selfish Stronghold 1: Time
Before I began courting, I was used to choosing how I wanted to spend my time. I had the freedom to be noncommittal about attending an event or to change my mind at the last minute. But when my plans/whims affected someone else's schedule and life, I had to be more careful about these decisions.
The Bible called me to look out for his best interest (Philippians 2:4), which meant learning to be flexible. Instead of pushing my own agenda, I learned to accommodate him when I could.
Selfish Stronghold 2: Family
Investing time and energy into getting to know your boyfriend/girlfriend's family can be difficult. Sometimes you have nothing in common with them. It would be easier to assume, "I'll get to know them someday if we get married." But really, that's a selfish attitude — a cop-out. If it's important to your significant other that you get to know his/her family, you should take the trouble to invest in them genuinely. True, each family comes with its pros and cons. Sometimes its members are annoying or meddling; other times they're super sweet and supportive. But we need to love them all with the love of Christ. Learn to make the sacrifice. Treat them to dinner. Give them your friendship. Love them.
Selfish Stronghold 3: Finances
I was used to buying whatever I wanted (within reason) with my extra cash each month. When I entered into a relationship, my thinking changed. We were contemplating marriage, right? So, my money could become our money. My debt could become our debt. My savings could become our savings. I began to think more of the future, and I realized that — whether I married this guy or someone else — I needed to be more responsible with my spending. I saw the really cute BCBGMAXAZRIA dress as a quarter of a monthly house payment. Yikes!
It's also a good thing to be aware of any selfish financial tendencies, because they won't disappear when you say "I do." Besides, money reveals a lot about a person (Matthew 6:21). Do you spend a lot on yourself and your "toys" and then complain about not having any money? Do you spend more on your wardrobe than on the kingdom of God? Do you ever treat your parents, or do they pay for everything? Do you tithe regularly?
Selfish Stronghold 4: Interests
Seldom are we matched with someone who shares our exact interests. In fact, you might find yourself in a relationship with someone who enjoys something you really don’t care too much about — like golf. Honestly, spending half your day whacking a little ball into 18 holes never sounded appealing to me. But it was one of his passions, so I learned the difference between birdie and bogey, questioned him about his beloved sport, and asked about his best moments on the course. Making the sacrifice to learn about his hobbies meant a lot to my boyfriend. With my actions, I said, "You're important to me, and I care about what you enjoy doing because it's part of you."
Selfish Stronghold 5: Priorities
There was a hectic period of my boyfriend's life when he couldn't spend much time with me. Every fiber in me wanted to scream, "I want to hang out with you NOW — not in a few weeks!" But I had to put those desires aside and be patient and supportive — even when it meant giving up our "together" time. I had to think of him: He needs to study and sleep. He doesn't need more stuff on his plate right now. Looking at the situation from his perspective, I was able to send him encouraging notes and reassure him that it was OK that he was busy; I understood.
While we should be supportive of each other's priorities, it's not healthy if your significant other is constantly putting work ahead of your relationship. The family unit is one of the most important institutions. A healthy way to prioritize life while you're dating/courting is: 1) God; 2) your family; and 3) your significant other. Work and hobbies should come after these.
Selfish Stronghold 6: Communication
"Singleness" implies "being alone" and "doing your own thing." The longer one is single, the more one tends to become isolated from the need to communicate one's schedule, thoughts, feelings and opinions with others. And let's face it: Communication can be a difficult thing, especially if you're used to running your own show.
Most of the time, we don't remember to communicate because it takes effort. It takes time to improve a relationship, but it's integral and scriptural. In a marriage sermon, John MacArthur said, "Live with your wives in an understanding way. Sometimes it boils down to listening, doesn't it? Understand her heart, because you cannot express your love to her unless it is sacrificing love that meets needs. You have to know what those needs are."
Overcoming the Strongholds
To have a good relationship, you have to choose to die to yourself every day. Self-sacrifice has to become a part of you. And after years of caring only about me, myself and I, that's a hard transition.
So what do we do?
1) Recognize the root of selfishness. Mark Driscoll sums it up like this:
Let me say that under selfishness is pride, and pride is basically this: 'I'm more important than you are. What I'm doing is more important than you. So, whatever you want, whatever you think you need, whatever you're doing, stop, because me and my situation, activities, proclivities, they're more important than yours. Don't inconvenience me with you. You and I should both agree how important I am.'
2) Look to Jesus, our perfect example of humble servanthood. He never loved us because we could serve Him; He loved us and gave himself for us while we were yet still sinners (Romans 5:8).
3) Pray. Ask Jesus to help you imitate Him. You cannot be like Jesus without being transformed by His power (1 Peter 1:22). We can only love unselfishly through the Holy Spirit's work within us.
4) Don't wait for the other person to be unselfish first. Don't get upset when your sacrifice is not reciprocated. Be unselfish, not because of what you'll gain from it, but because it's what Christ requires of His followers.
5) Maintain a teachable spirit. Selfishness won't just disappear. It will lessen, but it may never dissipate. If you have a haughty spirit, correcting it will be difficult, and your fight against selfishness will plateau. Remember "pride comes before destruction" (Proverbs 16:18).
Fighting for Unselfish Singlehood
My boyfriend and I ended up going our separate ways. But I'm thankful for what I learned. And I'm wary. I don't want my single years to be synonymous with selfishness. That's the challenge I want to share with you: We don't have to wait for a boyfriend/girlfriend to start dying to ourselves.
To gauge my own actions/attitudes, I stop whenever I don't want to do something and ask, "Am I being selfish with my time? Is my reason for not doing this selfish?"
Don't believe the lie that your single years are the time to "live for yourself." Rather use your single years to bless others as much as possible. Washing your roommate's dishes might be training grounds for washing your husband's coffee mug. Babysitting your friend's kids instead of watching your favorite sitcom could teach you patience for your future kids when your wife goes out. Learning about your friend's interest in duck hunting may prepare you to meet someone who has different interests than your own.
And remember, Jesus, the epitome of self-sacrifice, was single.
So will you join me? Let's pray for strength to, by God's grace, follow His humble footsteps.
"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).
Copyright 2013 Felicia Alvarez. All rights reserved.