The world tells us to live it up — to fill our time with whatever we feel like doing. Often, the “churchified” versions of this advice follow suit, though admittedly with less selfish undertones. Maybe we’re told to “invest in yourself” or “explore what you want to do.”
Are we missing something?
An animated example
Last week was Disney’s 100th anniversary. Pixar’s “Up” will forever be one of my favorite Disney movies; I remember watching Carl float away in his balloon-carried house when the movie first came out in theaters. He relishes his freedom as, at last, he’s fulfilling his and his late wife’s lifelong dream of traveling to Paradise Falls.
But there’s a knock at his door. Russell, a young wilderness explorer on the hunt for another scouting badge, had stowed away on the airborne house. Carl realizes he must cut short his trip to get Russell home. But then a storm, an endangered animal, and a maniacal explorer complicate his plans.
Carl fumes at how these interruptions are keeping him from his lifelong dream, from doing what he wants. But by the end of the movie, we see him willingly releasing that dream to help Russell.
“It’s just a house,” he assures Russell as the house and its balloons float out of reach. Together, they return home where Carl accompanies Russell to wilderness explorer meetings, the ice cream store, and the movies (see the credits if you forgot some of those). The curmudgeonly old man learns to seek someone else’s good above his own.
School of selflessness
A few weeks ago, I FaceTimed with my brother and his two-year-old daughter. My brother had a cold and didn’t feel well, but my niece felt perfectly fine. She was so full of energy. As we talked, she often interrupted with something she wanted to do. A few times he suggested something they could play that he knew she would like. I noticed how patient he was with her, agreeing to her needs and her wants despite wishing they could all just go to bed.
I think moments like that are why people talk about how marriage and parenting taught them selflessness or helped them mature. Then I think back to the advice I receive: Do what you want. What interests you? Pursue it while you can!
To be clear, it’s not necessarily bad advice. People I deeply respect have counseled me this way, and it’s a mark of God’s graciousness that He often leads us by giving us interests and desires to do specific things. It isn’t wrong for me to take a class or start a new hobby simply because I want to, just like it wouldn’t be wrong for my brother to do the same.
But what if we also asked what needs we could help fill or whom we could serve? What might that look like? There’s no one-size-fits-all checklist for this, but here are a few ideas.
Social events: Look for who is sitting alone. Ask a parent if you can help fill a snack plate for their children. Always go to events prepared with questions that will encourage people to share more about themselves.
Church: Notice who has missed church lately and call or text them to check in. Maybe invite them — or a visitor — out to lunch afterward. Ask someone who seems lonely if they want to meet for coffee. (I’m not talking about dating here, but if you’re a guy asking a girl to coffee, you know the drill: Make your intentions clear.) Reach out to people you know who could teach you (maybe someone who models selflessness) and ask to spend time with them. But even then, be sure to ask about them and don’t make it all about the advice that you need. And enlarge your social circle to include those who may need more from you than they can give. Be willing to change your plans — even at the last minute — to help someone else. (Any parent will tell you they do that on the regular for their kids.)
Work: Affirm your coworkers for a job well done. Ask about what they did last weekend. Write down birthdays and remember to acknowledge their special day. Be willing to pitch in on a project even if it’s outside of your job description or would make you stay late after work.
A required class
These suggestions boil down to looking for ways to actively put others first even when we don’t “have” to. Be intentional and creative with ways you serve the people in your life. Consider asking them how you could serve them.
We don’t get a pass on growing in selflessness and maturity simply because we haven’t experienced life stages that have those growth opportunities baked in. I’m sure anyone married with children would tell us they still have to work hard at that growth and selflessness — it doesn’t come naturally for any of us.
Paul Tripp writes in his devotional book “New Morning Mercies” that as humans, we’re all naturally selfish. “My life becomes all about me,” he writes. “The desires of my heart are gobbled up by my ease, my comfort, my pleasure, and my success.”
But none of us are called to live this way. We’re called to live like Christ. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Copyright 2023 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.