Letting go of selfishness

I will be the first person to tell you that I am not perfect, and that I have done and said things that I am not proud of, because I know they were morally wrong. I have no excuse.

I believe it was selfishness–living only for myself–that led me astray. I do not mean by “selfish” that I hoarded things that ought to have been used to help others, or that I unconsciously used people that I cared about for my own benefit, or that I have put myself above other people. I have certainly and ashamedly done those things, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about in this instance.

What I am talking about is living selfishly as though my life belonged to me, and only me. I’m referring to living as though I had earned everything in my life, and as though I was entitled to anything I could grab hold of. I’m talking about living as though I had made myself, and my only purpose was to serve my own needs–and in some special cases, the needs of those very close to me.

I find that once I admit to myself that I was created by God, and that my salvation I owe to Christ, then it is easy to understand that in order to accept His sacrifice, I owe Him everything, and that my life is not my own. Not really.

There are lots of writings and songs about Christ living in me, and through me. I’m not sure that I really understood it until recently, and if I’m being frank, I still need to continue to think about it in order to fully wrap myself around that idea.

Paul writes to the Romans: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5). This is neither the first nor the last time people are referred to as the body of Christ

C.S. Lewis takes this idea, and expounds on it in a more colloquial way in his book “Mere Christianity.” He writes, “when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being “in Christ” or of Christ being “in them,” this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts.”

When I think about it, it makes sense enough. By aspiring to be like Christ, by imitating His actions, philosophy, piety, devotion to God, and love, I am acting on his behalf. Then, when I take Communion (a concept I’ll delve into in great depth at some point), I am metaphorically accepting his human body, the part of Him that allowed my debts to be paid, as part of my own body. In combination, the two mean that I am actually acting as an extension of Christ’s life, and of His will. He can act through me.

Two things were getting in the way of my understanding of Communion.  Firstly, I was only twelve when I studied for my first Communion, and couldn’t possibly have understood this incredibly complex and nuanced concept. Secondly, because I have always been a person that ascribes power to words, I think that the actual verse that we used to describe Communion in the Lutheran church was getting in my way. We were told “Do this in remembrance of me.” To me, that means something far different than the actual meaning behind the act of Communion. To do something in remembrance of someone means that they are gone, and I am performing this action to remember Him, and to serve my memory. But the sentiment should have been something more akin to “Do this with me, so that my spirit can live on through you and your actions.”

The word “Communion” derives its origin from the Latin “communis,” and later the English “common,” meaning “shared.” Understanding that etymology supports the idea that we are all becoming part of Christ’s will, and that we as a whole are becoming an extension of his body on Earth. We literally are taking a metaphorical representation of his body into ourselves, in order to represent the idea that we are all one with Christ, and one in Christ. We are making it so that we have that thing in common with Him, and in common with each other.

Lewis makes another apt metaphor early in part three of the same book, and this speaks to me personally–particularly in regards to acting selfishly and as though my life was my own:

“There are two ways in which the human machine goes wrong. One is when human individuals drift apart from one another, or else collide with one another and do one
another damage, by cheating or bullying. The other is when things go wrong inside the individual—when the different parts of him (his different faculties and desires and so on) either drift apart or interfere with one another. You can get the idea plain if you think of us as a fleet of ships sailing in formation. The voyage will be a success only, in the first place, if the ships do not collide and get in one another’s way; and, secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order. As a matter of fact, you cannot have either of these two things without the other.”

I feel as though I was a lone ship, trying to act of my own accord. Even though I have a moral compass that I can now see I was disobeying, because I was not sailing with the rest of the ships or in the formation, I was causing disharmony and chaos in my own part of the sea.

2 thoughts on “Letting go of selfishness

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