Sunday, December 17, 2006

The challenge of what my life is about

My life has typically been about me. It's so easy to put myself first. Not only first, but way before other people in terms of priority, focus, and energy. I think I tend to do this because I think I need to put priority on me for my life to be the wonderful personal utopia that our Western culture tells me I should have. But lately I've started seeing that this selfish focus is not what makes our lives full, but what strips them of the very things we want.

It's the sort of silly-sounding idea that Jesus spoke of, that those who "find their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for his sake will find them." (Although I suspect this verse is based more in a martyrdom theology than in social psychological theory, and more about being willing to die to Jesus' and his cause than what I'm using it for, but I'll say it anyway.) My point is this, that by giving some other people equal (or greater) priority as ourselves our own lives become far richer, "bigger" and more complete than if we are selfish. Our world isn't a one-person world that revolves around ourselves, but instead is filled with other people we love.

It has been an ongoing challenge for me to actually be less self-centred. I often speak warmly of the concept and idealise it, but my life doesn't change. And I think I've worked out why: I'm too afraid I'll somehow come out worse off, I am not sure I'm willing to take the risk of really loving other people like this. I mean, if I let go of myself - maybe I really will lose myself. It's hard enough having my own life to worry about, let alone expanding my heart to include more people.

And I'm still figuring out how to really put this idea into practice. But I think I've stumbled on a helpful concept. I've realised that I have been trying to my my life special. My hopes, dreams, and aspirations have all been centred around trying to make my experience of life good. But what if I instead made my aspirations, dreams, and goals about making the lives of those I love good and special? What if my life's work was not about me, but about giving joy, friendship, love and life to others? What if my life was not so much about me, but instead about other people?

This idea sounds both appealing and frightening to me. It sounds noble and wonderful and honourable and good; and scary and risky and difficult and difficult and difficult... I know it's easier said than done. I know I need people who have mastered some of this art of real love more than I have to show me how it's done. And I'm excited and a little afraid of the prospect of slowly, painfully slowly, learning this art myself - but I think I'll be glad I did, so I hope I'm bold enough to try.

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