I've been thinking about a series of open letters. Each one would talk about some single concept that I believe is important for my younger brothers and sisters in Christ to think about. This starts the series. We'll see how it goes
It's not about you
I workout a couple days a week trying desperately to hold my rapidly aging body together. One of the things I do is a half hour "class" on stationary bicycles. The class is led by a friend of mine who puts us through a quick but tough half an hour of exercises. It's hard work that requires that I keep my mind focused.
So imagine my irritation last week at class. We had 12 of 13 bikes filled in a room with no air conditioning. Pete had gotten us rolling with warm ups and we had just started into the routine when a young lady rolled in late. Being late is no big deal. A minute or so later in comes another woman. Both of them wound up on the bikes right in front of me. When the second got up and rolling they began to talk. Now Pete is trying to give us the exercise instructions with these two talking right in front of him and I'm trying to hear him over them. The women just continued to talk, got out of sync with the rest of class (we do a lot of up/down exercises), Pete tried to guide them back into the rhythm, which threw him out of sync. And they continued to talk. With about ten minutes left (remember this is only a 30 minute class!) the first woman obviously finished whatever she needed to talk about and got off her bike and left! The second woman did the same a few minutes later.
I was totally disgusted.
Why? Because these women showed no respect for Pete or anyone in the class. We were just the background to their personal lives, and apparently, not especially important backgrounds at that. Why couldn't the conversation have taken place somewhere else if it were that important? And if it wasn't that important why did it have to happen right then and there? Why show up late and leave early to a small class where that will be disruptive?
It strikes me that I'm seeing more and more of this. The concept is that it's "all about me". The rest of the world is fine just as long as it doesn't interfere with what I want, when I want it. This kind of self centered attitude is rampant in our society today. Somehow we've been given the idea that everything is supposed to go our way, that no one else matters except that they fulfill our needs without any regard for what they may need.
Somewhere along the line a healthy level of self love turned into unbridled ego bordering on solipsism (which is the metaphysical belief that I'm the only one who really exists, and everyone else is just a useful figment of my imagination). It's not wrong to care for yourself. It is wrong to care only about yourself.
So here's my humble opinion: There's nothing good that comes out selfishness. It may feel good in the short term, since you can get your way. In the long run it hurts you and everyone around you. It makes people angry, and hurts them. Which makes them want to take out that anger and hurt on someone else. Eventually it makes its way right back to you. Our faith as Christians call us to care for one another. That's not intended to be "always take care of the other person and never yourself". God loves you but he loves the other people out there too. Even the annoying ones who talk through exercise classes.
I heard a story recently that I'd never heard before. It has to do with Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and then the waters rushing back in to destroy Pharaoh's army. As this played out an Angel looked at God and saw tears on his face. The Angel asked "Why are you crying Lord? You have saved the children of Israel!" And God replied "Were not the armies of Pharaoh also my children?"
What you do affects the people around you. Are you going to make every day all about you, or are you willing to look around to see if you are going to hurt someone nearby through your actions? There a thousand little ways to care for other people. One thing I do is return shopping carts to the corrals in the parking lots, even if they're not mine. If there's one near my car I take it back. Why? Because one day last winter I saw a young person whose job it was to track those carts down. It was a bitter cold day, the snow in the parking lot was a couple inches deep and about half slush. I realized that while he was getting paid to do that job, it was a nasty, uncomfortable and largely thankless job. So I try to help out by making sure that the ones near me get put where they belong.
All I can ask is that you keep your eyes and hearts open for ways to take care of the people around you. That every once in a while you give up something you want so that someone else gets what they want.
Trust me, you'll feel better and you'll make the world a better place.