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I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

April 5, 2020

The other day, I asked a young dad-friend of mine if he’d ever seen the movie, The Princess Bride. He told me he doesn’t do Chick Flicks. You’re kidding?! What Chick Flick would have Andre the Giant as one of the main characters?! I did my best to expand my young friend’s horizon by giving a few reasons he and his family should sit down and watch TPB, but I doubt he will. His loss.

I’m biased, of course, because it’s one of my top 10 favorite movies. It’s incredibly quotable. In fact, I’d say, inconceivably quotable. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll get the pun. If not, you should see the movie. (And with most of a month left for this quarantine, you’ll have plenty of time for it…)

Here’s 14 seconds that contains one of my favorite lines in the entire movie:

There’s a word I’m hearing and reading a lot right now that I think fits in the “I do not think it means what you think it means” bucket. I think it gets used with the best of intentions, but if you think it through, it does not mean what they think it means.

The word is SELFLESS.

I believe that when it’s used, what they mean is a very intense and elevated form of the word unselfish. They’re hoping to convey the idea that some act is beyond common unselfishness and on to a level above that. I get that.

The problem isn’t with their intended meaning. It’s with the actual meaning of the word selfless. Look at it. Actually, you have to separate it into its two parts to look at it. Self. Less. Or literally, without self.

Here’s why this is a problem for me. I’m a word person. Too often, a picky word person. And this word means something, if you take it for what it tells you it means. Something that I don’t want for myself, and I don’t want for you. It means, literally, as I’ve said, without self. I believe this is both practically and theological impossible.

I do not believe God sent Jesus into the world to redeem us so that we would have no self. I believe He sent Jesus so that our selves could be redeemed and remade. For me, as I give Jesus and the Holy Spirit more and more authority in my life to do the redeeming and remaking, I become more and more the self God had in mind for me to be from before the beginning of the world. I think this is what Paul meant in Ephesians 1:4. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. This was His first, perfect design for us.

God isn’t in the business of making our selves better. He is in the business of making our selves new, re-built and remade into his first image of us. This is the point of 2 Corinthians 5:17. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

At the Wedding Feast in Cana, in John chapter 2, Jesus didn’t just make the water better water. He made it into wine, something it had not been before. That’s the idea I’m trying to get at here. God intends to make us not just better selves, but different selves. God’s design calls for our selves to be remade, made new.

I believe as we cooperate with Him, as He works in our lives through the Holy Spirit and the events he permits or brings into our lives, He is shaping us into this new, different self. Romans 8:29 says the goal of this work in our lives is that we will be made like Christ, conformed to the image of His Son. As this process moves forward in my life, I’ll begin to see more of Jesus and less of me in my self. But I won’t see my self disappear. Instead, I’ll see the self God had in mind from before creation.

This transformation doesn’t happen by leaps and bounds. It happens in millimeters. It doesn’t’ happen in weeks. Sometimes it doesn’t even happen in years. It happens in my life over decades. But as I partner with the Spirit of Christ, He changes my self.

I’ve heard people say that the death of Christ was a selfless act. I disagree. If ever there was a person fully in control, fully owning, fully living from His true self, it was Jesus. He didn’t become without his self when He laid down on that cross and gave Himself up for me. There was possibly no moment in His eternal life when He more demonstrated that He was in full possession of His self than in that moment. When He willingly gave Himself for me, He did this because He was in possession of His self, not because He was without it.

OK. That’s as deeply in the pool of philosophy and theology as I can go. I already can’t touch bottom, and I’ll sink if I go much farther in. But do you get my point?

God’s objective in our lives isn’t that we will become selfless, but unselfish. An unselfish person is in possession of their self, but not dominated by it. This possession-but-not-domination is how they can be willing and able to say no to themselves so that they can say yes to what is good for another. This is at the heart of Christian maturity.

So what’s this got to do with your family and marriage? EVERYTHING! Great families and marriages aren’t the result of selflessness. They’re the result of people who are in possession of their selves, and are learning how to be unselfish.

The question isn’t, “Are you still selfish?” Everybody still is. The point is to intentionally direct yourself to be unselfish.

If you have kids, you already know that your kids will pick this up from you through your habits and behaviors far more than by your words. You’ll need to talk about it, yes. And often. But talking about it without modeling it won’t do it. Your kids can see through that in a New York minute.

Here’s just a couple of suggestions on this unselfishness thing in your family life. First of all, notice it when your kids are unselfish. Praise them for it. Don’t throw a party or start a parade, but praise them for their unselfishness. Point it out. They need to know that you noticed.

Second thing: point out unselfishness whenever you see it. Every once in a while, you’ll see it in the plot of a TV show or a movie. If you’re looking for it, you can see it in news articles. You can see it at the grocery store, and in parking lots and pretty much all the places you go (once we one day get to go…). But you have to look for it and call it out when you see it.

Right now, unselfishness is on display as doctors, nurses, nurses aids, medical technicians, intake and administrative personnel, and janitors risk their own health (ultimately, their lives) by showing up for extremely long days and nights at the hospital. It’s on display in truck drivers and grocery store employees and postal carriers, and a few dozen other essential workers as they do their jobs. Point it out. In fact call it out so often that your kids will tell you they get it. And then keep pointing it out until they’re pointing it out to you.

Last thing: pray with your family for the unselfish people you see around you. Give thanks for their unselfishness, and ask God to give them stamina and protection as they do their jobs.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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