I want to tell you an embarrassing story.
The other day I was driving through my neighborhood and looking at some renovations they were making and I thought, “I love my town, but it will never compare to ….” And time came to a screeching halt in my mind.
“TAP! TAP! TAP!” went the Holy Spirit to my heart. “Melissa?” Oh man! I was caught red-handed. I was thinking about me, instead of God?
You see, I don’t live in one of the ritzy neighborhoods and I never will. I live in a small house on an average street. But God let us keep it. He helps pay for it every month, and He has allowed us to keep it in the hardest of times. (You can read about that in my book Faith and Finance: Peace With or Without Prosperity.) Not only that, but my home is filled with love.
God smote my heart. He reminded me of how I’ve always wanted to be in some full time ministry somewhere. He reminded me of how I had surrendered to tiny, rural PA. I had surrendered to Papua New Guinea. I had surrendered to go anywhere He wanted. He then reminded me that He wanted me exactly where He put me. This was MY mission field.
He asked me, “Would you be content to live in the slums in Columbia? Would you be content to live in a hut in the jungle? Well, this is the home I have provided for you while you minister in your city.” Then followed up with a “Or did you forget, Melissa, that you aren’t here to live the American dream of moving upward and onward?” Ouch!
I had gotten so self-centered that I forgot my mission completely. If we weren’t on our street, who would come here and tell my neighbors about the Lord?
How quickly one can become discontented and ungrateful.
Don’t Make It All About You
The quickest way to become depressed is to start making things all about you and how you feel about them.
The quickest way to feel isolated is to make it a habit to start looking at how things are affecting you.
The quickest way to become alienated by others is by living a life where everything needs to revolve around how you feel.
Oh, I can’t even begin to tell you how this truth has been reflected back to me in the faces of my children. I have been reminded over and over about my own selfish, destructive tendencies by trying to teach them this lesson.
How many of you know the song, Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell J.O.Y.? Well, that is the whole point of this lesson. I want my children (and myself) to remember that it is a choice to make something about God and others. “Life does not revolve around you” is only true if you make it so.
Because, let me tell you, I know some people whose actions show that their life revolves completely around themselves and how they feel. I don’t know if it is the age of entitlement in which we live, but I see it more and more.
The sad thing is that these people who want others to cater to them will eventually run out of people willing to do so. They will end up alone and they won’t even know why … because they never stopped to think of how their actions affected others. They only thought about how others were affecting them.
What Should We Think About?
There are three things I try to emphasize to my children.
1. Does this please God?
2. Does this promote peace?
3. Are you being thankful?
In that order. If you get it backwards then you get all sorts of problems.
What Happens If They Continue to be “Me Focused?” (a.k.a. self-centered)
You’ve probably seen this same behavior in grown up form. I hate to say it, but some of these examples come from my own actions and learning experiences.
The person who:
- will inconvenience everyone but themselves.
- “won’t let anyone push them around” and in turn causes everyone to walk a tight-rope around them.
- continually moans about other’s good fortune and degrade their own life’s circumstances.
- complains about what you didn’t do for them and forgets to thank you for what you did.
- thinks they deserve better.
- beats themselves up mentally until they can’t get anything done.
How to Refocus
I want to go back to the simple questions we should ask our children.
1. Does this please God?
2. Does this promote peace?
3. Are you being thankful?
My children are still pretty young. They are taught about God, but their personal relationship with Him is still pretty shallow. The things that they deal with are mostly a matter of “Did I obey my parents? Was I kind to my siblings? or Did I tell the truth?”
Still, it is pretty evident when they are being self centered. Fights start out of nothing. Sullen moods abound. Soft tones are given over to shrieks of anger. They reject discipline as being unfair or unjust.
The other day such a situation happened and I sent a child to my room for some chastisement. Oh! The drama!
“I just feel like I will always be bad.” “I feel like Satan made me do it.” “You didn’t see what they did.” “When you discipline it makes me want to be worse.”
I am in no way super wise or an all-knowing parent, but the only thing I know I can do is bring it back to God. “Does what you did please God?”
Sure, I explain the two natures. I explain fiery darts. I explain that we can’t control other people’s choices. But ultimately, they need to ask the offended party and God for forgiveness. It’s not about how they feel, it’s about how what God says.
I have them imagine that I am walking with them up to God’s throne and we need to talk to Him about something serious. I hold their hand and remind them that God loves them and He is faithful and just to forgive them from all unrighteousness. I tell them that I am walking to God’s throne with them and will be right beside them the whole time. Then I ask them to talk to God. It’s all about God.
Peace has gotten a bad rap. I think its because it is used out of a scriptural context all too frequently. So many times it is used to promote the ecumenical movement, or at anti-war rallies. Sometimes it is used in a way that dilutes doctrine or standards, but when you study it in context; peace is a very scriptural doctrine.
I was doing some soul searching about how to stand for truth and righteousness while still being charitable and God led me to this passage in James.
Jas 3:13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. V14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. V15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. V16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. V17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. V18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
You see, our motives count. When we are thinking about ourselves and defending our own reputation or our own hobby horse, we can find ourselves lying to ourselves. We have bitter envying and strife within ourself. When it is all about our desires, then it is hard to have “meekness of wisdom.” The control within ourselves to NOT say the truth.
I have said to my children over and over, “Just because it is true, doesn’t mean you need to say it.”
On the other hand, “Just because it is true, doesn’t mean you don’t need to say it.”
That reminds me of that passage in Proverbs 26 about sometimes you answer a fool and sometimes you don’t.
So, you need to ask your children and yourself; “Is this truth pure, then peaceable? Can I say it gently and in a manner that is easily intreated? Do I have peace in my heart or anxiety and frustration?”
Am I saying this because it makes ME feel better or because I believe is what God would have me to do? If it pleases God, and your heart is peaceable, then it is okay to speak even unpleasant truth.
On the other hand, sometimes we don’t want to say something because we are thinking about ourselves, but it would please God to have you say it. This is why it is important to have your priorities of pleasing God before peace, because sometimes God requires a bit of division. We need to teach our children this wisdom.
At this point though, I am just trying to teach them not to fight over whose hanger is on the floor. But I do try to sow the seed and ask “Is this promoting peace?” Because being right and feeling justified in ourselves is still self-centered. Peace should be first God centered and then others centered.
The other day one of my children was sobbing in the back seat on the way to church. I asked why she was crying and the response was, “This is the worst day ever.”
My stomach turned. I hate this type of attitude, but she had been corrected a lot that day, and while it certainly was not the worst day ever, it was not the most pleasant either. So, I pondered how to respond and said, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
More sobs erupted as she replied, “I don’t feel like it is the worst day every. It really is the worst day ever!”
So, I tried to help her train her mind about “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed. When you are discouraged thinking all is lost. Count your many blessings …” Still not convinced, she grudgingly showed “thankfulness” and started telling me things that could have been worse. Ugh!
You wouldn’t believe it, but within a week I had a very frustrating day and the thought, “This is the worst day” came through my head. I was immediately reminded of my “lesson on thankfulness” in the car the other day. So, I started saying out loud:
“None of my children have cancer. I have a wonderful husband. God always provides. I get to homeschool my children. I have a great church. God makes pretty things for us to enjoy.” and pretty soon I had snapped out of my funk.
Doesn’t the Bible say something about denying ourselves and taking up our cross? Yep. Life is not all about us. It is not about our pleasure. It is not about the pursuit of happiness. It is not about if we are being fed. It is about God. It is all about God, and how we can know Him better and serve Him.
So when we start to get down, we need to be sure to get the focus off ourselves and start thanking God.
We need repeat to our children the phrase, “Don’t make this all about you. Let’s make it about what pleases God.” Don’t just leave it at “Don’t make this all about you.” because then they yell that at the other child while in turn making it all about themselves. Teach them to make it about God.
Make your thought pattern: Does this please God? Does this promote peace? Am I being thankful? After those questions, it is pretty hard to be thinking of ourselves and J.O.Y. will begin to abound.
They will be forever thankful that you taught them this Life Lesson of selflessness.
Did you miss the other Life Lessons in this series?
Check them out and share them with your friends.
Find them here: 26 Life Lessons