Folk art Valentine and envelope dated 1875 add...

 Despite what we hear, we’re actually not self-centered people. We’re very others-focused. If only the “sinful government,” unreasonable bosses, snippy neighbors, cheating lovers, mouthy teenagers, and incompetent drivers would just get their acts together, life would be grand, wouldn’t it?

While trying to defend ourselves against their incompetence, rather than launch the power of grace we engage in constant conflict because we insist on correcting others. Then we wonder where all the peace and victory is that biblical Christians voiced. We conclude, perhaps, that it must not be in this life, but in the afterlife.

Vanity

I used to believe that my Christian duty is to verbalize all the sinful short-comings of people around me. We tend to obsess over how the other guy falls short or otherwise gets in our faces. Boy, was I embarrassed when I learned what a vice that can be! Pride is the pre-disposition to insist on having our way. Humbleness is the ability to not insist on having our way. Vanity is the most camouflaged sin because on the surface, it appears to focus on the self, when in reality, it aims at others.

One way we’re lured into the trap is with the mistaken idea that it’s always good to be dependent on one another. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is one of many ways the world puts our well-being largely in the hands of others.

Today’s Christian spin on this is that God designed us to be dependent on one another and gave us different gifts specifically to ensure that we remain dependent. Thus, service to others is commonly preached as a mandatory commitment we owe rather than something to volunteer out of a victorious love for life.

The dangers lie in the misplaced ego when others depend on us and the misplaced trust when we depend on them. Like any other addiction, dependence creates and glorifies neediness in relationships, which only makes us vulnerable to anger , contempt, and vengeance  rather than blessing if the scratching doesn’t go well.

In romance, for example, “I can’t live without you” or “I’ll never let you go” is a tremendous ego-feeder. Who doesn’t love to hear this, especially on Valentine’s Day? It explains why the ego so often screams bloody murder when a former love gets along just fine after a break-up. Vicious words or even violence are a frequent result.

Despite what the love songs say, a sneaky trap triggers when we insist on being number one in some people’s lives. The steps we’ll take to make sure they don’t forget it drive us into the arms of pride. The reverse is also true—taking measures to prove that someone is number one in our lives. Instead of letting Yes be yes and No be no , we inadvertently end up victims of vanity rather than virtuosos of blessed well-being.

Vision

What we don’t hear much is how to get free. More often, we hear the popular phrase, “Get your eyes off yourself” because “self” is a dirty word in the church, always assumed to be vanity. But it isn’t true.

As a first step, freedom in Christ gets our eyes off others to look at ourselves. It brings vision and leads to virtue since it relates to Jesus’ teaching on adultery in the heart : looking “lustfully” at others or looking at specks of sawdust in our neighbors’ eyes when we have planks  in our own eyes. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do what I say?” (Luk. 6:46)

As an average “Lord, Lord” Christian, I was no more Christ-like after forty years than when I started. I think we need to stop defining Christ-likeness as sacrificing ourselves, and view it as investing in ourselves, as gaining a heart and character like his that produces the genuine ability to do good to enemies. That doesn’t depend on the vortex of what others say and do, but on what we say and do. We become less vulnerable and needy, or, as Paul put it, more than conquerors. (Rom. 8:37)

That can only come from spiritual competence, strength, wisdom, grace, and freedom as Jesus teaches. Those come by getting our eyes off everyone else and venturing with him on life to the full—not in the afterlife, but in this life. The paradox is that the resulting sense of victory flows naturally to others as peace, service, and good will more like the original Christians.

I invite your voices and views (as long as you’re not vulgar!).  🙂

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