Saturday, October 30, 2010

Selfish about being unselfish?

Well, I've finally got internet running properly after trying to connect broadband to our new house we have moved into. Here is a little article I have been working on for Delve Deeper:

I remember a time several years ago when my mother, sister and I really wanted to bless someone who had done us a wonderful service. We were excited to give them a gift, not a large gift but something simple just to say “thankyou”. But when it came to the actual part where we handed it over to that person, they in their own way gave the impression that they did not appreciate receiving a gift for what they had done. We came away feeling not very wonderful after having given this person the gift.

I often hear a lot about the need for giving and the need to give with a cheerful heart. But not so often I hear about the need to receive with gratitude what someone desires to give me.

Why is this?

I often feel the need to let the other person know that they “should not have given me this”. Is it because I am prideful and I unwittingly do not like to be placed so low as to need to receive a gift from someone? Is it simply that I am embarrassed that they want to give up their hard earned possessions and hand them over to me? Or is it that I do not want to be selfish by accepting a possession?

When it comes to giving, I need to remember that when I give someone something, I would like to see that they appreciate it and are thankful for it. I want to see that I can do something for them, that I can bless them; it gives me joy.

But what if someone wants to bless me? That means that if I would like someone to receive my gifts cheerfully and thankfully then I must likewise be thankful for whatever they give to me. I would then be doing to others as I would like them to do to me - as Jesus said, to “love your neighbour as your self”.

If Jesus really wants us to give then we also need to be willing to receive, otherwise no one could give because no one will receive.

From another angle, I really like a portion from C. S. Lewis’s book “The Screwtape letters”. It is a book about a senior demon coaching a younger demon how to torment his Christian patient. There are many interesting insights into how Satan can deceive us with our so-called “unselfish” actions. This analogy talks about how we as human beings can desire to compete as to who can be the most unselfish.

... the Generous Conflict Illusion. This game is best played with more than two players.... Something quite trivial, like having tea in the garden, is proposed. One member takes care to make it quite clear (though not in so many words) that he would rather not but is, of course, prepared to do so out of ‘Unselfishness’. The others instantly withdraw their proposal, ostensibly through their ‘Unselfishness’.... But he is not going to be done out of his debauch of ‘Unselfishness’ either. He insists on doing ‘what the others want’. They insist on doing what he wants. Passions are roused. Soon someone is saying ‘Very well then, I won’t have any tea at all!’, and a real quarrel ensues with bitter resentment on both sides. You see how it is done? If each side had been frankly contending for its own real wish, they would all have kept within the bounds of reason and courtesy; but just because the contention is reversed and each other is fighting the other side’s battle, all the bitterness which really flows from thwarted self-righteousness and obstinacy and the accumulated grudges of the last ten years is concealed from them by the nominal or official ‘Unselfishness’ of what they are doing or, at least, held to be excused by it.

Though this analogy is not exactly what I have been talking about, it still carries many truths about us, such as our desire to be the least selfish. Refusing to receive someone else’s gift simply because I want to be unselfish can actually end up being a selfish act in itself. I need to humble myself.

I do find it sad that there is often superficialness to how others and I often respond to people. I need to learn to let someone else have their chance to experience joy and freedom to be unselfish by giving or acting for me.