As I was watching the playoff football games last weekend with a baby (and sometimes two) in hand, I couldn’t switch channels during the breaks and therefore was forced to watch the commercials and the messages either explicitly or implicitly sent through them. The common denominator in them all? This world is about you, and you deserve this, whatever this is. We always hear about how much it costs for a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl ($5 million in 2018), but this past weekend being the second most-viewed day of football of the year, I imagine it was easily $2-$3 million per commercial that I watched.
For some reason it struck me – companies and brands are paying millions for me to see their plug. And their top strategy? Convince me that I deserve this. Look inward, not outward. Make this about me, not anyone else, and bank on the fact (pun intended) that my money will flow back to them.
Now hear me, this isn’t a post to rage against marketing. We all “market” the things we’re most passionate about, and not all marketing is deviant or trying to get across some dark subliminal message, but I do find it fascinating that we are so used to being in a world where we’re told every day that life is about us.
So as a result, it’s no wonder that the default mentality of our culture seems to be “me, me, it’s all about me.” Personal pronouns. My new years resolutions, my dreams, my money, my schedule, my things. And we’re consumed with how I can get better, where I can go, what level I can get to. Personal pronouns.
The right response to this is not to completely stop caring about yourself, for there is a time and place for self-love and care. Jesus says the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself – not instead of yourself, or more than yourself, but as yourself. We are image bearers of the most-high God, and we should love all things created in God’s image, including ourselves.
However, here is the paradox: God grows us and matures us in direct correlation with how we serve and care for others. We’re wired as outward-facing people (not inward), and it’s in the process of putting others’ interests ahead of our own where God is glorified and personal joy and fulfillment is found. Further, this is the kind of mentality in which communities thrive most, where there can be true unity in the midst of diversity.
Here’s the question we should all think seriously about: If everyone cared about serving others as much as you do, would this world be better off or worse off?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and pastor who played a central role in the Confessing Church during the Nazi period that opposed Hitler’s rule and reign, and over time he became one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century.
One of Bonhoeffer’s pursuits was to think through how people in general, and members of the church in particular, should live out their lives in community with one another. His short but impactful book, Life Together, provides both the foundational grid for community as well as the practical outworking of it. His premise was this: the strength of a community lays in their concern for their weakest men and women within it.
He categorized service to one another, outward-facing care, in three ways that provide a lens for us today
1. The Service of Listening to Others
Part of me loves this, and yet if I’m honest, the other part of me is dejected because when I think of serving others, I always want to jump to what I can *do* for them. Give me something tangible, give me an action that I can see and feel and point to after the fact. And yet, isn’t it true that the most important thing we can initially “do” in caring for others is to merely listen. Be a presence. Don’t rush to fix it, but rather stop and listen to it.
This is as counter-cultural as anything we can practically live out. Stop moving, stop achieving, and be still. Listen to people. Hear them out. Gain perspective, especially from those who are not like you – not your race, your socio-economic peer, not your personality type.
Bonhoeffer would go on to ask a sobering, piercing question: “if one cannot listen to another in need, how can they possibly claim to listen to God?”
You want to defend against being absorbed? “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19)
2. The Service of Active Helpfulness
While listening is needed first, there is a calling on our lives to actively help others. Bonhoeffer says “nobody is too good for the lowest service”. There may regular, scheduled acts of service we can commit to, as well as spontaneous acts of service that we are willing to take on in the heat of the moment.
At the end of the day, the question is if we’re willing to prioritize others in the midst of our day to day schedule, and not just in the margins of it. If helping others is always seen and viewed as an interruption to our more important schedule, then chances are we’re probably taking ourselves too seriously. Embrace the opportunity to be interrupted in order to help someone else.
You want to defend against being self-absorbed? “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 9:10-13)
3. The Service of Forbearance
Forbearance isn’t a word we see very often, but it simply means patient self-control. Be patient with one another, and offer to walk alongside them in a prolonged season of need. Don’t let them struggle alone, but be willing to take some of the load off of them and onto yourself, for God has equipped you to do so. A healthy community is one where the strong helps the weak, the healthy helps the sick, the righteous helps the sinner. Their burden becomes your burden, and you patiently come alongside for however long is needed. One day, dear brother and sister, you’ll be the one who needs the help. You’ll be weak, sick, or stuck in sin. You’ll need a faithful friend to be patient with you. We all will.
You want to defend against being self-absorbed? “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
Chances are, you are immersed in a world that is trying to convince you that it’s all about…you. You deserve this. But, friend, there’s a better way. A way that is outward-facing, that seeks to the interests and needs of others, and in doing so, provides more satisfaction and fulfillment than any 30-second ad during a football game can offer.