It wasn’t until I fully understood the degree of my selfishness that I was able to change. Don’t get me wrong. I have not arrived, nor will I ever feel like “I’ve arrived”. However, I feel like God has me on the right path and I have to daily check my compass to make sure I’m staying the course.
All of my life I’ve been focused on looking good and impressing other people. Early in my childhood I developed a “Performer” mindset where performing = love. The need to always be perfect and always “on” is a scary place to be. The reason being, we are all human, sinners, and it’s inevitable we will make mistakes. For the longest time, I always thought the things I did and mistakes I made were unforgivable and caused me shame and guilt, and I never learned how to accept love. However, what God has painfully showed me is that the most heinous of all my character flaws is not the things that I’ve done my whole life, as C. S. Lewis says in his book Mere Christianity, “the chief of all sins is selfishness. Selfishness is the sin of the Devil.”
The first degree of selfishness: Nature – “Mine”
I’ve been selfish my whole life, ever since I could crawl and say the word “mine”. While getting my Psychology degree at the University of Tennessee, we studied child psychology and it is amazing understanding the concepts in nature versus nurture. Our human nature is to be selfish. No one has to teach us this; it just is the state we are born in. So many of us never leave the first degree of selfishness during our whole life. Like a little baby who thinks the whole universe revolves around them, we only look out for number one and think everything should be “mine”.
The second degree of selfishness: Nurture – “I deserve”
After evolving out of the first degree of selfishness, we become much more sophisticated with our egotism. We start playing the nice societal roles we are conditioned and “nurtured” to play. This is where we understand the universe doesn’t revolve around ourselves, so we then start thinking, “look at how sophisticated, smart and nice I am to share and understand the universe doesn’t revolve around me. Aren’t I special? I deserve respect. I deserve to be rewarded. I deserve to be special.”
Feeling like we deserve anything as a result of an act we did is the second degree of selfishness. The reality is we do not deserve anything for our acts. If we are called to be focused on serving other people and laying down our own selfish desires, then the idea of thinking about what “I deserve” is a recipe for disaster. Once the seed is planted that you deserved something, even if you get what you think you deserve, it will create an appetite for wanting more and feeling like you deserve more. The reality is that everything good in this world has been given to you by the grace, mercy, and love of God. Understanding that He is the giver of all good things helps take the focus off of feeling like you have to earn your way into something you deserve.
The third degree of selfishness: Narcissism
Definition – noun: narcissism: Excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.
- Psychology: extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.
- Psychoanalysis: self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder.
After experiencing the hell of the third degree of selfishness, I know that with God’s grace and mercy I will never go back. The third degree of selfishness is where you stop caring about other people and all you are focused on is looking good, sounding smart, appearing to be in control, being respected, being recognized for achieving amazing accomplishments. As soon as we lose the ability to consider other people and cannot be authentic, transparent and tell the truth to everyone in our lives, we start to enter into the third degree of selfishness.
In 2010, I went down the third degree of selfishness path and truly hit rock bottom. I did things that have no justification at all. I was so consumed with what I deserve, looking good, sounding smart, being respected, appearing in control, and seeking recognition that I hit the self-destruct button on my entire life. Then a year later after realizing the degree of my selfishness, the damage had been done. So I did what my instincts told me to do… lie. Just hide and bury the truth and never tell anyone the degree of my selfishness. After all, there is no way anyone would respect, forgive or love someone who is this selfish.
The fourth degree of selfishness: Self Destruction & Addition
In The Furious Longing of God, Brennan Manning explains that Shame and Guilt are the tools of the devil. Any screw tape that you hear playing in your head revolving around shaming you or making you feel guilty is a message straight from the pit of hell. The fourth degree is the scariest place to be. This is where you can become so overwhelmed by shame and guilt you might feel like it’s easier to check out or possibly just end it. Most people turn to addictions in this phase to numb the pain of their shame and guilt. There are many, many forms of addictions. We could be addicted to work, alcohol, drugs, food, narcissism, pornography, caffeine, pills, etc. After several close acquaintances in my life commit suicide, hearing the news of their death always has the same effect on me of a tidal wave of emotions with shock, anger and sadness. After personally experiencing the full measure of the fourth degree of selfishness, I now have a very small glimpse of how people think it’s possible to take their own life. After all, it’s the ultimate form of selfishness.
The good news!
The good news is there is a Way out of this hell. There is a Light at the end of this tunnel. It starts with the Truth. THE ONLY WAY TO THE LIGHT IS THROUGH THE TRUTH. Brutal, relentless, honest, embracing, humbling truth. Start with taking an inventory of your life. Ask God to show you the mirror and reveal to you the degree of your selfishness. Write down all of the ways you are being or have ever been inconsiderate, unempathetic, damaging to others and selfish. This exercise will probably be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Most of us couldn’t even handle seeing the degree of our selfishness through God’s eyes, so He will only show you what you can handle. You will know if you’re doing this successfully if you are absolutely wrecked, broken and ripped apart after praying for God to show you the degree of your true sins. Once you have an understanding of your selfishness, you need to own your mistakes and ask for forgiveness. Anyone you’ve ever hurt, damaged or caused pain in any way. Call them or take them out to coffee, look them right in the eye and tell them what you did to hurt them, own it, and ask for forgiveness. Being selfish destroys trust. Telling the brutal truth is the only way to restore trust. Start with telling yourself the truth that you are a selfish, self centered, ego-driven human sinner and without God’s grace and mercy you have no hope.
At the end of the day we are all called to die to our selfish desires. This is counter culture. The world tells us the opposite. We have a decision to make every single day. The decision is simple, but it’s not easy. Are you going to focus on yourself and what you deserve, or are you going to lay down your selfish desires and serve others? I promise the results of these decisions are vastly different.