For as long as I can remember I’ve been at his beck and call. One of my first memories is of him not wanting the toy he played with and making me get him another. He’s driven me the wrong direction down one-way streets—all in good fun, of course. Still, all these years I’ve grown to like him more and more. It’s odd, because to say he’s selfish and needy and overbearing would be an understatement. He never has enough money, he criticizes my work, and he believes his desires come before all others. It’s like some lopsided symbiotic relationship.
Yet I think more highly of him today than ever because I know he’s a good guy. Deep down, he is. At least that’s what I have to tell myself after pouring this much effort into him. To be honest, I love him more than anyone else in this world. But that’s exactly the problem. I’ve let him rule my free time. I’ve allowed myself to become his slave.
The only thing that’s ever worked, the only thing that’s ever quieted him enough to allow me some peace and quiet, the only thing that puts him in his rightful place….
Is when I stop trying to serve myself and start serving others.
Because I am my own worst enemy: a hard-hearted, self-absorbed, never-satisfied, jealous-of-my-time master. When I serve myself, I lack joy, complain often, and take criticism badly. I become impatient, inflexible, and emotionally inconsistent. I always want more. In my lust for comfort and security, I make an idol of myself.
The reason this relationship won’t work is that I will never be enough for me. I am incomplete. My desires will only grow, my compassion going only as far as my fingertips. In No Man Is an Island Thomas Merton says that “man is divided against himself and against God by his own selfishness, which divides him against his brother.”
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Only when I see these two as inseparable orders, as one command, can I ever truly be happy. I can’t truly love God without loving my neighbor, I can’t truly love my neighbor without loving myself first, and I can’t truly love myself without loving the one in whose image I was created.
But when I get outside myself to serve others, my world expands. I stop living for me and start living for a creation loved by its Creator exponentially more than I could ever love myself. Merton believes “that the first responsibility of a man of faith is to make his faith really part of his own life, not by rationalizing it but by living it.”
Service gives me a reason to stop thinking about me.
And thank God for that; I’m exhausting.