When Being Unselfish is Stupid
Unselfish? Where’s the Motivation Come From?
You are a giving person. People comment on it…and commend you for it. They also ask you to do this, that and the other thing. Because you’re a giver.
“How am I supposed to do that,” you ask, “when there are so many other legitimate needs clamoring for my limited time?” First, recognize that this will always be so. There will always be more for you to do than you have time to do it in. There will always be more kids you should see than you can, more meetings to attend than you can stand, more finishing touches you could add to an event, more organizing you could do to your office, another publicity piece you could design, yet one more call to make… ad nauseam. That’s just how it is. Stretching out your work week to shovel more of these things into your “Done!” basket isn’t the best way to deal with the reality that your time is finite. You must remember, so are you.
Jesus, who presumably had a good grip on priorities and a better sense of the needs of those around him than we do, went off to recover, re-energize and renew himself. If you are one of the many that doesn’t have time to do that, see if this fits:
We all have the “if only they knew” fear—something about myself that, if kids or parents or elders or the pastor knew, they’d lose respect for me or even fire me. We’re all legalistic when it comes to ourselves. So we in the people-serving professions cope with it by doing more, performing better, measuring up to an impossibly high standard that we’ve created. It’s no wonder that stress and burnout ultimately do us in. It is tempting to believe that stress and burnout are usually due to the external pressures of time and money. But I don’t believe that. I believe that most cases of stress and burnout are due to the typical caregiver’s personality, and second to a theology that says I’m not okay, that requires me to impress God who, if he only knew me, wouldn’t like at all. [Youthworker interview, “‘We Kill Ourselves by Doing More—and Think We’re Doing Better’ A Conversation with Dennis “Tiger” McLuen,” Youthworker Volume VIII Number 4 (Spring 1992): 61]
The theological issue can have another, even more unseemly side. Working so hard to do everything implies that the youth minister either believes that God is taking a long nap or just isn’t up to the task of deity anymore. There is a nasty edge of arrogance involved in working huge hours while complaining that you wouldn’t have to if only such-and-such was different. Remember, the kids have a savior—and you’re not it. You are in partnership with God in this endeavor; you were not promoted into his place. It can be very intoxicating to be so needed that the only appropriate response is to work your sorry backside off, day in and day out, in the high calling of service to the Almighty. Having all those kids holding you in such esteem (you wish!), and all those parents secretly thanking God daily for your ready answers and nearby presence in time of need (really secret!)—gosh, that Messiah complex almost makes those hours worth it, doesn’t it? If it were true that you were indispensable, maybe the hours would be worth it. But you know something, most folks probably don’t notice your big hours—and wouldn’t care if they did—except insofar as they would suspect that you either have poor time-management skills, that you don’t have a life, or that you really think yourself pretty hot stuff. It is ill-advised to complain to anyone if this show fits you.
C. S. Lewis, in his book The Weight of Glory, argues that in our current way of thinking, most people when asked what is the highest of virtues would answer: unselfishness. Christians would probably answer the same thing. Yet, the saints of the early church would have answered that the greatest of all virtues is love. He goes on to point out that a negative term has been substituted for a positive one. Whereas the biblical concept of love carries with it the notion of obtaining good for others is also good for oneself, the concept of unselfishness suggests more the idea that the objective is to go without something ourselves “as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.” Furthermore, he says, this “unselfishness” is not a New Testament concept. There is much said in it about self-denial, but not about it as an end in itself:
We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire…. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak… like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased. [Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer (Nashville: The Upper Room, 1983) 85]
So keep your toes on the ground, wiggling them in the sea-foam, with your eyes set on the Author of your ministry. Work towards instilling in your kids a greater hunger for things that matter, so that they, too, are not “far too easily pleased.”
For more on this, please check out The Ultimate Survival Guide For Youth Ministers; Maintaining Boundaries in Youth Ministry. The above comes from the book.
Engage here. Is it possible to be too unselfish? How can being a giver get in the way of loving as God does? Are you too easily pleased? Invite a friend to read this blog too so you can discuss it together. Circle back and share.