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MY PERSONAL awakening



“You’re the most selfish person I have ever met,” said Tiffany, once or twice a week, for about the first 10 years of our marriage. She wasn’t the only one. My sister in Christ who worked for me uttered very similar words of encour- agement around that same season... “Mike, you’re the most self-absorbed person I’ve ever known.” Well, at least they both considered me to be unique!

Thankfully, many years later, I now joke with them about these statements. I hope – and believe – they would both say I have made a little progress over the years. Years ago, I did not receive this gentle correction from either of them. I was blind to what they were saying. But now, many years and trials later, I understand. I see this ugliness inside of me clearer than ever.

Here is the embarrassing truth: Every day, for my entire life, as soon as my eyelids have opened in the morning until they close at night, there has been one dominant thought in my head, one primary motivator for all my actions: ME!

As I crawled out of bed, I was already obsessing over my to-do list for the day. My schedule was meticulously planned the night before so that I could achieve all of my goals and my ambitions. What was the first thing on my agenda that morning so that I could be the best version of myself? For my family, of course!

As a Christian, I get the privilege of spiritualizing much of my selfishness and making it noble. It’s essential that I get in my spiritual disciplines: my journaling, my reading, my solitude, my praying.

I must also be physically fit. When will I get to the gym today? What — and when — am I going to eat today? Gotta make sure my macros are just right! Am I getting enough sleep to make sure I am performing at the highest level possible? Is something threatening to interrupt one of these disciplines for the day? I immediately think of the ol’ oxygen mask on the airplane analogy. I’ve got to get my oxygen first, right?

I also get to justify my relentless selfishness in the name of being a provider. If I am not performing, the bills don’t get paid and there won’t be food on the table. Therefore, it’s only logical that my appointments, and my schedule, and my disciplines take precedence.

I am now 44 years old, and I have finally come to realize that this daily obsession with me and my is a most miserable life. Yes, I have seen that my constant focus on me–me– me is making me miserable. It’s exhausting. It imprisons. It suffocates. It wages war on the inner man. It is a life in the flesh. It is an inversion of the life that God made us for before the fall — and the life we will live for all of eternity. It is not life. It is death! I think I’ve discovered a better way.

Not long ago, as I was reflecting on how miserable this constant pursuit of self was making me, I was jolted by a very simple thought: What if I just stopped? What if I inverted it? What if I forgot about myself and just focused on others? What would this type of life look like?

What it would it be like if, every day, my dominating thoughts were focused outwards? Who am I going to bless today? Who am I going to encourage today? Who am I going to serve today? Who is sad today that I can cheer up? Who has a burden today that I could bear? Whose day am I going to make a little brighter by my words and my actions?

As I reflected on these things, the very thoughts seemed to evoke within me a sense of freedom – like a weight lifted! I imagined it would be a life of much more happiness and much more joy. I imagined waking up with a smile on my face much more often. I said to myself, Surely this is how Jesus walked. Surely, this is what eternity will be like: pure self- forgetfulness. I imagined that this type of life would be... life!

I found myself grinning. I was intrigued. I needed to go deeper, though. I wanted to get more practical. The thoughts and questions began to race through my mind...

What if I started each day by asking myself, What am I going to do to encourage Tiffany? Maybe it’s a text message. Maybe it’s a note by her bedside. Maybe it’s simply bringing her home some Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, her favorite candy. What does she need today? Is she tired and weary? Could I somehow change my schedule to give her a nap? What if every day I had to do at least one thing to shine His light on this woman He has given me?

What about my children? How could I encourage them today? How could I serve them today? Maybe I should do the dishes for Madeline. Maybe I should send Pierson a text to let him know a specific reason I’m proud of him!

What about my other friends and family and neighbors? I thought to myself: Who do I know who has some admirable quality that I have observed? How could I show them or tell them how this quality has challenged me? I imagined passing people on my daily walks in my neighborhood and asking them, Is there anything in your life I could pray for you about as I go about my walk today? Who could I encourage with a passage of Scripture today?

This man I was imagining in my mind was a much happier man. He was shining! He was free from the bondage of self! He was full of joy! I think the scriptures call this type of man, “filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18-21)

Now you may be wondering: Aren’t those disciplines all good things? Isn’t managing our time wise? Will that man be fat, and unproductive, and have a starving family? I believe Jesus answered those questions best when He said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) You see, I’m not talking about disciplines or time management. I am talking about a radical shift in our approach to life. Maybe this new approach requires a little less control — and a little more faith!

What is so peculiar to me about this revelation is that, once again, the Spirit did not reprimand me for my selfishness. He was not angry with me. He simply appealed to my logic — there is a better way to live! As a loving and gentle dad might say to his child, “Son, you see that road over there? It’s a lot more fun than the one you’re currently on. It’s full of goodness and freedom – smiles and joy. You should check it out!”

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