By David Hegg
Most of the time I love my job. It puts me in relationship with people at the most critical times of their lives. I have stood by and watched as a final breath was taken, consoled a family after a teen suicide, and walked the long path of recovery with many whose lives had been all but taken through addition. And in these cases and many more, I have been privileged to extend the grace and truth of God to those who were sure life had nothing more for them.
I have also spent countless hours with men and women whose pain has been, for the most part, self-inflicted. By that I mean those whose lives had become so out of sync that they were ready to wipe the relationship slate clean and start all over again. In almost all of these cases there were myriad presenting problems. Some cited anger, others irreconcilable differences, and still others felt that they just didn’t feel loved anymore. But at the bottom of it all I usually found one cause for the relational pain that now threatened the very fabric of their family bond. Behind all the other symptoms of fractured relationships was the worm of selfishness.
For years I have put a simple sentence into every wedding ceremony I perform: Nothing will cause the flower of your relationship to shrivel faster than the worm of selfishness. I stand by this. We’ve been sold a bill of goods by those who clamor for us to look out for No. 1, to pull our own strings, to do things “my way.” We’ve distorted the bedrock American doctrine of individual rights by forgetting that the currency by which rights are maintained is responsibility. We’ve been foolish in believing that loving ourselves first and foremost can produce happiness. It can’t. The greatest lives of history were those that put others first, that determined to serve the common good, and were intentional about doing for others what they desired to be done for them.
Perhaps the greatest deficit of the self-centered life is the absence of true thankfulness. If all you think about is yourself, your own well-being, your innate happiness, you’ll never find a reason to be thankful for anything or anyone except yourself. And saying thank you to self only completes the disastrous “me first” cycle.
We are beginning to see the results of selfishness in our society and it isn’t pretty. Apparently, the fruit of individual selfishness is a whole generation that has been born with an inbred sense of entitlement. Gone are the days when achievement preceded recognition and reward. Gone are the days when age and experience were respected and honored. Gone are the days when you had to “pay your dues.” Now everyone deserves everything. Everyone is entitled to not only have an opinion but also to voice it and expect it to be received and implemented. And beyond all the other negative consequences of this aura of entitlement is the fact that those who feel they are entitled to all they receive will never understand the privilege of thanksgiving.
And I do mean that being thankful is a privilege. Thankfulness begins with a recognition that I have been the recipient of someone else’s benevolence. It grows through a realization that what I have and who I am owes much to the hard work and love of others who have preceded me. It flows from a belief that who we are as a people, and as a nation, can be attributed largely to those who have come before us, and kept America strong and free so that we could enjoy the blessings of freedom, and the free expression of ideas. The great irony is that today’s entitled generation can enjoy their “entitlements” only because preceding generations were unselfish when it came to giving of themselves to make America what it is today.
I have looked selfishness in the face, in the eyes of others, and in my own mirror. It has become the wallpaper of our world. We just can’t escape its presence. But we can combat its allure, and it is actually quite simple. In fact, the simplest way to ward off the selfishness syndrome is to demand two things of yourself. First, do something good for someone else, and second, express true, heart-felt thanks to someone who has made a difference in your life.
It is so good that we still set aside a day to be thankful. Don’t waste it! And better yet, make it a goal to be a more thankful person all year long. After all, those who love you and have poured so much into your life are entitled to a little thanks!
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.