I am so stunningly not like Jesus.
I feel this reality most deeply whenever I interact with another person, which of course is when my being like Jesus matters most!
It usually happens like this: I come home from work, which aside from teaching a couple of classes and conducting a few casual conversations, I have largely spent in my own mental world. I spend a lot of time by myself. And it’s draining. So when I get home, I want to be by myself. But home is where the people live who matter the most to me. And they get my leftover interest, my leftover energy, my leftover love.
Tired and self-pitying, I then see every request, no matter how small, as the straw that broke the camel’s back. Every request for my help or interest becomes a bridge too far. When I pull into my driveway, I shift my self- interest into drive when I put my car into park.
This happens throughout my day, as well, as texts and emails and phone calls pile up, little intrusions through my force field of self-worship. Every interruption is an usurping of my being the center of the universe. It happened even as I was composing this chapter. I was at my seminary office writing when I received a text message from my wife about a couple of household issues we’re currently dealing with. Our hot water’s been out for six days now, and a freezer we keep in the garage apparently shut off and everything in it spoiled before we noticed the smell of death wafting into the house. She was asking about a plan for cleaning out the garage. I was immediately irritated. Didn’t she know I was writing?
Well, no, she didn’t know what I was doing, because I wasn’t at home. And on top of that, there was no note on the message marking it “Urgent” or saying “You must respond immediately.” That’s just how I read it, because I was busy and didn’t want to be bothered. Because I’d rather wrongly attribute selfishness to others than rightly to myself.
And then I think of Jesus with all the pressing needs and interruptions in the course of his business. I think of him stopping to heal a frightened woman with a bleeding issue while on the way to help a man who’s daughter was about to die (and who did die while he had stopped to talk to the woman). Jesus didn’t get bothered by the interruptions in his ministry. He actually saw the interruptions as his ministry.
Jesus was perfect, and yet he did not look down on others. I am ridiculously imperfect, but I do look down on others. Jesus was perfectly holy, and yet was not arrogant. I am frustratingly unholy, but I am arrogant a lot. Like, a lot.
I am not Jesus. But I do want to be like him.
Jesus had so many opportunities to go around like a puffed up narcissist, and as God incarnate, you might think that he should. But even as he was saying things like “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and basically preaching himself as the true center of the universe, you never get the impression he’s pridefully boasting. He is humble. He is lowly. He is gentle.
As the very embodiment of love, Jesus cannot be what love is not. But I can.
Paul says that love “is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable.” Even in my solitude, even in my quiet, my self-centeredness is a spiritual boasting in myself. It’s this kind of boasting in myself which leads to my arrogance, which then prompts my rudeness and reinforces my self-seeking through irritability.
True love is essentially a de-centering of self.
Deep down in the recesses of every human soul is a cloying, ravenous monster ruthless for its own glory. This monster clambers out of its dark pit constantly, hunting and gathering food and trinkets—even collecting feelings and experiences—especially hungry for adulation and affirmation, but it is never satisfied with these things, so its stomach is always grumbling for more. This monster is us. Rather, it is the sinful nature in us. Paul describes how this monster competes with his other inner desire—to love and obey God—this way:
“For in my inner self I delight in God’s law, but I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:22–24)
“This body of death” is as constant war with our freedom in Christ. This is why Jesus says we must crucify the monster every day. “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The monster to be killed inside of us is pride.
Every one of us harbors pride in our deepest-seated self, so appeasement of pride is the chief industry of all mankind. From the things we buy to the relationships we participate in to even our motivations to things like work or family or leisure, when we are losing the battle of self- denial, feeding the pride monster is our greatest passion. The pride- appeasement industry is booming, because demand is always high, and therefore so is supply.
On the magazine racks at the grocery store we now find titles like All You and Self, no longer bothering to veil attempts at the subject we are most interested in. (I sometimes joke with a friend who subscribes to these titles that we should start a magazine called Others. But we know it wouldn’t sell!) Because we are all by default conspicuous consumers, consumer culture is predicated on our inalienable belief that we are the sun around which everything orbits. The cable company Comcast now even has an ad campaign where actress Jane Lynch assures customers of that very thing, saying directly, “You are the center of the universe.”
This is all blasphemy. The Christian message begins with the stark realization that we are not the center of the universe. Like Leo in Titanic, we stand at the bow, spreading our arms to span the horizon, not realizing we’re headed for disaster. We proclaim, “I’m the king of the world!”
And then the ship sinks.
This is an excerpt from my brand new book Love Me Anyway: How God’s Perfect Love Fills Our Deepest Longing, which releases next week! Learn more, read another excerpt, and order via LoveMeAnywayBook.com