I want to be of some use. But I don’t want to be used.
And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
We don’t want to be anyone’s fool. We won’t let anyone put one over on us or walk all over us. We are strong. We are independent. We can think for ourselves, thank you very much, and don’t need anyone telling us what to do — or what not to do. If one of us is asked to do some menial task, we think that such a thing is beneath us and say to the person asking, “I’m not your servant!”
We will not be used.
Are we of any use to anyone but ourselves? What happens when we are the ones using ourselves for fruitless pursuits, enslaving ourselves to our own whims and selfishness? I’ll tell you what happens: we become the worst kind of fools — our own fools.
I was once self-centered.
When I was an atheist, I spoke like an atheist, I thought like an atheist, I reasoned like an atheist. When I became a believer, I put away with atheistic things.
I was not a mean and nasty atheist, angry at the world, disgusted with people. I was one of those secular humanist kind of atheists, appreciating beauty and kindness, concerned with the plight of others, and wanting to make the world a better place. You would not have known by my interactions with people, by my words or by my actions that I was a “godless heathen”. But, well… I was. I did what I wanted and what I wanted was what made me feel good about myself. That very sentence can describe many people — including those who claim belief in, and love for, God.
The thing is, even when I might have said or done something that was of service to another, I cannot say that I did it purely for that other. My act of kindness was not a selfless act, it was not true charity, because I was doing it to bring myself pleasure. You know that pleasure that you get when you do something good for another person? It gives you a kind of lift and can lead you to think very lovely things about yourself, and you are happy for that moment. In this way, I can see how some people could actually get addicted to do-gooding. But, what kind of good does it really do? The other person who was helped is benefited. But am I who did it? I don’t think so.
You see, there were always people, who I helped out in some way, who did not experience the same pleasure as I did from my action. Sometimes, they received my kindness with ingratitude. Sometimes giving meanness in return. And, believe me, I snapped back at those people in a hurry. “You don’t want me to help you? Fine, then. Suffer. See if I care.” Because, well, I really didn’t. I centered all of my goodness, my talents and gifts, my beauties and strengths, in myself. I did these things, I deserved full credit, I, I, I…. I hoarded any good quality of mine like a treasure. I might pay out some of it somewhere if I thought it was a good investment and would give me a pleasurable return. But, if it didn’t, then I would withdraw very quickly. I was self-centered.
And then I became God-centered.
What does it mean to be God-centered? Well, it could be explained in many ways, but to explain the difference between being self-centered and God-centered, I’ll continue along the same lines that I wrote above. As an atheist, I gave full credit to myself (including my genetics and experiences) for any of my gifts and talents, and anything that I thought, said, and did that was good, true, or beautiful (I was the determining judge of what was good, true, or beautiful, anyway). But, as a believer, I give full credit to God (the true judge of truth, being Truth Itself) for all of my gifts and talents, and everything good, true, and beautiful in my thoughts, words, and actions. God is the treasure and the treasure house. God is the center. And, by the love and mercy of God, God chooses to dwell within me. Not because I deserve this. But because God loves.
It’s like this. God created human beings in His own image and likeness and saves us from our sins, from our waywardness (a kind of drunk-on-self stumbling stagger, which is life that ends in death) by becoming one of us. Christ sanctifies all of humanity through his Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension: the Paschal Mystery. And when we choose to enter into the life of Christ, we first enter into the death of Christ — and then we are reborn. And we are not reborn in order that we may serve ourselves, our own whims and pleasures. We are born again from above in order that we may truly become ourselves by serving others. It is that entering into the death of Christ that allows us to truly be of use — without being used. We Christians sometimes say that we “die to self”. And that can sound kind of scary and weird to non-Christians — even to Christians who have not come to a fuller understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, yet. But, you see, it is by emulating Christ, in giving ourselves away, that we are able to fully recognize God as the center and then able to give tirelessly and selflessly from the Divine treasure house within each of us. No need to hoard. And no need to be thanked or even recognized for the good service given to the other. All glory to God. For we are doing what we simply must do as true believers. In much the same way, a rose must breathe sweetly and a flooded stream flow quickly. It is the true nature of who we are and we cannot weary of it as long as we remain who we are.
And, so, as a believer, I know that I can be of use to others without ever being used. If someone wants half of my desert, then I should offer them the whole thing. If someone needs help with a computer problem, I should patiently give it and not begrudge one moment extra spent doing more than might be “necessary”. Yes, this is the God-centered life. (God, help me live it!) And it can be tiring, and thankless, and even lonely, sometimes. But, the greatest human that ever lived, and ever will live, was humiliated, abandoned, tortured, and killed cruelly. And, yet… He was willing to go through it all for the sake of the very ones who hurt Him… and so He is is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To be like Him is more than a good idea, a pleasure, or something that might be rewarded — it is simply and profoundly who I am as a human being, first, foremost, and always.
© 2014 Christina Chase