Gentle Selfishness

800px-Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_edited A classic novel I’m reading had that phrase in it, describing a character’s personality. The old man was not evil, malicious, scheming, or even mean: he just had a gentle selfishness.

The kind of behavior we usually think of as selfish is obvious: lying, cheating, stealing, hurting, etc., to get what we want. Everyone recognizes it for what it is. But a gentle selfishness, because of its very gentleness, is subtle, deceptive, and far more difficult to detect than the blatant kind. Often, it is in adults. Everyone is born selfish, and children clearly express this, often learning more gentle forms of the sin as they mature and realize that crass egotism is both conspicuous and socially unacceptable. And so a gentle selfishness is cultivated in its place—a selfishness that doesn’t seem to hurt anyone. But it does: it slowly tears at relationships and hardens our own hearts. Here are some common ways that we often express gentle selfishness on a regular basis:

— Disregarding others’ preferences when they are inconvenient.

—Failing to fight impure thoughts.

—Not really listening to the person who is talking to us.

—Habitually running late.

—Listening to gossip.

—Forgetting to send a thank you card.

—Regularly saying, “Tired,” or “Busy,” when others ask how we are doing.

—Failing to correct or instruct our child/ren when it is inconvenient.

—Not protecting someone’s good name when we have the opportunity.

—Allowing our spouse to pick up the slack.

—Wanting to come across as better than those around us, in our looks or abilities.

—Not working hard at our callings.

—Spending more money on ourselves than we need to.

—Misinterpreting other’s words or actions instead of clarifying.

—Being concerned with “me time.”

—Working so that our deeds are seen by men.

—Withholding love from those who have a right to it, including parents, spouse, and children.

Gentle selfishness is dangerous exactly because others can’t always see it and it seems harmless, so it hardens us in our sinful inward focus. It is the subtlety of this selfishness that is the problem, and we all have it. Godly gentleness will actually help us kill selfishness, because it is not weakness, but controlled strength. Christ displayed this perfectly; selflessness that was gentle even in the face of crucifixion, so that He could pray, “Father, forgive them.” His saving selflessness is not only the source of our forgiveness, but also the power to break even the gentle selfishness in our own lives.