A Remedy for Self-Love
A recent turn of family events has exposed something in me that, quite honestly, I’d rather not confess. But perhaps in my confession, we can all find a deeper grace and a stronger walk.
My mother-in-law was visiting us Thanksgiving weekend, and she developed a nasty virus that required hospitalization. For a week. After getting released, the very next day she had to be readmitted, and we’re not sure how long she’ll have to stay as she fights off her infection. Two weeks before Christmas. With several speaking events. A funeral. Christmas parties all lined up. And family Christmas plans.
I’m trying to be the supportive son-in-law and be at the hospital, while Laura and her siblings do their best to rotate and provide their love and care. But here’s my confession. In the midst of other people’s pain, I actually begin to look inward at my schedule, my priorities, my demands, and my expectations above those around me.
I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis’s “shrinking man” in The Great Divorce who hides behind the mask of the tragic actor and continues to shrink by his own self-love. This image of the shrinking man comes from Augustine’s classic description of sin as self-love. Augustine taught that God created us to be “curved outwards” with our gaze on God and neighbor in selfless love.
Sin, however, pulls our gaze away from God and others and turns it upon ourselves so that we become “curved inwards.” The result, as Joshua Ryan Butler tells us, is a shrunken existence: “compressed, restricted, and small, in our self-shielded resistance to the source of love and the objects of love for whom we were created. Self-love shrinks you” (The Skeletons in God’s Closet, 95).
Ever since the Fall (Genesis 3), humanity has curved inward and “put on leaves” (Genesis 3:7-8) in our attempt to create false identities and hide from God and others.
What’s the remedy? Exactly what my mother-in-law needs right now—an antivirus that will kill the infection and bring healing. Jesus is the antivirus, and as we turn our gaze upward, we will see Him there all along, waiting to pour out His love and grace. Through His redemption, we are given a new identity (2 Corinthians 5:17), and we shift from self-love to selfless love and from the shrinking man or woman to a radiant child of the King.
Sometimes when bad things happen around you, it reveals some badness still inside of you. It has for me this week. But overcoming it requires admitting it and then “curving outwards” once again with our gaze on God and neighbor in selfless love.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5, ESV).