After two years, I realized I was in the wrong ministry for my personality type. I was living in exhaustion because I was not acknowledging the way God made me. It finally occurred to me that he would rather use me in a way that wouldn’t burn me out within a few years. Therefore, I switched to a ministry better suited to how I operate. The reason it took me so long to realize that, however, was because I was convinced I just needed to overcome my selfishness. Unfortunately, I didn’t grapple with that when I switched schedules, so the problem persisted—just in new ways like taking on too much.
When the goal is laying aside selfishness, where is the end?
There lay the problem. I didn’t yet realize I would never be able to overcome my selfishness. When would I be selfless enough? When I collapsed? When there was nothing left of me? When all the problems I knew of were met? It was impossible!
Unfortunately, I went on for years in this mode. I just kept going like a maniac without stopping to ponder these questions as I should have. But once I started thinking about it, the absurdness of my suppositions became clear: I will never be able to overcome being a selfish human being, and I will never be able to do enough for others. Once I accepted that, I could find some sanity in my life.
I also discovered another thing. The word selfless does not appear in the Bible, at least not in any version I use. So, not only is it impossible, it’s unbiblical. Why do you suppose that is? Perhaps if we were commanded to be selfless, we would go bonkers on that and not be at all who God made us to be—which is exactly what I did. Even though I’d been saved by grace, I refused to live by grace. I put myself under the law as millions of Christians before me have done. Somehow, we feel we must prove that we aren’t really sinners after all.
When does service become a way to validate ourselves rather than help others?
This kind of reflection helped me see I was stuck in the old system of legalism. I would never have admitted that. I hate rules! They make me feel trapped. Yet, I’d made one cardinal rule that dominated my every waking thought and deed—that I had to become completely selfless in order to be a good Christian. Somewhere along the line it wasn’t even about helping others, but about validating my worth in God’s eyes. I had to prove I was the most worthy and obedient of his servants. But you know what? I’m not, and I never will be. That’s the whole point of the gospel. I am not worthy, and I’m certainly not obedient if I do something different from what God is asking me to do.