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“Nothing Personal” Can Be Very Personal

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

One thing that struck me about my father’s response to having his adultery found out was that he didn’t mean anything personal by it. I suspect he would say that he never meant to hurt anyone. He didn’t want anyone to be negatively affected by what he was doing. It may be true that he had no intention to cause anyone harm.

One of the last texts he sent me, perhaps the last one, went something like this: “I am very sorry that I have hurt you and your mother and your siblings by what I have done.” The crazy part of the text is that at the time he sent it he was on his way to go spend time with another woman and her family. At the very moment he was apologizing for hurting me, he was also abandoning me. He regretted the pain his actions caused, but he did not regret the actions he took.

Even though I didn’t know at the time he was running away, I still saw the text for what it was and called him out on this half apology, but I think what he did say was true. I think he was careful to phrase it so that it was true. He really didn’t want anyone to be hurt by what he did. He didn’t like hurting people. He just wanted to think lustfully about other women who were not his wife and have sex with them. He just wanted to be free from the pressures of being in a committed family.

I suspect it is true that he didn’t want to hurt anyone because my experience of him has never been that he has ill will toward others or a masochistic desire to hurt them. However, he has often leaned toward selfishness. He has frequently existed in a self-centered world where he cannot see past his own desires. His adultery was him choosing to enclose himself completely in a world where only he exists. The only reality that exists to him, the only reality that matters to him, is how he feels and what he wants. He did not care that his actions would hurt others. He apologized simply because he didn’t like feeling bad that he hurt others.

He didn’t have a personal vendetta against me, but that doesn’t make his actions impersonal. He hurt me just as bad as he would have if he would tried to. He never meant to hurt me, but he didn’t care enough not to. An odd part of me almost wishes he was angry with me. I wish he had something against me. I wish he was trying to hurt me with his actions, at least then I would be important enough to him that he had some sort of negative feelings toward me. I would have mattered in some way, even a negative one.

One of the most frustrating things about seeing him existing in this self-centered world where he doesn’t see or care about others is that I sometimes am self-focused in the same way he is. I can live as no one else exists. I can curl up in my little cocoon where I am the only person I can see and my desires and feelings and wants are the only things that matter to me. I can sometimes do things that hurt others that I never intend to hurt others. I was just being selfish and didn’t care enough to think about the effect that my actions have on other people

Sometimes, you probably are too. There are many reasons we might live selfishly. Sometimes we are hurting so bad we can’t see past our own pain. Sometimes we want things so bad we go after them regardless of consequences. Sometimes we don’t believe that we matter enough to actually be able to hurt other people. We think we are so unimportant that no one really cares what we do, and if we are inconsequential to them, then our actions can’t hurt them.

The way out is to live in light of the truth. The truth is we all matter. The truth is we have all been given choices that have great power to impact those around us. The truth is that a self-centered world is a very small and dark world. The truth is that we won’t get over our hurt without focusing on others and building relationship with them. The truth is that the selfish things we want that will hurt others are empty and destructive to both others and to ourselves. Those things will never give us what we want, because what we really want, what will really bring fulfillment to our heart is intimacy with God and others. A selfish life only brings more emptiness and loneliness.

Living Well 4: How Big is Your World?

July 10, 2008 2 comments
Everyone tends toward selfishness. In many ways it is the natural and logical move. We are the closest person to us. We know exactly how we feel, exactly what we’re thinking, and exactly how we react. Our entire life involves being around and, in a sense, interacting with, ourselves. Given the amount of time and energy we put into ourselves, it then seems like a logical progression to the idea that we should live selfishly, caring primarily about number one.

A lot of people would agree with me that selfishness is a negative thing, but a lot of people live in a world that is centered around themselves anyway. Most of our thoughts are self-centered. We may not be thinking about how we can best manipulate others to benefit ourselves or specifically how to optimize how much we can best satisfy ourselves, but our thoughts and desires often reflect a world where we are the center. We think about what we’re going to eat, what we’re going to wear, what we’re going to say, how people will respond to us, whether our finances will be okay, who we’re going to hang out with, what we’re going to do, how we’re going to spend our time, etc. etc. I make too many lists.

These things aren’t inherently bad things to think about, but it’s when we think about them in such a way that we are the focal point of everything, where we are first and foremost concerned about how things will affect us. When we are the center of our lives, we have a very small world. When I am the focus of what I think, say, and do, my world is only as big as I am. Which isn’t very big. The meaning and purpose of our lives is found in how to get the most pleasure and the least pain. In this small world, everything that happens in relation to us is a big deal, creating problems that seem overwhelming Our lives then often become full of worry and our fears hinder us.

I like what Erwin McManus recently said about fear. “Whatever we fear establishes the boundaries and limitations for our life.” If we’re in a self-focused world, there is so much to be afraid of because there is so much around us that can have negative effects on us. If we chose to stop focusing on ourselves, the size of our world increases dramatically. If we chose to focus on people, then our world is as big as everyone around us. Our thought focus is then not on how to best look out for ourselves, but to look out for others. Our problems become a lot less small when our goal is not to acquire the maximum amount of pleasure for ourselves.

What if we chose to allow our lives to be centered around something bigger, say, God? That’s a huge world that includes others, but also includes a Being that is bigger than others. If we place God at the center of our lives, we free ourselves from so many limitations. No problem is big compared to the infinite Creator God. Everything that once worried us and seemed overwhelming is now insignificant. Our lives also become loaded with purpose and meaning because the goal of our life is so much bigger and so much more important. No goal is bigger than the glorification of God. There is nothing as freeing and beautiful as living with God-centered lives in a God-sized world.

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