You have a problem. It’s yourself. To be blunt, you are addicted to yourself. I’m afraid that you were born this way; we all WEre. However, most of us learn to hide it most of the time, or at least we come to realize that 100 percent self-centeredness is not the best way to achieve our goals. That’s a selfish motive, I know, but it’s kind of how society works. There is another way out of this addiction that actually removes self rather than just manages it, but I’ll get to that later.
Like most addicts, you likely don’t realize you have a problem. So, let me describe the symptoms of selfaholism and give you some hope of beating it.
Selfaholism is characterized by self-centeredness, self-righteousness, self-promotion, self-sufficiency, self-will, self-worship, self-love, self-praise, and so on. However, these symptoms manifest themselves differently, depending on the age of the addict. If you are still a teenager, you are probably in one of the worst phases of selfaholism — strong, independent, and self-conscious enough to show the uglier side of selfaholism, but not wise or experienced enough to realize that it is self-destructive and self-defeating unless it is at least “managed” and “modified.”
You probably can’t understand why your parents ever say no to you. And why should they consider what your brothers and sisters want? Why shouldn’t you scowl and slouch at the table? It doesn’t affect anyone else, does it? As for chores, why can’t you just come home, eat, and stay in your room? Why should Mom want to know what went on at school today? If only she would talk less, she might have your Hollister t-shirts ready when you need them for a change, right? And isn’t it annoying the way Dad insists on your going to bed at the same time as he and Mom. As you whispered to your buddy: “I thought old people got deaf eventually. Why can’t I make milkshakes at midnight? I mean, whatever . . .”
But you’re miserable, aren’t you? That’s the weird thing about addictions. They promise much but deliver little. You think that by pursuing your agenda that you will find happiness, contentment, and satisfaction. But, as you are discovering, self-love causes self-hatred. Oh, I know you think your misery is caused by all the no’s in your life — no’s from parents, no’s from teachers, no’s from pastors, no’s from everyone. “Why does no one ever say yes to me?”
But the problem is simpler and shorter than you think. It is the big capital letter “I” at the center of your heart. Until that letter is broken in many pieces, your life will continue on its dismal and dreary course. You will wander from relationship to relationship, from college to college, from marriage to marriage, from job to job, from church to church, and from bright shiny thing to bright shiny thing. And it will always be “their” fault, never yours: parents, teachers, friends, wives, husbands, pastors, bosses, government, whoever, whatever. If only they would all bow down and serve you, then all would be well.
But here’s the strangest thing of all: the happiest people in the world are servants — not those who warm the slippers of millionaires, but those who serve others in all their relationships and responsibilities. They may have a million dollars or simply red ink, but whatever their social or financial standing, they listen well, they give away their money and time, they volunteer at church, they do more than their assigned chores, and they even do some things without pay.
I know that sounds like misery to you, but, believe me, it’s the way to happiness. Of course, some people are selfless for selfish reasons. They have the wisdom to see that living just for self is not very helpful socially or vocationally. (I wish you had even that insight.) But there are others who not only manage and modify their selfaholism, but truly deny self and live for others. How? They have the great Self-denier working in their hearts. I’m talking about Jesus Christ, the Servant who turns the worst selfaholics into the best servaholics
Study Christ’s life and ask yourself how you, too, can serve rather than be served. Above all, study His death. Studying His life will shrink your “I” a little, but when you stand before His cross, your “I” will begin to crack and crumble at its foundation. Paul calls us, just as he called the Philippian selfaholics of his own day, to grasp that Christ’s service atones for our selfaholism (Phil. 2:3–7). As we grasp that supreme act of self-denial on our behalf, we will not only serve, but we will serve out of selfless motives. We will stop thinking about what we are giving up, and all we’ll see is what He gave up.
Is it just coincidence that the great Philippian epistle of service is also the great epistle of joy (3:1; 4:1, 4)?
As a recovering selfaholic, I earnestly pray that you, too, will know the joy of servaholism (1 Cor. 16:15).