A friend stepped onto an elevator in a big-city sky scraper. He stuck out his arm to keep the doors from closing as a family rushed in after him. Button #59 lit up as one of them pressed it. My friend released the doors and said, “Six please?” No response. He stood stunned as they boxed him out, not to be inconvenienced.
Think you’d never be so deliberately rude? A question posed by the London Times long ago prompts a challenge to that assumption.
“What’s wrong with the world today?” A famous author, G.K. Chesterton, responded in two words: “I am.”
If rudeness is but one outward result of inward selfishness, I must realize with Chesterton, “I am.” Then what? Is it possible to gentle our condition?
A thousand years ago, Bernard of Clairvaux (a particular breed of dog is named after him) had the same concern. Inspired by the selfless love of Christ, he realized how love’s direction depends upon its target. The goal of love shapes life, relationships, and character.
Where are you in Clairvaux’s Four Degrees of Love?
Love of self for self. Ironically, this love shrinks you. No accumulated stuff or success will elevate you above yourself. Finding significance here is like the Ancient Mariner’s experience alone at sea: “Water everywhere but not a drop to drink.”
Love of God for self. The first step off the shrinking island of self is to love God for your own benefit. Amazingly, God encourages this kind of love the way a parent celebrates the first rocky steps of a toddler.
Love of God for God. This next degree brings a kind of reorientation. In the mysterious freedom to love God without ulterior motives, you feel more at home in your own skin. Gratitude fills and strengthens the soul.
Love of self for God. Isn’t the Christian called to die to self? Dying to self simply turns us from a life of self concern, without a higher goal. It makes more room for the abundant life and love of God. Such love helps you make peace with yourself and moves you towards others full, not empty. It’s not putting others first as though you don’t matter. A life aimed at the self-less love of Christ is still a life, but a changed one.
Clairvaux recognizes, “Such experiences are rare and come only for a moment [and may not] be perfectly attained in this life.” But at these times, we become forgetful of ourselves, genuinely. Confidence grows in the bigger picture, and in turn we live generously, no longer seeking to manipulate everything and everyone to serve our own ends.
You are unworthy, but not worthless. Does that knowledge gentle your condition?