There have been times I’ve been kind or generous, not out of genuine love, but simply because I value my reputation for being kind and generous – pride.
There – I said it out loud! And, my guess is that you too truly enjoy serving others, but like me, occasionally, secretly hope to be noticed or thanked for it. So here’s the question; was our real motive, love for others, or love of ourselves?
I have a friend who runs a huge enterprise, but is one of the most kind and considerate people I know. He wrestles with this issue all the time. “Clare, I love to serve people. I truly do. But, there’s a dark side of me that wonders if I love to serve, primarily because I enjoy being admired for serving. Is that wrong?”
I’ve given him this advice; Pride is an occupational hazard of gifted people. So, how do we kill our self, without serving less?
If you too are a gifted servant/leader who struggles with this problem – narcissistic obedience, read on. I think you’ll identify with this true story I tell in my book, The 10-Second Rule book which illustrates this very point.
“A friend of mine flies a lot – enough to get upgraded to first class often. It’s more than the extra legroom and better service that he likes. He’s honest enough to admit that he feels superior and pampered in first class. People notice him.
He was on a trip a few years ago, sitting in the terminal waiting for the call to board – first class, of course – when he notices an older, poorly dressed woman in a wheelchair, and as he tells it, “Wouldn’t you know it! I had a 10-second rule moment!”
He went over to the woman and asked her where she was sitting on the plane. Obviously she was a little surprised by his question and reluctant to respond, so he just came out with it. “Hi, my name is Josh. I’m sitting in first class and if you’re in economy, I’d be honored if you would take my boarding pass, and let me take yours. You look like you could use the extra room.”
“Why would you do that?” she asked, even more anxious that this was some kind of scam or a trick.
“I’m trying to obey the 10-Second Rule,” he said, “which says just do the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do. A few minutes ago God gave me the thought to exchange seats with you. So, is it a deal?”
He knew it was when she broke out with a smile that lit up her face. And when she admitted that she’d never flown first class in her entire life, tears came – to both of them.
After telling me this story, he went on to admit the experience also brought out a dark side of him. “I knew I had done the right thing, but I missed the attention I got in first class.” Even worse, he actually fantasized the flight attendant in first class getting on the intercom and thanking “Mr. Peterson sitting way back in seat 99F, who generously traded his first class seat with Mrs. Smith, who otherwise would have been sitting with most of you, back in our cattle car. Let’s all give Mr. Peterson a hand. What a saint!”
Right at that moment, sitting in his seat, he realized just how desperately he needed to die more to self. The Holy Grail for him has become learning to serve others in the little things, even when nobody but God and the person he helped knows what he’s done. Many dream of doing great things for God, half hoping he won’t ask. Fewer wake each day longing to be used by him quietly and privately.
Perhaps you’ve daydreamed of singing to a church packed with worshippers, tears running down their faces – being honored from the pulpit by your pastor for your service to the church – or secretly hope someone notices how generous you’ve been and were disappointed when they didn’t. Why is it that we long for the limelight – not all the time, but too much of the time? Sin and pride are the two most honest answers. Well, then what’s the solution?
Christians don’t have the option of simply not serving others out of fear of committing this sin. You and I have been gifted by God and the Holy Spirit to serve. And, I wish that my motives were always pure. However, if I waited to serve until I was sure they were, I’d probably accomplish very little.
This quote by John the Baptist to his own disciples about subordinating his ministry to Jesus, has become my favorite verse for dealing with this problem. “He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30 But, how do we do that?
If I were leading a Twelve Step program for Recovering Christian Narcissists, here’s what I’d suggest based on my personal battle with this problem.
Making God Look Good
1. The short version of my personal mission statement is this, “The purpose of my life is to make God look good.” I’d not thought about it until writing this blog, but perhaps I should amend it to read, “The purpose of my life is to make God and others look good.”
I really like the book and website, I am Second. But, as I think about it, perhaps a more Christlike title would have been, I am Third. If you’re serious about dying to pride, one sure-fire cure is to go out of your way to make others look good instead.
2. The moment the fantasy begins to form in your mind of being admired by others or honored publicly, recognize that immediately as a temptation – a sin in the making. Then mentally, remove yourself from that mental picture.
3. Graciously accept “thank yous” from others. When we reply, “Oh, it’s nothing really” it’s often false humility anyway, and actually devalues their gracious comment.
4. Occasionally, send encouraging notes and gifts anonymously. Just sign them, “a follower of Jesus”.
5. Go out of your way to share the credit for your accomplishments with others and look for ways to celebrate them.
6. Beware of taking on projects, serving on committees or boards because you’re flattered to be asked, rather than heartfelt conviction after a period of serious prayer.
7. Confess any sin of pride openly and honestly to God and spiritually mature friends close to you. Give them permission to tell you when they see it in your life.
8. Whenever you’re about to open your mouth, before you do, think about why you’re doing so. Is it truly to praise them, or add a new element or thought to a discussion, or is it meant to impress everyone, with your gift of encouragement, with your knowledge of scripture, your wisdom, or to make you look good.
“Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.” Galatians 6:4