The desire to live for myself is strong; the view that time for myself (i.e. to do what I want, to have leisure) is my main goal and the necessities of all the kinds of work that come with life are irritations and incursions on this time. The way I usually see it is that work is good, but it’s also a means to an end, that end being the ability to provide for myself so that I can have a nice life. But what if this life isn’t about that? What if living to have pleasantness and niceness for myself is the wrong purpose, and by aiming for it I’m missing the point? What if it’s about giving up that desire, giving up trying to have a nice life; what if it’s really about forgetting myself? Taking care of the necessities, but beyond that point, giving up my wants and concentrating on doing – truly doing – God’s will, and living for and serving others?
It’s a scary thought, because all my life I’ve seen “service” as a thing to do outside myself; an add-on to my own goals, my own, more-important life path. But if this idea of living for others is correct, then it means that the me-part of my life is actually the secondary part…or more precisely, the me-part of my life can develop most completely, most self-expandingly, within this living-for-others. Perhaps that’s the meaning of the teaching that in giving up our lives we will gain them. Not just the giving up of desires, and the giving up of mortal life and gaining eternal life, but a complete giving up of wanting to pursue my own pleasure in life. There is a fear in this, that I’ll lose the opportunity of fulfilling good desires for myself and become lost – no longer a separate person with defined hopes and dreams, but swallowed up in what I do for others. That, though, might actually be the key. Living like this is a real act of faith, because Christ says that we will gain back more than what we give up; but if we don’t give it up, then we will never properly have it, or else we’ll lose it forever. By living in this unselfish way, it appears we’d actually find our true selves and realize our best desires. Opportunities would be presented to us and from them we’d grow. C. S. Lewis describes it in this way:
To become new men means losing what we call ‘ourselves’. Out of ourselves, into Christ, we must go. His will is to become ours and we are to think His thoughts, to ‘have the mind of Christ’ as the Bible says. And if Christ is one, and if He is thus to be ‘in’ us all, shall we not be exactly the same? It certainly sounds like it; but in fact it is not so.
It is difficult here to get a good illustration…. But I will try [a] very imperfect illustration which may give a hint of the truth. Imagine a lot of people who have always lived in the dark. You come and try to describe to them what light is like. You might tell them that if they come into the light that same light would fall on them all and they would reflect it and thus become what we call visible. Is it not quite possible that they would imagine that, since they were all receiving the same light, and all reacting to it the same way (i.e. all reflecting it), they would all look alike? Whereas you and I know that the light will in fact bring out, or show up, how different they are.
…. I am not, in my natural state [(i.e. living for myself)], nearly so much of a person as I like to believe.
The principle runs through life top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find…life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.
The me that I’m worrying about losing is, really, not “nearly so much of a person as I like to believe” – apparently I’m not all that fantastic as I am, alone, and my natural fear of losing that ‘me’ is kind of silly when seen from this perspective. The ‘me’ that I will become by losing my self in serving God and others will be far more lovely, interesting and good than the current, me-for-myself me. The point here is not to have no desires, to become an ’empty vessel’. It’s to open oneself to the light and goodness and direction of God, who knows you and me far better than even we know ourselves; a God who loves our uniqueness and can direct us to develop it completely. As our Creator and a perfected Being, He understands how that best occurs – and the means to achieve it is the two great commandments: serve God and His children. Give up your own personal ends to do it, and what you will become is someone whose desires are more perfect, more like those of our Father and Brother. You won’t lack; you will have far more. The problem is not that this principle misses certain things, like righteous desires for our families or a good life, but that we might have difficulty believing that it can really be so – that our Saviour, by His perfection, love and grace, can actually turn our uniqueness and availability into something perfect, something like Him. When we are able to give up our “ambitions and favourite wishes every day”, we’ll receive the guidance that allows us to find more complete wishes and desires; I believe that we will find ways to achieve the things we most desire anyway. Because if those desires are just, God will give us a better way to achieve them than we would have found on our own, and with it, He’ll allow us to achieve far more than just that goal.