This year, I am studying the different aspects of charity found in 1 Corinthians 13. This month I have focused my attention on “Charity seeketh not her own.”
What does it mean to “not seek our own?” I think it can mean that we think of others before we think of ourselves. Unselfishness is at the core of not seeking “our own.” Unselfishness is one of the true signs of real love. When we love another person wholeheartedly, unconditionally, our behavior toward them becomes completely unselfish—we are concerned for their welfare, their comfort, their well-being, and safety above our own.
I love this little snippet from Victor Hugo:
“She broke the bread into two fragments and gave them to her children, who ate with eagerness. ‘She hath kept none for herself,’ grumbled the sergeant.
‘Because she is not hungry,’ said a soldier.
‘No,’ said the sergeant, ‘because she is a mother.’”
How can we love someone more unselfishly—with not thought of reward of recognition—putting the needs of another person above our own?
I have a friend, Cindy, who is a brilliant example of unselfishness. She calls everyone in my family on their birthdays and sings “Happy Birthday” to them. This singing isn’t exclusive to my family. Cindy calls several people every day and sings to them. A couple of weeks ago, I hosted a wedding shower for a young woman in my neighborhood. Cindy asked if she could help. I said, “Have you got a cake plate? I need a cake plate.” She showed up at my door two hours before the shower with her cake plate and stayed for four hours, ironing tablecloths, hanging decorations, and preparing food. I couldn’t have pulled the shower off without her. She is such an example to me.
I think unselfishness begins with little choices we make every day:
- Inviting a car to pull in front of us in heavy traffic
- Paying for a stranger’s meal at a fast-food drive-thru
- Complimenting someone on a job well done
- Saving the last of the ice cream for our spouse
- Picking up trash off the sidewalk
- Defending a friend on social media
- Giving credit where credit is due
- Holding the door open for someone
- Giving encouraging words to someone who’s looks discouraged
- Letting someone in front of us in line at the grocery store
Enabling vs. Unselfishness
I believe God wants us to be unselfish, but unselfishness does not mean enabling bad behavior or completely disregarding our own needs for the wants of another person. I have a dear friend with a daughter who suffers from severe depression. My friend would do anything for this daughter, but she also knows that it would be detrimental to let this daughter move in with her. “My daughter would never get out of bed if I let her live at our house,” my friend says. My friend understands that the best way she can help her daughter is not to do everything for her but to help her to learn to do things for herself.
Another friend had an addict son who had no place to live. This friend let her son move in with her until she discovered that he was taking advantage of her good heart and stealing her money to buy drugs. She had to let him go. Letting him go didn’t mean that she didn’t love her son. It meant that she loved him enough to let him learn hard things. It meant that she loved herself enough to stand her ground.
I would love to hear your thoughts about unselfishness, seeking not our own, and self care in the comments.