An old friend in another city called me last week to say she’d read my blog. It was the first blog I’ve ever written. I felt suddenly uncomfortable with such widespread self-exposure. I found this unease floating in and out of my mind all day long. That night, embarrassment settled in more firmly and I turned on my pillow to tell Ron that I regretted putting myself in the spotlight. I hated the thought that perhaps the blog had been self-centered and I offered him the chance to join me in self reproach by reminding him that I had read it to him and had sought his advice before posting it.
In a fashion I’ve come to depend on for the last 48 years he said: “That blog wasn’t about you. It was about helping others with your vulnerability. Turn over and go to sleep.” Ron: ever dependable to gather in the fragments of my sanity and bind them up with logic for another day/hour/whatever. I settled in for the night pondering whether to think of myself as an egotistical altruist or an altruistic egotist.
Altruism has to be among the most challenging qualities we’re called to as followers of Jesus. Introducing a concise summary of Jesus’ other-centered life the apostle Paul admonishes us: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).
We’re not asked to live out a sort of self-deprived stoicism in disregard of our own interests as if that might somehow benefit humanity. Rather, in recognizing our own needs, we become better able to understand the practical and emotional needs of others. We gain a keener sense of empathy with our fellowmen as we navigate our way through the struggles of our own lives. We are better equipped to “…do to others what you would have them do to you….” (Matthew 7:12) And if we approach life’s circumstances alert to the lessons that will teach us to lend an ear, lend a hand, and offer an appropriately consoling word, we better understand the beauty of the way Jesus approached his humanity:
“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way…. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17, 18).