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Good Selfishness?

Good Selfishness?

I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:5-6

Whenever someone new attends our jail Bible study, my buddy and I retell our stories, briefly explaining what brought us to volunteer at jail in the first place. For me, my initial intent was to carry the message of faith and recovery to those who’re struggling as I have. In doing so though, I found that going to the jail did something for me. As I reach out to help others, I help myself, growing my own faith and recovery. I find tremendous joy, peace, and purpose in going to jail. So, I tell the inmates that while I do go to jail for them, I also go for me. I like the new life I’ve found, and if going to jail helps me remain in the new life, then I’ll just keep going. Is that selfish or simply self-preservation? If there is a good kind of selfishness, this is it.

I often tell my addiction medicine patients something similar. They may object to my plan for sobriety. The things I recommend often require sacrifice and discipline. Recovery is hard work. Do it for your own sake though. This is simply self-preservation. You just said yourself that you’re miserable in your addiction. What would it take to not be miserable? How can you get there? They may object that they can’t abandon addicted friends or leave their job to go to treatment, because others depend on them. At some point though, if they want to be sober, they’ve got to start making decisions that are somewhat selfish – doing whatever it takes to find recovery.

This is what I hear in today’s passage. In it, God tasked Moses with delivering the Ten Commandments to his people, and in the second commandment – No idols – God made a covenant with his people. If you turn from me, you will be miserable. If you follow me, you will experience my love, joy, and peace (my paraphrase).

It’s true that following God’s daily will for our lives isn’t easy. Loving God, abandoning self, and loving our neighbors is hard work, requiring sacrifice and discipline. It’s may be easier in the moment to follow ourselves. At some point though, we’ve got to think about the future. Our way is misery. God’s way is life. This is simply self-preservation. What do we want our lives to look like? If we desire authentic life, joy, and peace, then we must do whatever it takes to get there. If this is selfish, then it’s a good selfish.

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