Selfishness vs self-centeredness

January 13, 2011

In Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis, he distinguishes selfishness from self-centeredness.  One can live a very selfish life buried in the enjoyment of learning.  This type of fellow would be more tolerable to those who work ceaselessly for others but are self-centered in their service.  Both conditions, however, are not ideal for they are merely symptoms of the underlying problem of pride.

We can not cure this disease by tackling the symptoms.  If we try to combat our selfishness by acts of service, we will merely end up congratulating ourselves for our good work or resenting others for not acknowledging us. We might become less selfish, but in the process become more self-centered.

On the other hand, if we combat our self-centeredness by doing less for others and having more ‘me’ time, we are becoming more selfish.  We might actually become more tolerable to be around because we won’t be slaving away for approval of others, but we have become of less use to others as well.  We can waste a lot of time seesawing between these two extremes and never actually cut down on the fulcrum of pride.

The solution to the problem of pride is the cross. It is love.  It is unmerited grace.  Hurt people hurt others, but loved people can love others.  Only when we know that we are loved by the Great Lover are we free to forget about ourselves and to love our enemies.  When love shines upon selfishness, it creates a stream of life giving water that bursts onto others.  When love enters a self-centered heart it creates a reminder of humility and thankfulness that melts away bitterness.

Love, come enter and defeat this inner pride. This is how we know what love is, by the cross.


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