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Breaking the Selfishness Cycle

Lately it seems that tragedy has been swirling around near me.

It hasn’t come close enough to touch me directly, it’s just hanging around a person or two removed from me and my family. A coworker’s sister, a friend’s dad, a cousin’s roommate, a friend of a friend, all irrevocably changed in the face of unspeakable tragedy. I suppose it’s like this for everyone. You always know someone who is going through something unimaginable. But lately it seems like death, disease, and sadness are lurking just around the corner.

This evokes two different and simultaneous reactions in me. The first is fear.

I immediately put myself in the same situation, and imagine losing someone close to me.

For a few minutes I am absolutely paralyzed with this fear. It takes a conscious effort to remind myself that this event did not actually happen to me, and that I cannot live in fear of the unknown. I take a deep breath, ask God (once again) to give me peace, and reenter reality.

The second reaction is an immediate change in perspective.

I have come to learn a lot about myself through this parenting journey. One thing I have discovered is that I embrace challenges and adventure. I flew halfway around the world to China with my kids, twice, without batting an eye. However, if one of them gets out their fifth cup of the day or leaves their shoes in the middle of the living room, I want to scream and throw things.

That well-known phrase, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”? Yeah, I totally do that.

So when I hear about someone getting in a car accident or dying unexpectedly, I immediately enter that perspective shift. I wonder why I get so bent out of shape about something so silly and insignificant like crumbs on the floor or toothpaste in the sink. Then I vow to stop caring about the small stuff. To focus on what really matters. To embrace more adventure and throw caution to the wind. Even to leave dirty dishes in the sink for a day or two. And then about two days later, the cycle begins again.

My question is this: Why does it take the thought of a possible tragedy to break me out of this selfishness cycle?

Why do I need constant reminders of what really matters? I do not claim to have an answer to this. All I know is how easy it is to get sucked into my world. My little world that revolves around my comfort, my needs, and my priorities. My daily routines, my chores, my to-do list, my goals.

When all I see is myself and how things affect me, I start to miss out on everything else around me that matters.

I don’t notice the friend who is struggling in her marriage. I ignore the homeless person on the corner. I neglect to offer help to the neighbor who is moving. I forget to stop and ask the Publix cashier how their day is going. I get so deeply entrenched in the selfishness cycle that the only thing that can bring me out of it is the shock of a tragedy (real or imagined).

Well readers, I’m going to try something new. Every night at dinner our family sits down together and shares our highs and lows of the day. Starting tonight, we are going to add something else.

We are going to focus our eyes outward, and ask God to bring to mind one person we know who might need a little extra love and support. 

Then we are going to think of one thing we can do this week to show love to that person. It could be someone specific like a friend or a teacher that we know, or it could be more general like a firefighter or a soldier. It might be as easy as a phone call or a hug, but sometimes it might be offering to babysit or bringing a meal. I have no idea if this will break the cycle of selfishness that I so often get trapped in, but I am willing to try!

And to my friends and family – if you catch me sweating the small stuff and giving in to selfishness, I give you permission to (gently) kick me in the booty and remind me of what really matters. ;o)

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