The key to loving others is believing that we are loved deeply by God. We aren’t capable of becoming other-focused people until we love ourselves first. Doing so is not selfishness or pride: It is simply believing the truth of God’s love for us. Other-focused people are humble, not proud. One of the foundational secrets to having humility is knowing that you are loved by God. C. S. Lewis, speaking of humility in Mere Christianity, says that when you met a truly humble man, you probably wouldn’t think him humble—you would simply enjoy being in his presence. He would be so comfortable being himself that he would not focus on himself at all—he would be focused on others and on God. I have spent much of my life focused on what other people thought of me. In a social situation, I have often focused on what others were thinking about me, wondering particularly whether they liked me. When you are self-conscious, preoccupied with what others are thinking about you, you have no time or energy to focus on them. When you know that you are loved by God at the core of your being, you don’t have to search for love and affirmation from people around you—and this frees you to focus on others, not yourself.
Several years ago when my daughter Sarah was standing in the bathroom in a fancy dress, fixing her hair for prom, I teased her about all the self-conscious young men and women who would be at prom that night. I asked her whether she realized that every person at the prom would be focusing on himself or herself, each one asking the same question: How do I look to the other people here? I remarked on how amusing it would be watching the prom from God’s perspective, seeing every person asking the same self-focused question and no one actually focusing on how anyone else looked. Sarah, who didn’t appreciate my insightful reflections at that moment, simply shooed me out of the bathroom!
Not focusing on yourself is difficult indeed. This past year, I took part in a Lenten service held forty days before Easter. I had never given up anything for Lent, but I decided to give it a try. After thinking about something I wanted to stop doing, I decided not to talk about myself unless in answer to someone else’s question. I tried hard to keep this vow for the forty days leading up to Easter—that was when I found out just how hard focusing on others can be.
REFLECTIONS: Are you a self-conscious person? Do you often ask yourself questions like, “I wonder if people are looking at me?” or “I wonder what people think of me?” When you talk to others, do you constantly talk about yourself or do you ask questions of the person with whom you are talking? Consider making a vow not talk about yourself unless asked to do so.
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you