How choosing compassion over what feels good is transformative

Written by Taleshia Patterson

Be who you are and say what you feel. The people who matter don’t mind. And those who do mind, don’t matter.

This popular message is prevalent in our society in one form or another. Our society has opted to embrace the entirety of our human nature—including our sin—and make self-centredness an acceptable part of society. Only one problem: that’s not what God has in mind for those who follow Him.

I distinctly remember when I was 12, walking through a city market, and seeing a mural that boldly proclaimed: “Do YOU, for YOU.” Yet if everyone followed that advice, we would be a pitiful society. What would happen to our workplaces, sports teams, governments, and families?

On the contrary, we are called to live selfless lives just as Christ lived selflessly. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”

When I think of a selfless person, I think of my grandmother. Out of necessity, she singlehandedly raised five of her grandchildren and is currently raising two teenage girls. She is 75 and has several health concerns.

Regardless, she makes the time to give someone a ride, do other people’s laundry, bring over dinner, and invite people over. Instead of believing she is too old to be raising teenagers, my grandmother has learned over time to trust that God will give her strength day by day. True selflessness is when there is nothing for you to gain.

In learning about church history, I found other inspiring stories of Christians who have lived selfless lives for Jesus. For instance, take the Antonine Plague that began around AD 166 and the Plague of Cyprian that started around AD 251.

As these plagues spread across the Roman Empire, Christians nursed the sick when others didn’t dare go near for fear of catching the disease. Their selflessness became so well known that the pagan Roman emperor Julian complained “the impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well.” That is exactly the sort of selflessness we are striving for.

The early church understood selflessness. The question is, do we?

We need to examine our motives when serving others. It is possible to serve selfishly. Take millionaires and celebrities for instance. They will commonly donate when they can be given credit and their service will be posted on social media.

Similarly, we can all be tempted to give in ways that win us approval. But God wants us to do good works discreetly so our reward is His approval and not the applause of the crowd.

I confess I have found myself considering what kind of volunteer work will look best on a university application. This is a valid consideration, but not exactly a noble reason for volunteering. This past summer I caught myself grumbling because I was having trouble enjoying my time as a volunteer at a kids’ camp.

I had to remind myself that I am not here to have a good time, but rather to ensure the campers have a good time. Remarkably, when I turned my attention back toward the kids, I began having a great time too.

Selflessness can be as simple as including someone in a conversation. Taking the focus off of you and turning it on the people around you will often benefit everyone. And even if it doesn’t, this is a great opportunity to practise humility because you are putting others before yourself.

Jesus was always one for saying radical things and going against the grain in society. I think He enjoyed being a social rulebreaker. That is why there is a stark contrast between Christ-centred selflessness and un-Christ-like self-centredness.

The more we stick out (for good reasons), the more people will notice us. And the more they notice us, the greater the chance of them coming to know God. That’s how it worked during those two plagues when Christians sacrificed their own safety to nurse the sick. And that’s how it works now.

We want people to look at us and ask why we care so much about others. Then we can tell them we care because Jesus cares, pointing them to God. To do this, we need to be different.