I was doing some homework at breakfast, planning to meet a close friend and mentor the next morning. And I needed to be ready. I love connecting with him, but every time I do, he asks me the same question: “What has God been teaching you lately?”
I don’t always have an answer, and I wanted to prepare a theologically deep and appropriately pithy response. And then, just as my brain was getting into a groove, Erin interrupted me.
“I’m going to Denver next weekend,” she said, “and I was wondering if you’d bring Annie (our 10-year-old daughter) up to meet me so she and I can have a special date. There’s a fun play in town that I know she’d love.”
What? I mentally gasped. That’s, like, almost three hours of driving! Plus it’s on a Sunday … my day of rest. The Broncos are playing a really good team. The nerve of her asking for such a sacrifice. It’s ridiculous!
I didn’t say that to Erin, of course. I simply said, “Really? That would be a pretty long round-trip drive for me, plus the show tickets are really expensive.”
Erin could see she wasn’t going to get much traction with me and dropped her request. No big deal, right? Now I could get back to thinking about my friend’s inevitable question: What has God been trying to teach you lately?
Hmmm, I thought. Not much.
I was still in that same frame of mind on the way to breakfast the following morning and just about to conclude that God wasn’t trying to teach me anything, so tight the two of us were. Things between my heavenly Father and me are going pretty well, I thought. No big lessons for Greg.
And then, at that exact moment, God tapped me on the noggin and reminded me of Erin’ request.
What had God been teaching me lately? I had a clear answer as I slid into the booth for breakfast: He’d been showing me my own selfishness.
Since that morning, God has made me more aware of how my selfishness causes issues in my marriage. And, just in case you might act selfishly on occasion, too, I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned.
First admit — to yourself and your spouse — that you’re selfish. How do you know when you’ve been selfish? Look for the following signs: You’ve ignored your spouse’s feelings and interests and insisted on having your own way. You’ve made demands, not requests. You’ve withheld sex or thrown tantrums if your wishes haven’t been fulfilled.
Remember your spouse’s incredible value. The more you treasure your husband or wife, the more likely you will be to approach him or her selflessly and sacrificially. As Jesus told us, “For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Learn to make sacrifices. The ultimate weapon against selfishness is sacrifice, and a happy marriage is often predicated on two people trying to out-serve each other. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it,” we read in Proverbs 3:27.
Ironically, even an act of sacrifice can turn into an act of selfishness. Here’s a personal example:
Erin is a counselor in an office a few minutes away from our house. She often sees clients in the evening, and if she sees a strange car in the office parking lot after the sun goes down, she’ll sometimes be nervous about leaving the building. So Erin will call and ask me to drive over — just to make sure she gets to her car safely.
It makes me feel valued, and that’s a great feeling. But a while ago, I remember a sense of superiority slipping into my thoughts: Look at what a good husband I am. Erin had better remember how I gave up my time for her.
Act in humility. If you need help finding reasons to be humble, follow Dr. Tony Evans’ example: Meet with your spouse every week for an hour to hear where you’ve messed up. Just listen during that time. (If your spouse struggles in this area, too, switch roles.) These types of meetings can train you in the art of humility.
The fight against selfishness means shelving the “me” and stressing the “we.” Make sure that your marriage has room for both of you: Embrace your interdependence — your inherent need and love for each other.
Finally, remember Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (NIV).
When we remember that we are indeed God’s chosen — clothed in kindness — a little drive up the highway doesn’t seem like such a big thing, does it?
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author of several books.