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Life Beyond a Self-Centered Existence

Updated on September 1, 2013
drmiddlebrook profile image

Dr. Middlebrook is a self-publishing expert, author (pen name Beax Rivers), online course developer, and former university professor.

An empty vessel preoccupied with its own image is not representative of a holy temple, a human body,  formed by and for God.
An empty vessel preoccupied with its own image is not representative of a holy temple, a human body, formed by and for God. | Source

This Hub looks at “self-centered” as a state of being selfishly concerned solely with one's own desires, needs, or interests. Self-centeredness, as I'm examining it in this Hub, can be seen as one symptom of a generalized lack of self-control. I'm viewing it as an out-of-control emphasis on “self” that is represented by behavior that, literally, is the acting out of a distorted view of the importance of self. Ultimately, it is self-destructive because it takes time and attention away from God and from concerns about other people.

The type of behavior I'm focusing on is that which neglects taking the time needed to understand or even consider another person’s point-of-view or feelings. It is behavior that narrows your perspective of the world around you, that hinders your ability to see your own true beauty, or the true beauty of those around you, because of self-absorbed behavior. Focusing your entire being, every day, on thoughts, concerns, and activities intended for the benefit of you and only you, is what this Hub looks as being self-centered.

It is Not Selfish to Love Yourself ...

I am not saying you should not take care of yourself. In fact, in my Hubs, I often encourage readers to love, to respect, and to take care of self, first. Doing so is not only something God asks us to do ("love your neighbor as yourself"), it is also a proactive, self-respecting, and healthy thing to do. But there is a big difference between loving and caring for yourself, and being self-centered.

Self-centeredness can be a “hidden” characteristic, because most people understand that it is a negative quality. That means it could be that you will, most likely, only find out that someone is self-centered once you have formed a close friendship or an intimate relationship with him or her. Once you begin to interact often and on many different levels with another person, it is more likely that you will begin to see them for who, and for how, they really are.

It may be that at one time or another, we all act in ways that are self-centered, simply because, as human beings, we are imperfect creatures. But it is when self-centered behavior permeates all your interactions with others, all the time, that it becomes part of your personality. Self-centered behavior looks like this:

  • Caring only about your own needs and wants, and placing these--at all times, above anything else.
  • Being unable or unwilling, ever, to see or to consider any perspective other than your own.
  • Not caring, at all, about the needs and wants of others.

Source
Painting of Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount, by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, New York.
Painting of Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount, by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, New York. | Source

Focusing on The Beatitudes of Christ Can Help

The “Beatitudes,” words spoken by Jesus to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, teach about transformation of the spirit, “the inner person.” The word “beatitude” means “a state of utmost bliss.”

In His sermon, Jesus described what God has put inside each of us that can allow us to realize a godly state of bliss for our lives. Needless to say, the word “self-centeredness” did not come up as one of the things in life that can lead to this state of utmost bliss. Being self-centered is being out-of-balance in your whole life, because you’re placing far too much emphasis on one individual's being. This kind of out-of-balance, out-of-control living can only lead away from the “state of utmost bliss” that Jesus described.

The Mount of the Beatitudes in Capernaum, Israel.
The Mount of the Beatitudes in Capernaum, Israel. | Source

The Beatitudes

Jesus told his disciples and others who listened:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savior, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world.”

Source

Your Spirit Matters

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us about how God is concerned with our spirits, our hearts and our souls. Through the Beatitudes we learn that God wants us to focus on making ourselves presentable for His glory by focusing our work on qualities of godly goodness that we can share with the world. After physically taking himself up and out of the world by going into the mountains, Jesus taught us about persons who are truly blessed, in the eyes of God.

Through the segment of Holy Scripture that is the Beatitudes, Jesus provides us with instructions on how He wants us to prepare ourselves—our spirits, our hearts and our souls to be “light of the world,” as well as for His kingdom. Of course He wants us to care for ourselves and our physical and mental well being so that we can be strong instruments for Him on earth. But, as instruments of God, we have a mission to care not only for ourselves, but also for others.

The key is to learn what Jesus says represents a “state of utmost bliss,” then, to practice balance and moderation in all things, including our thoughts and actions toward self.

End Self-Centeredness By Studying What it Means to Be Blessed in Spirit

The Beatitudes begins with the sentence, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

It's easy to not pay much attention to these words, and to simply accept them as the beginning of the Beatitudes. But what is Jesus really teaching us here? Is this verse talking about people who are of a weak spirit? No. What could be blessed about having a weak spirit?

I believe Jesus is teaching us about financial poverty, and how, if we allow it to, can lead us to becoming blessed in spiritual ways. Instead of focusing solely on building worldly kingdoms, for those of us Believers who are yet poor financially, ours is the Kingdom of Heaven. Although God may not have blessed us with material wealth, yet, if we are humble in spirit and submitted unto God, He will bless us with a good spirit. He will use financial poverty as an opportunity and a way, through a humble spirit, to realize that material possessions are not the most important things in life.

I grew up poor in rural Mississippi, and my mother, who had been a housewife when my father was alive, was widowed a month after I turned 14 years old. A devoted Christian, my mother fed, clothed, and raised six children by herself. She worked as a domestic servant and as a Christian soldier, raising and preparing us for life using the wisdom of God and the living of her life as an example, the same way her parents had raised and prepared her. For this reason, I possess a great understanding of the meaning and importance of being blessed in spirit. Here is one thing I know: When you’re poor, and your spirit is blessed richly through your faith in God, you don’t feel poor.

My mother worked hard picking fruits and vegetables, which she canned and shared with many of our neighbors in need.
My mother worked hard picking fruits and vegetables, which she canned and shared with many of our neighbors in need. | Source

Sharing the "Blessings" of Spirit

My siblings and I often remember countless times when our mother came to the rescue of neighbors in need. In fact, it happened so much, a couple of neighbors got the wrong idea about it. Here, I'll take a minute to share a little story about this with you. When I was about four or five years old, two girls from a very poor family in our neighborhood (they were about 12 and 14 years old) came to our house with money, wanting to buy a jar of pears my mother had canned (my paternal grandmother lived close by and had pear trees in her yard). My mother gave the sisters the jars of pears, and she told them to keep their money. She explained that, unlike the grocery store, she didn’t charge for helping people when she was able to help. The older girl looked bewildered as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Then she looked my mother in the eye and said, loudly, “We thought this wuz the store!”

Truly Understanding the "Blessings" of Spirit

Because they were blessed in spirit, my parents helped people who were in need, even though they had a house full of little mouths to feed. They still felt God had blessed them with plenty, and therefore they felt empowered to help others. There were rich people in our town (they didn't live in our neighborhood, or anywhere near it) with more money than they could or would ever spend in their lifetime. Most of them would not even allow a poor person to come into their yard, let alone stand at their door long enough to ask for help. So, that's how I know the spirit of God has nothing to do with money or with material things.

The spirit of God has to do with what is in a person’s heart; what is their spirit. My parents understood this, and that's why they could walk up to and mingle with people who had a lot more financial wealth, and feel just as worthy and well cared for as the wealthy folk. It was because they understood that God judges us by what’s in our heart, and not by what’s on our back, or in our bank accounts. And this, I'm sure, is what gave them the serenity they enjoyed.

What I've just described is what Jesus is teaching about when He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In fact, some of those who have known wealth all their lives have found out, only through losing all of their financial wealth and material possessions, how to develop God's perspective when it comes to material things.

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, New York.
Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, New York. | Source

Christ Lived to Be Our Example

The Bible provides us with many a wonderful lesson in how to live our lives to the fullest. It teaches us that we are not supposed to live our lives in a “self-centered” manner, and that doing so will certainly lead to ultimate unhappiness. We are to learn, instead, how to take ourselves out of and beyond the self, in order to truly appreciate the earth and its beauty, and to find the kind of joy and contentment we all desire and need.

In Matthew, Chapter 4, Verse 1, Jesus gives us a lesson in the best way to connect with God. We are told in this scripture:

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

Satan (the tempter) did all he could in an attempt to get Jesus interested in worldly concerns. If Jesus had been thinking only of himself, He could have enjoyed a nice meal by turning rocks and stones into any kind of edible delicacy He could have desired. But Jesus resisted, keeping His eye on the eternal word of God. He knew He was on earth to offer a way of salvation for humanity, not to magically assuage His own hunger or to greedily indulge selfish appetites.

You and I live every day with the temptations of the world (and Satan) in our midst. We are daily invited to join in or to help promote all kinds of wrongdoings. And while it might be rather easy for many of us to resist many of these temptations (including and beyond those described in the Ten Commandments), we sometimes forget that sin is a beguiling tempter or temptress. It comes to us wrapped in all kinds of unsuspecting packages.

You may not think being self-centered is all that bad, because it’s not spoken against directly in God’s “Top Ten” laws for mankind. But being so self-focused that you are not able to focus on other important people and things in your life is a way of taking a huge chunk of your own life away from you. This, because living a balanced and fulfilling life means taking care of yourself and reaching out to others—and you cannot do this if you are too centered on you. In fact, placing too much emphasis on any one factor about yourself is a way of deconstructing the spirit of God that is within you.

In contrast, learning to love you unconditionally leads to loving others more. Accepting and embracing God’s love for you should empower you to love yourself, unconditionally. The more you love you, the easier it becomes for you to accept you as you are, and to let go of the need to put all of your efforts into yourself. Letting go of this out-of-control need allows you more time and more desire to focus on the love you have for other people. That is why Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to love one another. Ending “self-centeredness” actually allows you to love yourself and others, better.

© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD

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    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      This is a very beautiful story and so true. Without Christ in our heart I fear we would all be self-centered. Up and sharing.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      A very good article. We cannot obey and 'love our neighbour' if we're too busy loving ourselves. Voted it awesome.

    • FSlovenec profile image

      Frank Slovenec 4 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Well done! The extent of your reference and examples kept me reading. The story of the girls coming to your house really demonstrates your mothers heart. Jesus us wants us to give Him our heart, then all the riches of the Kingdom are ours. The only thing that matters.

    • drmiddlebrook profile image
      Author

      Sallie B Middlebrook PhD 4 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you so much, Jackie Lynnley, BlossomSB, and FSlovenec. It warms my heart to hear from each one of you on this topic that is so important, and so dear to me.

      I agree, Jackie, that "without Christ in our heart . . . we would all be self-centered." That is so true, and so obvious when we look out at the world and listen to the news, seeing and hearing about how selfish behavior destroys, every day. Thanks for the vote up, and please do, share.

      My friend and fellow Apprentice, BlossomSB, thanks for the "Awesome" vote. I appreciate it so much, and I agree with you. It is impossible to even consider loving neighbors when we can't see them because we're always looking at and concerned with self.

      Thanks FSlovenec, for all your kind comments and for acknowledging the extent of my references. I do my best to add "substance" to Hubs in hope that someone who is searching for help might find what they're looking for, what they need. As you said, "Jesus wants us to give Him our heart [in exchange for] the riches of the Kingdom [of God]." That is so true, and it is what matters most.

    • The Stages Of ME profile image

      The Stages Of ME 3 years ago

      Loved what you shared here, I came upon it while editing a piece. You have a beautiful heart for Christ and for the sharing of His light to others. Thank you for sharing it and blessing to you in the New Year 2014

    • drmiddlebrook profile image
      Author

      Sallie B Middlebrook PhD 3 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you The Stages of ME, for the visit, for your kind words, and for the blessings. I do my best to share the light of Christ with others, just as you said. Thanks again, and know that I'm praying for blessings and the best to you and yours in the New Year too.

    • profile image

      John Crawford 2 years ago

      Very well written and perceptive. As for 'poor in spirit', another way of understanding it is being humble. Pride is often at the center of, well, being self-centered. Therefore, we are called by God to humble ourselves in order to be blessed in being poor in spirit.

    • drmiddlebrook profile image
      Author

      Sallie B Middlebrook PhD 2 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you, John Crawford, for your visit and your insightful comments. I agree, wholeheartedly, with what you said. It is true. "Poor in spirit," I believe, is about being humble. As I said in this Hub, "Although God may not have blessed us with material wealth, yet, if we are humble in spirit and submitted unto God, He will bless us with a good spirit. He will use financial poverty as an opportunity and a way, through a humble spirit, to realize that material possessions are not the most important things in life." Although being poor, financially, is not the only way to discover a humble spirit, with the right perspective about it, I do believe it is one way to do it. I also agree with you that "pride is often at the center of . . . being self-centered." Well stated.

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