We are taught from a very early age that our needs come first. Here is an example. Every morning we wake up and say “I”. I need to use the bathroom, I need breakfast, I need … When My 11 year old daughter was 1 that was okay. She couldn’t do much for herself and I needed to do everything for her. That is expected. The problem is that we don’t break our kids away from that thinking as they get older. Now, my 11 year old wakes up and says, “Where is my breakfast?” My response is, put your finger on your nose and repeat after me, “It’s not all about me.” The sooner our youth can understand that there is more to life than their needs, the better.
The main offender of unity is self-centeredness, the desire for the world to revolve around an individual. Paul, recognized this problem, and addressed it by saying “put others’ needs ahead of your own.” This reminds me of how Saint Frances of Assisi would kiss the hand of the leper that so repulsed him until it repulsed him no more. Paul says to put others’ needs ahead of your own until your needs are no longer seen. The key to unity and healthy community is in humility, simply putting others’ needs ahead of your own.
The Bible tells us in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but consider others better than yourself.” This is the exact opposite of what our youth are hearing from the culture today. Humility and selflessness play a vital role in our communities. Unfortunately, our society has tried to remove these concepts. In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard talks about humility. He says that the kind of humility Paul is talking about can be likened to being in a competitive situation and praying that the other competitors will do better than yourself. No coach in their right mind would do this today. Can you imagine Doc Rivers (Celtic’s head coach) asking God to help the Lakers do really good against them? No way. Life is not a competition, but we often treat parts of it like it is.
Thomas a’ Kempis said that to be humble is “not to think highly of oneself, [and] always to think highly of others.” St. John of the Cross says that those with humility “are greatly edified, not only thinking naught of their own affairs, but having very little satisfaction with themselves; they consider all others as far better.” As Aquinas explains, “We must not only revere God in Himself, but also that which is His in each one.” The humble person recognizes and praises God’s work in others.
The truth is, when we focus on others, our own needs seem less relevant. The things we want, but don’t have, are less important.
Here is what I have been doing with the Anaheim Vineyard youth community for the past few years. I simply ask the question, what have you done this past week to put others’ needs ahead of your own? Every week for over a year I have asked this question. Sometimes people say, “Well I didn’t beat up my brother this week.” Not exactly what I am looking for. How did you personally help someone? “I held the door for someone and said hi.” You know what, it’s a start. If I truly see this as an epidemic, then I have to start somewhere. It starts with getting these youth to consider someone else even for a moment. I pray that they will go into their week looking for someone to help, and that week by week, this will change their hearts to become a more humble and selfless generation.
Silva, Philippians, 87.
Mark Galli, Francis of Assisi and His World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 49.
Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), 174.
The Imitation of Christ, Book I, Chapter 2.
Dark Night of the Soul, Chapter 2.
Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 161, a. 3 ad 1.