You know that moment when you realize that you’re wrong? You’re looking at someone, or maybe you’re by yourself in the car or at work, and it hits you: you messed up. You made a mistake. You did or didn’t do something, and as a consequence, you’ve hurt someone else. As the reality hits you, your stomach twists, and if you verbalize all of your internal experiences like I do, perhaps you even say, “Oh no… Oh man oh man oh man.” Or something of the like. It’s a painful moment, one that I’m not particularly fond of finding myself in. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I tend to avoid conflict pretty readily, so I’d like to say I don’t find myself in this situation often, but when I do, oh boy does it hurt.
I rediscovered recently that these scenarios are worsened when the situation involves your significant other. Nothing fills me with dread quicker than realizing that not only have I screwed up, but now I have to make amends with someone I’m trying to impress and love. In order to make amends, I have to first get over myself. You know that whole die-to-yourself thing? Yeah, I have to do that. Fun stuff, really.
And it’s not a pretty process either. It looks something like this: I shut down, either fuming or confused, and stop talking. This is generally a red flag for those people who know me, since they know that I talk in a pretty steady stream. Despite my loquaciousness, I tend to be an internalizer (thanks psychology for another made-up word), and can’t process things out loud, including pride. Again, this translates to me looking pensive at best, and at worst? Like a sulking, angsty-emo teenager. I sulk this way until my frontal lobe can quiet the irrational emotions – unrighteous anger, injured pride, pouting silliness – and I accept my faults with a heavy sigh. Then with what seems like a herculean effort, I apologize and ask for forgiveness.
Oh, the agony…
Though I’ve gone through this process frequently since I was actually a sulking, angsty-emo teenager, I had not re-experienced it in quite some time. Since there was such a lapse of time between inner ego battles, I had fooled myself into thinking that perhaps my ego had shrunken, or even withered away completely. I was on my way to sainthood! Alas, that is not the case, as evidenced by a recent argument I found myself stuck in.
It happened like this: my boyfriend and I were having a discussion, he said something that made me angry, and I immediately fell into my default ego mode – defenses up, internal processing turned on full throttle. Since this happened on the way to a social event, I had no where to fume privately. I had to swallow my pride and put on a happy face until our fight could be resumed. By the time our fight resumed I realized that his concern was valid, and I was in the wrong. I made a mistake and – gasp! – needed to apologize.
It took what felt like an eternity to speak across the quiet room, to finally say the words that put my pride to rest: “I’m sorry.”
Let me tell you, that was the last thing I wanted to say in that in that moment! I wanted to be right. I wanted to be held, I wanted to be happy and coddled. But that’s not what our relationship needed. That’s not what was fair. I had to die to my need to be right. I had to die to my need to feel comfortable. I had to die to myself so that I could get out of my own way and love the person in front of me.
Dying to self is not pretty thing. It’s not easy or fun or something I like to list as a “hobby”. But what my stubborn self is slowly learning is that dying to self is the way to true love, the love that God is calling us to every day. True love is mutual self-giving, denying the self for the good of the other, with the hope that they will do the same and our needs will be fulfilled. How can we do this if we get in our own way? How can we serve if we’re thinking of ourselves first? Love is given freely, without expectation, without ego saying, “Hey, what about me?”
Now don’t get me wrong – there’s a difference between dying to self and not taking care of yourself. It’s healthy and normal to practice self-care, to nourish the bodily vessels that God has given us (“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” 1 Cor. 6:19). It is good to have appropriate boundaries in relationships, that allow us to stay healthy and capable of doing God’s work. Having needs and desires is not bad; being controlled by them to the extent that we are blind to the other is bad. When our wants and desires become so big we can’t see around them to serve in the way we are called, that’s when ego needs to be shut down. We can’t let ourselves get in the way of our true calling.
It’s a truth that I still have much to learn about, and that I need much more practice in. I have committed to both because deep down, underneath my vanity and pride, I do want to truly love those around me. And if history is anything to go by, my battle with ego is going to be an ongoing one. Good thing I don’t have to go it alone.
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”