Remember those times in elementary school when you wanted that yummy pie on your friend’s plate?
“You gonna eat that?” you might say, putting your finger smack-dab in the middle of it.
“Well, not anymore,” they’d reply.
Or maybe you were on the receiving end of such silly antics, frustrated at your friend’s selfishness. Of course, very few of us looked at that delicious pie and wanted to give it to someone. No way. That was our pie.
I remember those days very well. I also remember the day, about eight years ago, when I was eating dinner and had some food on my plate that was seconds away from being devoured. But my first child, then one year old, wanted it, too.
I gave it to him, without hesitation.
Throughout Scripture, God commands us to avoid selfishness. Paul tells us to do “nothing from selfish ambition” (Philippians 2:3). Peter urges us to humble ourselves (1 Peter 5:6). Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). But it’s hard, isn’t it?
Nothing wipes selfishness out of your life like parenting. I didn’t think I was a selfish person as a bachelor, but in hindsight, I probably was. And I still am – we all are, to some degree — but I’m further along in my goal of selflessness than I was.
I’m thankful for what God’s taught me about selfishness. Here are 5 specific lessons I’ve learned as a parent:
1. Putting others first truly is more rewarding. I didn’t regret giving my son the last bite of food that day, and I don’t regret buying him or his three siblings food and clothes (and diapers) instead of say, saving up for a 3-D HD television. God created us so we’ll only be truly joyful by denying ourselves. The pleasure I receive from fatherhood and sacrificing for my kids surpasses the newest fads and anything the latest commercials promise. My goal is to see my four children becomes citizens of heaven. It’s worth sacrificing the whole world for that.
2. Possessions are not important.As parents, we learn this in a host of ways, such as the first time our toddler breaks that cherished memento. Thanks to the wall that is now splattered with tomato sauce and the cell phone covered with ice cream, we get a new perspective. Most everything can be replaced, and even if it can’t, it means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of life. Children give us an eternal outlook. Life is fleeting (Psalm 39:4), and that broken China plate really is no big deal. It eventually was going to end up in a landfill, anyway.
3. Sleep is overrated.I remember my last Sunday afternoon nap before our first son was born. I made sure it was really, really long. I have many gotten naps in the nine years since I’ve been a father, but they’ve been shorter and more infrequent. And I do now get full nights of sleep. But I still get less sleep than I’d like. God gives me the grace and energy to survive on less sleep. Besides, I’ve discovered that the sweet sound of giggles and the shouts of “da-da” on a Saturday morning beat sleeping to 9 o’clock.
4. Time is fleeting.I’d love to go back and change my moments of selfishness as a father — the times when I chose the world over my kids, missing minutes or hours with them I’ll never get back. Of course, I can’t. I can, though, use my regret as an incentive, as a constant reminder to do better in the future – whether that’s getting home earlier from work, turning off the television, or simply planning a time each night when I’m going to tickle all of my kids on the floor.
5. Interruptions each day are just fine.Once, when we had only one child, we all went to New England for a beautiful fall trip. We were enjoying dinner at a restaurant in a picturesque town, and I had just asked for a refill of tea, when our son threw up, right there, all over the table and floor. Onlookers were aghast, but we (thankfully) handled it in stride – and soon, everything was clean and back to normal. Those interruptions in life are times of spiritual pruning, of God teaching us patience and selflessness. Besides, those sometimes-stressful moments often morph into downright hilarious stories that then turn into legendary tales. We still laugh about that restaurant experience. In hindsight, I’m glad it happened.
— by Michael Foust
Foust is an editor and writer, the father of four small children, and blogs about parenting at MichaelFoust.com.