Recently the young mom’s bible study I’m in finished going through Jerry Bridge’s Respectable Sins. The book focuses on the sins that are most commonly either accepted or overlooked by modern day Christians – things like anxiety, pride, impatience, worldliness, and lack of self-control. It would be an understatement to say that the book opened my eyes to a few sinful areas in my life… it’s more like it tore me apart and dug around with a fireplace poker.
Anyway, one of the areas that particularly hit home for me was the section on selfishness. I spend a pretty significant portion of my day trying to eradicate selfishness from my kids by teaching them to have awareness for others, empathy, and to share. Plus, I mean, isn’t making sacrifices for our kids what motherhood is all about? Certainly with this kind of everyday application I should be a saint when it comes to selfishness – or selflessness, rather. So it’s pretty ironic that it turns out to be one of my more prevalent sins – and one unfortunately shared by almost every mom in the study.
When it comes to refined selfishness (that is, How To Be Selfish Without Anyone Noticing), one of the biggest ways we mothers fail is in the area of our time.
This is a big one in the stay-at-home-mom community. Remember the time when we had full time jobs and scheduled meetings that actually started at a specific time? Maybe one morning you woke up and didn’t really feel like attending the meeting you’d scheduled two weeks ago. What did you do?
You went anyway. And you were probably on time.
Making our own schedule is a real perk of being a homemaker. I get up when I want, eat lunch when I want, schedule play dates when I want, and make the kids nap when I want. This is pretty awesome. But sometimes I think we can get a little too comfortable with the privilege of making our own schedule. This is where selfishness with our time comes in.
Last week you scheduled a play date at the park with another mom, but you wake up this morning and just don’t feel like it. No matter that the other mom was planning on the play date and rearranged her schedule to accommodate it, you’ll just cancel and reschedule. (Maybe you’ll tell her your kids woke up a little under the weather). That is selfish! That is prioritizing YOUR time over the time of the mom you had plans with. So is showing up an hour late to something or failing to RSVP to something you’ve been specifically invited to.
For a while I really struggled to consistently get my family to church. I liked the idea of us going to church and did see the importance of it, but with sermons being so easily accessible online and also being that I believe we have a personal relationship with God which exists outside the walls of a church, I often opted to stay home on Sunday mornings. Getting out the door with kids can be tough and besides, isn’t the weekend supposed to be my “free time”? Haven’t I worked for, earned, and DESERVE a (completely fictional) weekend of free time? But missing church was prioritizing my time over God’s time, and it was ultimately selfish. Plus, truthfully, it’s not even in my best interest to skip out on church. I’m more patient, more peaceful, and noticeably happier after I go.
Inordinately Guarding “Me Time”
The biggest one I see in myself right now is a selfishness surrounding nap time at our house. Anyone who knows me knows my kids nap three hours every afternoon whether they’re sleeping or not. This is MY TIME. I will sacrifice activities, errands, and even some level of freedom to protect this time.
There is nothing wrong with enforcing nap time – it’s good for the kids and it’s one of the practical ways a mom can stay rested. I BELIEVE in nap time. But recently I’ve become painfully aware of a selfishness surrounding nap time for me. The selfishness manifests itself in a couple of ways: one, a negative attitude or bitterness when I actually have to do something during nap time and two, a strong irritation when nap time is interrupted for whatever reason. It’s like I’ve constructed this perfect world where the hours from one to four everyday are MY TIME. Anything that infringes upon MY TIME puts me in a sour mood. This is selfishness! In Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges calls this “inordinately guarding our time (pg 119).”
Scheduling my Husband’s Time
The other area my selfishness runs rampant is in terms of household roles. Like with any marriage, my husband and I have semi-defined roles and responsibilities. I change diapers, he takes out the trash. I make dinner, he eats the dinner.
Kidding. He obviously pays for the dinner.
Mostly things run smoothly, but occasionally I find myself frustrated because in that one moment, he isn’t helping out as much as I banked on. Maybe both babies are screaming and he’s just over there reading the paper. Or on a weekend morning I’m cleaning up the breakfast dishes while he’s watching sports. Now, before you start thinking my husband is a lazy sloth, let me tell you the reality: Eddie is very hardworking, perceptive, and always (ALWAYS!) willing to help me. I really think he sees his role as husband to make my role as wife easier. He’s a catch. But doesn’t that fact just expose how selfish I’m being when for one single moment he fails to address my need and I get all crabby and bitter? Sometimes he’s even actually doing something helpful – like washing the cars – but I’m irritated because I think his time could be better spent lowering the crib mattresses for me or fixing the garbage disposal. In those moments, I have decided that MY TIME and MY NEED in that moment is greater than however he has prioritized his time. I am being selfish.
Selfishness for me is more attitude than action. I may do the right thing, but if I do it bitterly, I am still being selfish.
What’s a Girl to Do?
Like with any problem, the first step is acknowledge its existence in our lives. For this sin in particular I think the tendency is to be like “Oh, moms. This is just our stage of life.” But selfishness is not a stage of life issue – it’s a heart issue.
In Respectable Sins, Bridges provides a seven step process for addressing sin in our life, but I think it can probably be condensed into these three steps:
Step 1: Acknowledge the problem and look for reoccurring circumstances of the sin.
“We cannot begin to deal with a particular manifestation of sin… until we first openly acknowledge its presence and activity in our lives. (pg 38)”
This is a long post. I gave multiple examples of selfishness with my time. Do any of these ring true? Are there other times where selfishness might be running rampant in your life?
Step 2: Look up, memorize, and pray on verses that speak to that specific sin.
Examples in this case would be verses like 2 Timothy 3:1-2, James 3:16, and Philippians 2:3-4 (among many others!). The point here is to gain a greater understanding of the problem, to seek forgiveness, and to recognize our need for God’s help.
Step 3: Create practical strategies and barriers for overcoming the sin
This part is the easiest. If you routinely cancel plans when something better comes up, STOP DOING THAT. Decide to be dependable. If you miss church regularly, find an accountability person who’s going to poke and prod you to go each week. For my issue with selfishly owning nap time, I need to actively work on an attitude adjustment and probably spend a few nap times doing things I’d really rather not do, just to break the negative habits.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking I’m totally boring and selfishness isn’t something you struggle with at all.
Actually, wait, there’s no chance you’ve read this far down if you haven’t felt that this totally applies to you. But maybe now you’re wondering if there are other respectable sins that you’re overlooking. Probably. Definitely. In that case, pick up a copy of Jerry Bridges Respectable Sins. It’s good. It’s convicting. It calls you out as a sinner and sometimes it hurts. But remember, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.