Once again, a Mark Moore lecture has gotten me thinking. The other day, we were talking about Jesus healing a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. This woman sneaks up behind Jesus in the midst of a massive crowd and touches the edge of his clothing. He then turns around to find her, and tells her that she is healed because of her faith. Meanwhile, Jairus, whose daughter is at home dying, is likely getting impatient waiting for Jesus to finish his encounter with this woman. The point that Mark made was that Jesus was able to give intimate, individual attention to this woman, even while being swarmed by the multitudes and being on his way to heal a dying child. Mark went on to describe several people he knows who, when they talk with someone, give that person their full attention, as if there is no one else in the room.
I (and I think a great deal of humanity) suck at this. We're generally pretty focused on ourselves. And because of this, we approach interactions with others in a self-centered manner that hampers our relationships dramatically. We want to be liked, to be accepted. And so we approach others looking for how we can build ourselves up through them. Our focus is not them, but on ourselves. So many times when I am having a conversation with someone, they may be saying something, and I am not even hearing them because I am already thinking about what I am going to say next. What can I say to make this person like me? What story can I tell so that they'll think I'm funny? How can I appear smart or interesting? I don't say anything out of genuine interest in the other person. Instead, I want to bring all the attention to myself.
I see this a lot. Guys get loud and obnoxious to get the attention of girls. Girls get cutesy and flirtatious to get the attention of guys. Guys boast about how great they were in high school football to get the attention of other guys. I have no clue what girls do to get the attention of other girls, because I've never been involved in any such situation. But I'm sure there's something.
Something I've realized is that the times I am most satisfied and happy with my relationships are when I put all the attention on the other person instead of myself. When I write an encouraging note because they're having a hard day. When I go pick them up some food because they haven't gotten a chance to eat. When I look for ways to build them up instead of myself. And not doing these things so that they will be grateful and tell me how nice I am, but doing them genuinely for them. Conversely, the times that I am most frustrated with my relationships are when I have put the focus back on myself, looking for what I can get out of the relationship and how I can build up my own ego and sense of worth.
What if we started to genuinely care about those we interact with day-to-day? What if, instead of looking for how we can make ourselves look interesting/funny/smart/attractive, we placed on the emphasis on the other person and sought ways to encourage them? There's an idea that I'm sure I heard somewhere, but I don't remember where. I just imagine it's too good to come out of my own head. But I think every day when we get up, it may be helpful to make it a goal to make someone else's day. This means really sensing the needs of others and meeting those needs in a completely selfless fashion. Perhaps Paul said it best: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4).
And here's the thing: When we do this, when we actually put attention on others instead of on ourselves, the other person will typically begin to look to our interests. It works both ways. Instead of it becoming a battle in which each person is trying to build the castle of their own ego higher and higher, each person sincerely invests in the life of the other, giving of themselves to the other. Maybe that's what relationship is. Maybe that's what community and fellowship is. And I guess maybe that's what love is.