It was the end of a long week, and I wanted to go fishing. The only crux was Megan had to work over the weekend, which meant I was responsible for watching Willa, our 11-month old daughter. “Okay, I got this!” I thought to myself. “I’ll put Willa in the kiddie backpack and take her fishing with me.” Once we reached the river, I put on my waders, strapped Willa to my back, and tied an olive wooly bugger to the end of my line.
The fishing was fantastic…at least for 30 minutes. A half-hour in, Willa started getting fussy. “Sshhhh!” I whispered, bouncing up and down, trying to calm her down. “It’s okay. You’re okay. Don’t scare the fishes, now!” Right at that moment, there was a little tug on the line. “Willa! Look! A rainbow trout!” She wasn’t interested. She kept crying. What do I do? This fishing trip was something I had been waiting for—and looking forward to—all week long. But what about Willa? She apparently didn’t’ want to continue fishing with daddy.
You’ve heard it said that before you can love others, you must first love yourself. In other words, “Keep fishing, John. You earned this. You deserve this. If you’re not happy, nobody will be happy. Etc.” Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with going fishing now and then. But in this instance, would I be loving myself (and, by extension, loving Willa) by continuing to fish? Or would I be kidding myself? When people say “you must love yourself before you can love others,” aren’t they saying, “Me before you?” Satisfying my desires is more important than meeting your needs? Friends, this is not the way of love! My desire is selfishness, plain and simple. Back on the riverside, I knew what I had to do. I reeled in my line, broke down my rod, and the two of us went home.
The human dilemma is not that we’re too concerned about the needs of others. Our problem is that we are homo incurvatus—a Latin phrase meaning “man curved in on himself.” Picture a man trying to crawl into his stomach—or better yet, a man hunched over from fishing all day with a crying daughter on his back. “Our lifelong love for ourselves is the one love affair that most of us never abandon,” writes Phil Ryken. “We see it in the way people pursue their careers, always trying to get ahead of someone else. We see it in the way they spend their money, using it for personal pleasure rather than the public good. We see it in the way they treat their families: neglecting their children, abandoning their spouses, putting old people away. People live this way because they are in love with themselves.”
When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he’s not suggesting we need to love ourselves more. We seem to do that just fine. What we need to do is consider the needs of others as significant as our own. Sin curves us in. Love propels us out. Sin is self-interested: “It’s all about me! My wants! My wishes! My desires!” Love it other-oriented: “What’s in his or her best interest?”
Jesus does not insist on his own way. If that were his M.O., Jesus never would’ve gone to the cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed three times, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39
.) Jesus didn’t want to die this way. He wasn’t jazzed about dying on a cross. If there were an easier way for Jesus to save the human race, he would’ve welcomed it. But did Jesus say, “I gotta do me before I can take care of you”? No. He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus did. And he did it for you. Love does not insist on its own way. Love does what is best for the beloved.