No doubt there are some incredibly virtuous people who live pious, selfless lives of service that help and inspire virtually everyone they encounter and make the world a better place in which to live.
Then there are the rest of us. We seem to need constant reminding that life’s highest purpose is not just to look after our own interests and its goal is not simply to “go for all the gusto we can get.”
We come into this world a bundle of needs — and we quickly learn, even before we are capable of conscious thought — to engage our world in meeting those needs. We cry, we kick, we scream, we cuddle, we suckle. We twist and turn until soon enough we are rolling over, crawling, walking and running. As soon as we can grasp things, our hands put them into our mouths. Soon enough we not only feed ourselves, we develop likes and dislikes. We consume and we toss, evaluating options by taste, texture and color long before we know the meaning of any of those words. We begin to look after ourselves.
Between a year and two years of age, we learn to say “mamma” and “dada” and then actually distinguish one from the other. After that our vocabulary expands quickly. One of the first words we utter — and we do it with passion — is “Mine!”
By then a lifelong struggle is underway. Although the baby-turned-child is capable of incredible acts of affection, its life is mostly all about “me.” Mom, dad, grandparents, other relatives and friends, later neighbors and teachers join in the enterprise of “socializing.” Still later, friends, co-workers and spouses take up the task. It’s a matter of constructing a delicate balance of healthy self-esteem melded with respect and concern for the welfare of others.
From a Christian perspective, there are two messages that need imprinting on the human brain:
- You are God’s gift to the world;
- You are not God’s only gift to the world — in fact, each and every other person is God’s gift to humanity as well.
Jesus told us how we should respond to this reality: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Mat 22:37-39). In Greek, the word for love in this passage isagapeseis, the imperative for demonstrating agape love — love that is selfless, passionately focused on the highest good of the other.
We strive to love God above all else because He has given us the gift of life. We strive to love ourselves because we are the work of His loving hands. And we strive to love others because, exactly like us, they are the work of His hands — all of us given life to serve the common good and to build the Kingdom.
Meanwhile, because we are self-conscious, we are tempted not only to look after ourselves, but to look after ourselves before all else — before the good of others, before the common good, before the will of God. So we face a constant dilemma: should we be self-centered or other-centered? And if choose to be other-centered, who or what is worthy of that devotion?
For some, as noted earlier, the choice seems to be easy, almost natural. They live for others, whether or not they have a devout faith in God. But if history teaches us anything, it is that for most of us the choice is often difficult — extremely difficult, occasionally overwhelming.
That’s why, in The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus, we speak of consciously developing good habits to keep us on track as S3 Leaders. We suggest 9 of them for sustained success as a Jesus-like leader:
- Practice solitude.
- Pray daily.
- Read Scripture.
- Worship and receive the sacraments regularly.
- Explore the lives and reflections of saints and Christian scholars.
- Consider sacramentals and devotions that flourish in the church.
- Accept and model unconditional love.
- Serve others.
- Build community.
Today, why not pick one of these at which you have not excelled in the past and focus daily for the next month on making it a habit?
As this habit improves, you will find it easier to stay on track as an S3 Jesus-like Leader in all your relationships. Good luck. Godspeed.
Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute