The Disease of What’s Best for Me
There is a disease rampant in our world today. A disease called “What’s Best for Me.”
Entertainment programs are filled with tips on how to make our lives better. How to get the best deal. How to make ourselves look good. How to advance in our careers. How to make more money. How to improve our existence.
And we absorb that culture, particularly if we live in a part of the world where we are saturated with it. Unless we actively counteract the messages we receive, they absorb into us, and we end up reflecting the approach of the world instead of the approach of our faith. Unlike what we see and read and hear every day, happiness isn’t found in improving our lives and seeking our benefit. The Catholic Church teaches that happiness is found in seeking to improve the lives of others, through a sacrificial donation of self.
To Will the Good of Another
At the core of this question is the idea of love.
To love, according to the Catholic Church, is to “will the good of another.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1766). That’s it. It sounds so simple.
If we are married, love is to will the good of our spouse. If we are parents, to love is to will their good too. Whatever phase of life, to love is to will the good of those we encounter.
It rings so true when we hear it, but it’s so different from the culture we live in! And it is less easy to apply to our relationships each and every day than it seems. But if we live our faith, if we put our energies into absorbing the truths the Catholic Church teaches, living as gift becomes more and more natural, more and more a part of how we function and view the world. Our lives become all the more beautiful for it.
Being Gift in Choosing Life
Our parish Knights of Columbus just distributed baby bottles for us to collect change in, and that will go towards Right to Life causes. The tragedy of abortion is great in our world, and this is another example of where so many have bought into the lie of What’s Best for Me so much, that they are willing to support the legal right to end a human life.
The reality is that women have this awesome opportunity to live our lives as gift in a way unique from men. We give our bodies as a sacrifice to grow and nurture life. And pregnancy and raising children is, indeed, a big sacrifice.
But we have an amazing example of bodily donation as gift for another in Jesus.
Jesus lived as the ultimate and perfect self-gift. His own words, which we hear at each and every Mass, are: “This is my body, given for you.” He gave his whole self for us, and it’s a beautiful parallel to what happens when a woman sets aside her own comfort to bring life into the world.
“This is my body” is such a popular phrase in pro-choice culture. But they distort the beautiful meaning of the phrase. Those who fight for legal abortion say, “This is my body, and I get to do what I want with it. No one has the right to stop me.” Jesus says, “This is my body, and I am going to give of myself fully to turn the power of sin on its head and to heal the world.”
There is a clear winner between the two uses of that phrase. In goodness, in beauty, and in the truth of what our bodies are meant to be.
Living as Gift is life-giving. Living for self is life-taking, sometimes in the very real and literal sense in issues like abortion. But also, in the sense that each time we choose self over another, we take the essence of life – truth, beauty, love, from those we wound with our sin.
Living as Gift within Marriage
I spent more years than I’m proud of watching the popular TV show, The Bachelor.
That show sends the message that love is meant to make us feel good. That it’s exciting and thrilling. There is the unspoken belief that love will be like that forever. Like a fairy tale, it will make me feel good forever.
It sets up extremely unrealistic, unhealthy expectations. Nothing about even the concept of that show is willing the good of the other – one person dating upwards of 20 men or women at one time is not good for anyone involved. That’s one of the reasons I won’t watch the show anymore.
It’s distorted. It’s sending a lie about love. It perpetuates a belief that I can do what’s best for me, no matter how many people get hurt in the process.
If we understand what the Church teaches about love and Catholic marriage, the idea of Gift is one of the keys to living a marriage that stands as witness to God’s love for humanity. This occurs when the husband and wife are living as Gift to each other in all areas of the marriage.
When we encounter any situation with our spouse, and we ask the question “Am I doing this for his/her good?” we are letting God into our decision with our spouse. Before we say that sharp word, before we lose our patience, before we assume the worst, we can think about our partner’s good.
This applies in a special and beautiful way to our sexuality, too. Catholic teaching on sexuality isn’t meant to be repressive, and it isn’t without reason. The things we are not allowed to use/do in Catholic marriage – contraception, climax without intercourse, pornography, etc., are all forms of believing the “What’s Best for Me” lie. Contraception says “I’m going to give myself to you, but I’m not going to give myself fully.” Climax without intercourse says “I’m going to take from you, rather than give myself to you.” And pornography says “I’m going to take pleasure without giving anything at all.”
But when we live as Gift, when we respect the whole person of our spouse, including our fertility, when we give mutually and fully to each other, each and every time, that is where the beauty lies. The joy of sex isn’t in finding the best way to feel good for ourselves. It’s in mutually seeking the good of the other in an all-encompassing and powerful way. A way that mirrors the life of the Trinity and foreshadows heaven.
A Disease of Humanity and the Cure
Reaching for goals and working to improve are all positive things. But when those things are distorted, and we start pursuing our own betterment even when it is to the detriment of others, then we do have a problem. When we seek our own comfort first, or own best first, when we forget to be Gift to those around us, then we have become sick.
If we live with a What’s Best for Me mindset, we will never be as happy as we could be. We will never have the peace we could have. We will never find the joy. We weren’t meant to be satisfied with the things of this world. We were meant to be satisfied with God. It follows that living life as God intended will bring us the greatest true fulfillment.
The ultimate way we can serve God is by living our lives as a gift in gratitude to our Creator. All of the above examples help to lead us in that direction. The realization that our lives are, ultimately, not our own, that each and every day is a gift from God helps us release any false control we have tried to cling to. None of this is ours. Life is gift from God. It’s meant to be lived as Gift to God and others.
The Me First disease is more than just an American problem. It’s a humanity problem. A result of original sin, when Adam and Eve were the first to believe the lie that eating the fruit was what was best for them and their own personal goals and advancement.
But the Church gives us this beautiful remedy to the sickness. The remedy for the poison that is What’s Best for Me is a firm commitment to What’s Best for You, to living life as Gift. It turns selfishness to selflessness, greed to generosity, and taking to giving. Living life as gift reverses the darkness of sin and let’s God’s light shine through. That is a powerful witness to a world that has absorbed a dangerous lie.
For more information on living life as “Gift,” please see John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, or check out Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West.