“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Some years ago, famed former NFL Wide Receiver and would-be Hall of Famer, Terrell Owens made what most of us consider a shocking proclamation. He was so pleased with his performance on the football field during a game that he trumpeted loudly in front of the TV cameras on the sidelines:
“I LOVE me some me!”
Terrell’s self-congratulatory words were not shocking. He had played brilliantly that day. The fact that he had not waited for the media to praise his performance in the evening sports highlights was not shocking either. Elite athletes frequently express bravado while performing on their fields of play. And it was not shocking that his words were clearly meant to overcompensate for his insecurities that stem from an exceedingly difficult childhood. Tough upbringings are commonplace amongst athletic overachievers.
What was truly shocking was the media and public’s reaction to Terrell’s ode to himself. His career would never be the same. His naysayers had precise and indisputable proof of his destructive impact upon the NFL - and from his own lips nonetheless. His own words would later become a silver bullet of sorts that would inhibit his capacity to play for an NFL Championship team, prematurely end his NFL career, contribute to his financial ruin and delay his induction into The Football Hall of Fame.
But why have the media and public been so hard on Terrell? Are his 5 words such an egregious offense that he should pay such a high price? Maybe. But I have another theory. I believe that the media and general population of casual sports fans have such intense disdain for both Terrell and his words because he broke a cardinal rule of public relations; he spoke out loud what we all secretly feel about ourselves. We all love ‘love ourselves some self!’ Could it be that the sheer naked honesty of his self-celebratory acclamation is an indictment against us all? Could it be that if we make a negative social example of such an individual as Terrell Owens that it somehow distracts from the well-documented fact that we are all guilty of some brand of selfishness or another? Simply put, I’m selfish … and so are you. It is a poorly kept secret that we all know about each other and that we manage to graciously overlook. We work hard to mask our own selfishness – but it still shows itself in a plethora of ways on a daily basis:
We take unsolicited ‘selfies’ and post them in social media for all to see.
We go to restaurants and when the food arrives take photos of it and post it proudly because we have convinced ourselves that people are riveted by what we eat, where we eat, and with whom we are eating.
We check the caller ID on our smartphones to ensure that the person calling us is worthy of our attention or that we are in the ‘mood’ to speak with them.
Many introverts are ‘shy’ because they love themselves so much that they are careful to ensure that they operate under the social radar wherein the likelihood of them appearing foolish to others or embarrassing themselves is miniscule.
Countless extroverts seek to dominate conversations and social situations in order to shrewdly manage others’ perceptions of them through well-honed personas designed to redirect people from getting a true glimpse of who they ‘really are’. Their carefree and uninhibited demeanors are frequently a cover for their deepest fear - rejection.
All of these examples are indicative of a central truth reflected in all of humankind.
I love me some me. And you love you some you.
This core problem of selfishness in all of us is neither malevolent nor does it intend harm. Selfishness is so commonplace in us all that it has become benign and seemingly harmless. I’m not selfish to hurt you. I’m selfish to help me. This is because selfishness can be defined as a lack of consideration for others that is primarily motivated by one's own personal profit or pleasure. Clearly, we all have been guilty of this in a myriad of subtle ways if not as blatantly as Owens.
Jesus offers this paradox as a cure for our collective case of terminal selfishness:
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
The adventure of life is not in seeking our own gain but it is in seeking one another’s good. The fulfillment of life is not in loving ourselves it is in loving one another. And the highest aim in relationships is not seeking to be understood but rather seeking to understand. The greatest life we can possibly live, therefore, is wrapped up in our not knowing the answer to the question: ‘What will become of me’? Jesus outs us all as self-obsessed, self-absorbed and self-centered self-lovers by instructing us to lose. This is because it is only when we lose … that we can find! Ourselves. Our lives. Our destinies.
So like T.O. - I’m going to admit my dirty little secret.
… But I’m falling a little more out of love every day.