It was my son's second day of high school - and already we were having our first conference with a teacher.
As we parked the car, he said, "Mom, you really need to lock the car around here."
I was annoyed because this September morning was still a hot one, and I didn't want to return to a closed-up car. This was part of an ongoing argument; he is a lot more security-conscious than I am. This time I just ignored him and left the windows open. (I don't feel especially proud of that moment of parenting.)
When he caught up with me, I noticed him looking over his shoulder, worrying about the car.
"That really bothers you, doesn't it?"
He shrugged his shoulders and nodded yes.
"Well, if it bothers you, then that's a good reason for me to start locking the car. I'm sorry to add one more burden to your load this morning."
We'd been having such disagreements for over a year. It's strange how perverted family life sometimes gets when we dig in our heels about small stuff that really doesn't matter. The bigger issue is thinking more about the nature of human relationships. Every day, we're given small but significant opportunities to lighten each other's loads. And we need to learn how to take advantage of those opportunities. Why? Because the love and commitment we feel for each other needs active expression.
Too often, it seems, our opinions, idiosyncrasies, and bad habits give us an excuse to distance ourselves from one another. But if we're alert, the very thing that's been keeping us apart can be turned into the discovery of a greater generosity and humility in ourselves. This is the promise of a better understanding and practice of unselfishness.
Could it be that unselfishness isn't the hardship we think it is? If it means laying aside our opinions in order to support somebody better, that sounds like freedom, not bondage. It is anchored in a simple and profound spiritual truth: we each have from God the capacity to love and be loved. How is this so? Because the origin of our life is an infinite, divine Principle; it is Love; it is God. This Love that is God is constantly making itself known, in ways that are satisfying to the human heart.
The evidence of God's love for us may be as simple as an orange brush stroke of cloud in an autumn sunset, or as profound as finding an affordable place to live. If we admit to ourselves that every sign of goodness, beauty, and provision has its origin in God, we begin to feel the fullness of being loved. Being loved in ways that also enable us to love others more willingly.
The more consistently we thank God for the ways we're getting support, the more consistently we will find ourselves giving support to others.
Jesus understood this cause-and-effect aspect of God. "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love," he said (John 15:9). Those words precede his command that his followers (in any time period) love as he did. Then comes this profound statement: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
"Laying down" our lives doesn't mean losing our lives. It means finding how our lives connect with others, how our talents can be useful, how our abundance can supply what someone else needs. As we understand God's love for us more and more, that understanding moves us into wider horizons of loving, constructive action.
I'm coming to find that there's a deep peace and satisfaction in practicing unselfishness. God, the infinite source of love in our lives, makes it natural for us to want to express His love to others. As the author of the Christian Science textbook, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, "Unselfish ambition, noble life-motives, and purity, - these constituents of thought, mingling, constitute individually and collectively true happiness, strength, and permanence" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 58).
What's especially sweet now is that, when my son and I get out of the car, I eagerly show him I'm rolling up the windows. And he gets this big smile that tells me he feels loved. He knows he's included in my life. That's important for teenagers.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society