What does that mean “other-focused” and why should I live that way? Let me illustrate the answer with a story.
After Hurricane Katrina turned New Orleans and the surrounding areas into a wading pool for such unwelcome monsters as homelessness, widespread destruction of property, loss of life, jobs, pets and dignity, my home church organized several mission trips to provide whatever aid we could to the residents of the affected neighborhoods. I jumped at the chance to go, and I signed two of my kids up, too.
We met several times as a group to organize and understand what we were getting ourselves into. Quite a few—a majority, I believe—of the adults in the group preferred that my son, eleven at the time, stay home. Most of them thought he was too young to be of any assistance. Many of them knew him and his penchant for self-centeredness and foul moods. I ignored them and insisted he go.
When we arrived, I separated myself from my son and others put him to work. We worked to rebuild a roof the storm had thrown a tree limb through. To the surprise of many, my son worked all day without complaint. He helped on the ground picking up debris. He helped on the roof placing shingles for another worker to nail in place.
The next day he continued to work on the roof while I loaded garbage on a panel truck and delivered it to the FEMA dumping area. Not one time in the week we were there did he throw a tantrum, pull attention to himself, or refuse to help where he was needed. He earned the trust and respect of every adult—even those who’d known him before.
Why? What changed? I can’t see inside his head, but I believe it was a change in focus that changed his attitude.
His focus turned from himself to others. It shifted 180 degrees. When he began to help others, when his work was valued by his coworkers, when his work meant something to him, that’s when he changed. In that week my son’s purpose shifted, and with it, his contentment, self-satisfaction, and joy, made him easier to be with and more willing to compromise and cooperate.
Was this change permanent? Unfortunately, no. But it gave me hope that he would turn out okay in the end, as in fact, he has. I am very proud of his accomplishments and how he treats people today, and I believe it began with a trip that had an other focus.
I experienced the benefit of other-focus on that trip myself. I went to serve others, but returned filled to overflowing with the gifts given me by the ones I’d gone to help. Never before and never since have I felt such
- gratitude and thankfulness
from a group of people. Many of them had lost everything, and yet they counted their blessings, thankful for their lives and the clothes and loved ones they’d snatched from the wind and water.
We attended a church service in the neighborhood in which we worked. There was one lady there who exhibited a life commitment to other-focus. She went around the entire congregation of over a hundred people hugging and greeting them with a kiss. Love poured off this woman. She transmitted peace and joy and God’s love with every word and every action. When you were in her embrace, there was no room for dark thoughts or worry. You knew you were loved. She treated us light-skinned folks in the exact same manner she treated those whom she’d known and worshiped with her entire life. We were all God’s children and thus family.
There isn’t one of us who went on that mission trip who fails to remember that lovely lady. She made a lasting impression on us. That is the kind of life we are called to lead as human beings.
Galatians 5:19-23 begins with a list of acts of the flesh which represent selfish living. These acts pull our focus inward; they turn our thoughts to our own desires and wants. Paul ends the passage by providing a contrasting list of qualities an other-focused person exhibits. The lady I spoke of had those qualities against which there is no law, meaning she will never need someone following her around to keep her innate selfishness in check. Her outward focus keeps her regulated, happy and free.
A person who practices the fruits of the spirit Paul speaks about in Galatians 5 is one who prioritizes happiness over pleasure. That person is no slave to sin, but is truly free!
As Andy Stanley says in his book “Life by the Spirit is free. It is life to the full. It is what makes you happy.”
- Won’t you strive with me to turn your focus on others and move toward true freedom?
Leave your comments below. Share how you accomplish an other-focus or how you struggle with selfishness. I would love to hear from you and pray for you. Life is easier when we bear each other’s burdens.