in les miserables, jean valjean, aka monsieur madeleine at this point, faces this issue after javert discovers who he really is. victor hugo's description of valjean's thoughts and torment at this juncture are an excellent description of what happens when one is 'good', at least outwardly and perhaps inwardly as well, but that the 'good' he is and does is really just trying to make up for the bad he was before, to hide who he really is in his heart. when faced with the dilemma, valjean at first considers doing the 'right thing', the selfless thing. that is his first instinct, which i think tells of who he really is, not who he thinks he is, but who he has become. but self preservation takes over and he doesn't do exactly what he first thought to do. he looks for a way to get what we would call a 'win-win' outcome. why? because it really wasn't all about him anymore, not in his heart. his good actions were not just window dressing. sometimes we tell ourselves or other people to 'fake it til you make it', and that's what jean valjean had been doing. and at least for a moment, he had 'made it'.
it may be like learning a new language. i could speak a little spanish, but i could never 'think' in spanish. apparently, immersion in the language and culture helps this process, and i'm sure the longer you soak the better. so he was soaking in goodness and selflessness long enough for at least his first short slight inclination was to do the unselfish thing. so all those years of soaking produced what? a momentary glimpse of what he 'should' do or be? then conflict between the angel on one shoulder and devil on the other? well, pretty much.
we tend to idolize heroes who do the right thing the right way the first time, reflexly it seems, so that there is no time between action and reaction, and their reaction is always right. the 'tortured soul' who is left with a choice between doing what is best for him and what is best for his family or his town or his country or his world or whatever is the stuff of many movies, though, and these appeal at a different level. the heroes who are so decisive and always right are usually icons, cutouts in cardboard and characters in comic books, like superman. funny how right now superman has taken a back seat to the more contemplative batman and spiderman whose angst is so palpable and they struggle with the real questions of life in their superhero ways. this is just real life blown up really big so we can look at it closely, dressed up enough to make it fantasy.
i was reminded that it's all about me once again when i had managed to make a decision that i wanted to make despite the objections of others. by gosh, i wanted to do it, it was of no real consequence (it wasn't, at least the act wasn't) and i could do it if i wanted! how very much like a two year old that sounds! maybe we're all just big two year olds with a thin veneer of humanity covering a selfish core? is that it? ouch!
so what's the answer? the current worldview would tell you that this is just the way you are and you should just do what you want and it's ok unless someone else is hurt, and you can't help it and if you want to change you should go to a counselor and maybe get some medicine that will help you live with the two, the angel and the devil, so that you're always so conflicted that you can't carry on a normal life, and if you do enough good stuff a la jean valjean, that the good will outweigh the bad so if there really is a God and a heaven and hell then you're covered and your account will have a positive balance, because the positive balance is what counts and we all know that with enough drugs and the right diet we could be good for long enough to overcome any of the bad stuff we did before and balance out any current bad stuff we're doing and what we're thinking doesn't count because we didn't do it so we can go about doing nice things with selfish motive and look good and people will be impressed and blessed when in reality, deep down, we know we're doing it all because we know it's all about us but we're too proud to realize that our balance is and will be positive only if we let go and let Jesus' balance replace ours but that would mean it's not all about us but it's about Him and then where would we be but in a better place to treat others the way we want to be treated and to be more likely to be forgiving and merciful when people mess up and to look on people as Jesus did, with God's perspective and to realize that just like us, everybody's living life the same way except it's about them and not us in their worlds so it looks different to me but when i look at it that way it really helps get a perspective on things. deep breath.
this idea started with someone very close to me telling me 'you always have to be right' or 'you always have to do what you want' or something to that effect. that person was really teasing, but as my father always said, 'many a truth is said in jest'. there was a backhanded compliment at the end of the 'you're selfish and you think the world revolves around you' slam, when the person said 'but you hide it better than some people'. at least i took it as a compliment!
how's this for reverse psychology? the only way to be in control is to give up control of yourself to God, so as you 'soak' in Him you become more like Him, as kids become more like their parents over time, and to increase true self esteem you realize how really selfish and sinful you are and that there is nothing you, by yourself, can do to fix that, so you trust Christ to give you His goodness so you can relax, and that's the bottom line for me - to relax in Christ, letting Him fly the plane, knowing that He lived a perfect life and so i don't have to be perfect (i couldn't even if i wanted) and when i get to that point i can much more easily look at other people, acting as selfishly as we all do, and understand with empathy that they are living the same life i am except that unless they have relinquished control and perfection to Christ, their world has a very different look from mine because now mine at least some of the time has Christ as the Center and me sort of revolving around Him instead of me as the center or them at the center and God sort of a cosmic slot machine or magic 8 ball to pull out and see what we can get when we feel like it and i can understand better their anxiety and stress and anger and impatience (and my own, this ain't a 'done deal', this sanctification thing, it's a process, not a magic wand and poof you're now holy and can leave behind selfishness and forget about it and now you're speaking spanish and thinking spanish and your old ways/language never come back under duress or any other situation) because i can remember when i felt the same way (earlier today?!) and how it felt so like in hebrews the writer (don't you like that, we don't know who wrote one of the books of the bible? what's up with that?) says we have a high priest who lived a life like ours with all the temptation yet was perfect - He saw things through our eyes and He knows what we're going through which makes it so cool, well we can be like that (except the perfect part) and see things through His eyes and the eyes of the person freaking out in front of us or on the phone with us because their kid is sick and it's christmas and how could this happen and we're flying tomorrow or there's a wedding/play/test/initiation/class/family reunion/tryout and instead of saying 'relax, you're way too anxious and you need to calm down' we can take the hit, empathize, help in whatever way we can while looking through God's eyes and not necessarily our own and not necessarily enable or be amateur providence or rescue them (one of my favorite sayings is 'a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part' - until i realize i'm the other end of that phrase sometimes when it's about me so i try to be kind!) but listen and let them talk it through and not be another problem in their world at that moment, doing our best to get along with all persons to the extent that it's up to us (heb 12:14, 2tim 2:23+, titus 2:8, 1peter 2:11) and live and act as if we're on the other end of the line or our mom or kid is on the other end of the line and how would we want to be treated in that situation and to know that we act right not just because we're told to but because it's becoming part of our nature to act right and be kind and that with time and prayer and 'soaking' in God we find it an unconscious 'reflex' in us and that at least sometimes, when the veneer is not getting too thin, we resemble our Father. there's no better compliment for me than to be told that i'm at all like my earthly father except if it's that i'm at all like my heavenly Father. and as my kids grow and leave and live their own lives, my hope is that someday they will be proud to hear that they are like their father, because he is like his Father. see, i told you, it's all about me!