Last summer, my husband, John, and I traveled to the wee island of Iona in Scotland just after our honeymoon. It was a beautiful place, with rocky beaches and beautiful sunsets. Every day was an adventure for the senses. We ate two meals per day at our lovely little hotel, The Argyll, which faced the sea. All their food was local and in-season and we got to try a variety of seafoods, lamb, etc.
One of the more delightful things was a crunchy little sea plant known as Samphire. Now had this been on a menu that we got to choose from, I might not have tried it, but the hotel served only three or so entrees each night. When I asked about the Samphire I was told it was a kind of seaweed… not too appetizing, huh? But it was just wonderful! Crunchy and fresh tasting, a bit salty and vaguely resembling asparagus.
In my time on Iona I learned to relax more, to become a learner and to be open and curious. The more I did this, the more I learned about our surroundings and the more I enjoyed our stay.
One day at teatime I was enjoying wonderful scones with cream and jam and delicious French-press coffee. I was sitting in a little annex off the hotel dining room that had huge windows that faced the sea. It was a rainy and rainbowy sort of day and I was quietly taking it all in. That is, until four women came in and sat behind me. They were Americans and began loudly talking about how you couldn’t find good food in the U.K. (I began to get a little uncomfortable. After all we were surrounded by Scottish people!) I thought to myself, are we Americans always this loud? When the waitress came, they all ordered cheeseburgers and began asking the waitress if the hotel had any “yellow mustard.” The waitress seemed somewhat confused. She replied, “Our mustard is yellow.” They asked, “Yes, but is it English mustard or yellow mustard?” The waitress said that she would check. After she left they began discussing how difficult it is to get “normal food” and how terrible the weather had been. When the waitress came back she gave them the brand name of the mustard and explained that it was, indeed, English mustard. The ladies said that wouldn’t do and then proceeded to grill the poor girl on several other menu options, asking if they could have their food specially made in this way and that.
I felt a little sad for them, and also was humbled… I, too, have often demanded my own way. In fact, we live in a culture that says you can, “Have it your way,” as a popular restaurant chain promised. This has slipped over into every area of life. We begin to think we can have every part of our life customized — designed in just the way we want it to be. Inherent in the “have it your way” kind of thinking is the idea that we know what is best for our lives, that we actually know what we need. When we live this way, our focus begins to narrow, to become more and more self-centered. We also miss out on so many beautiful blessings that could come our way if we were less picky. I doubt those women would have risked ordering the Samphire. They seemed to shy away from anything unfamiliar in their diet. Not long ago I would have been the same way! Instead they missed out on all the wonderful, unique flavors.
In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes,
“Submission… is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way.”
While you may think you are free when you are demanding that things go your way, truly you are in bondage. You are not free to experience life through another’s eyes. You are not free to allow someone else to provide for you or to suggest another way. It really is a terrible burden. Foster later writes, “The obsession to demand that things go the way we want them to go is one of the greatest bondages in human society today.”
This, no doubt, is part of the reason Paul urges us to, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4).” Again, in Philippians 2, he urges us to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” When we do this we are following the example of Jesus, who for our sake let go of all of His preferences, emptying himself and being obedient to death. His is the ultimate self-sacrifice and we are called to walk in His footsteps, thinking of others first.
Marriage presents another way God uses to free us from this bondage — that is, if we will let Him. John and I married later in life, he nearing 40 and me in my mid 30’s. We had gotten degrees, launched careers, bought homes, and settled into our own ways of living. Coming together now after establishing so many habits can be challenging! At times his way of thinking or doing things seems utterly counter-intuitive to me! And yet, I remind myself, somehow this man survived almost four decades without my wisdom on how to clean the kitchen. Just because I have a way of doing things, does not mean it is the only way. Although not perfectly, I am finding the freedom that comes from not always having to have my own way. Most of the things that we could argue about really are non-essential. I am learning that my happiness does not depend on having my preferences met.
Yet this way of life can be painful. At times it may literally feel like dying — dying to yourself, that is. And so how can we do this better? A few practical ideas come to mind:
- Force yourself in very small ways to not get your own way. It can be as simple as ordering something at a restaurant that is unfamiliar or not specializing your order.
- Try to imagine yourself in another’s shoes. Think about their needs and desires and work to put those first. This can be as practical as considering what a co-worker may need, or what could make their day easier.
When it is painful, know that Christ knows of this pain as well. He felt it, too, and is intimately aware of your experience. This is a small way we can identify with Him in His suffering. We can also go to Him with this struggle and receive His comfort.
One more thing…
As a counselor I come across all kinds of struggles. The need to get one’s way is a struggle that is really common, and one I tend to personally struggle with. Yet there are others who have the opposite issue, boundaries in their lives have become so weak that they do not know their own opinions, they may have suffered abuse or neglect from relationships that were meant to bless and heal them. If you find yourself in this position, please know that Christ also understands this kind of suffering and desires to help you.