In my mind, this concept is analogous to that little “opacity” slider that shows up in various kinds of design or photo editing software: You add a photo to your project, and then you get to choose how transparent you want it to be, so it can show up very solid and clear, or barely there, just a background image.
I’ll never forget a moment in a Bible study that I was a part of a few years ago. We were discussing what it means to be truly present in life. The be honest, the conversation was pretty bland. Most of us in the room weren’t particularly engaged in the conversation.
But at one moment, a friend of mine took a risk: She opened up about her longing to connect with others in the group, and how lonely she felt when she was unable to do so. As she shared her loneliness, she began to feel sad. Instead of shutting down this feeling, she drew it up, out of herself, and shared it with the group. Her tears began to flow.
There was a palpable change in the atmosphere of the room at that moment. We had all been just drifting, only half “in” the conversation, and suddenly this woman made the choice to dial her opacity all the way up. She showed up, in the room.
At that moment, everyone in the room was awakened a little bit. I’m sure our pulses quickened. All of us were confronted not only with the emotions of my friend, but with the emotions that her sharing had evoked within us. And then we, too, had the choice to stuff those feelings down (erasing ourselves again), or draw them up and out of ourselves, showing ourselves to one another, becoming more present in the room.
You see, this is why I dislike the word “selfless”. Because selfhood, when it shows up, is so beautiful. This kind of “holy selfishness” does not increase itself at the expense of others, but calls others to also become more present, more alive. It demolishes our limited idea that, “If you take up more space, I must then take up less space”. Rather, it says, “I will now take up more space so that you, too, may become more.”
This required a great risk on the part of my friend: She could have feared the vulnerability that her self-exposure would bring. She could have told herself, “I don’t want to be ‘selfish’ and make this time about me.” But these, I believe, are tricks of Satan, calling us to decrease ourselves until there is little left of any of us at all to connect with, to know, or to love.
This is one more reason why I long to find, to know, and to increase my daily experience of desire. When I desire, I am alive. When I long, I am alive. When I feel, I am alive. There is more of me to be in the world, and I then draw others into selfhood as well.
Think now for a moment about Jesus. Is this not what Jesus did in his life? Is Jesus best characterized by selflessness? I don’t think so. I would argue that Jesus was the solidest, most fully present human that ever lived. His presence was almost too much to take, and as a result, people had a wide variety of responses to him. Some were offended; some were terrified and ran; some bowed their heads and begged forgiveness. Others wept and bathed his feet with their tears.