The great battle for each one of us in living a life of faith is to learn to love God above all things, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In the life of the Church, as we all seek to grow in greater communion with the Most Holy Trinity and with one another, we have to learn how to detach our own interests from our relationships with one another. This is a battle we all wage in the spiritual life.
We all have our own interests and desires. Some of these are good and properly ordered to God or the common good; others are driven by our human weakness, sin, and character flaws. In order to grow in greater charity, we must come to relinquish our grip on our own wants and desires. We have to acknowledge that we are not the center of the universe and what we want is not always right, good, or necessary.
To be disinterested is to learn to accept people as they are—not in the sense of their sinful actions, but in a manner that allows them the freedom to live as the individual they are—free of our own sinful desires for power over them. Power struggles are a daily occurrence among us Fallen human beings. To become disinterested is to let go of this desire for power over others and to seek to love them in a non-grasping manner. Imagine how ministries and our parish communities would look if we all sought God’s aid in relinquishing what we want in order to allow others to flourish.
When we force our interests upon another, they often become defensive and close up. This leads to conflict as two people, focused on their own interests, clash. It is only in a relinquishment of self, in a movement towards the other that, love can grow. We must be willing to accept situations as they arise, both good and bad, without focusing on what we want. Romano Guardini in his book Learning the Virtues that Lead You to God explains:
Wherever the essential relations of “I” and “thou” are to be realized, interests must give way. We must see the other as he is, deal simply with him, and live with him. We must adapt ourselves to the situation and its demands, whether it be a conversation, collaboration, joyfulness, or the enduring of misfortune, danger, or sorrow.
Only in this way are true human values made possible, such as a real friendship, true love, sincere comradeship in working, and honest assistance in time of need. But if interests become dominant here, then everything atrophies.
When we focus on our own interests, we often seek to dominate the other person. This damages communion with that person because we are no longer seeking to love and see them as they are, but rather, as we want them to be. A desire for control takes over and love turns cold. We exhaust so much wasted energy on power struggles with one another.
Our relationships cannot be built upon our own expectations and interests. This doesn’t mean that our relationships do not have some level of dependence or fulfillment of our interests, it simply means that we cannot base our relationships on these terms or we will often choose our own interests over the other person. The less emphasis we place on our wants in a relationship, the freer the relationship will be and the more the fruit of love will grow.
Freedom in Friendship
The great irony is, the more we relinquish our grip on what we want over what others want, the freer we become and our personality is more able to influence others. When we are disinterested and hide from ourselves, so-to-speak, we are able to accomplish more and we become conduits of God’s love. We see this in the radiant example of the saints. Romano Guardini states:
One of the most profound paradoxes of life is the fact that a man becomes more fully himself the less he thinks of himself. To be more precise, within us there lives a false self and a true self. The false self is the constantly emphasized “I” and “me” and “mine,” and it refers everything to its own honor and prosperity, wishing to enjoy and achieve and dominate. This self hides the true self, the truth of the person. To the extent that the false self disappears, the true self is freed. To the extent that a man departs from himself in selflessness, he grows into the essential self. This true self does not regard itself, but it is there. It experiences itself, but in the consciousness of an interior freedom, sincerity, and integrity.
The way in which man puts away the false self and grows into the real self that which the masters of the interior life call “detachment.” The saint is the person in whom the false self has been wholly conquered and the true self set free. Then the person is simply there without stressing himself. He is powerful without exertion. He no longer has desires or fears. He radiates. About him, things assume their truth and order.
The freer the individual is from their own interests the more they will desire to love and serve God and others, which leads to an impact on more people. This is the freedom we all seek in our relationships, but struggle to obtain in our desire for worldly power. We cannot grow in love and holiness without learning the virtue of disinterestedness.
This doesn’t mean that we will be without genuine interests that need to be fulfilled. We all have interests that will need to be met by others at various times in our lives. It means that when we seek praise, honor, recognition, or advantage over others, we are no longer seeking the virtue of disinterestedness. We are no longer free to love others as they are. We are seeking to serve ourselves. All of us struggle to tame the ego. Part of the long road of the spiritual life is learning to crucify our own egos in order to love with the love of God.
In order for us to grow in deeper communion and to make our parishes places where our relationships with one another can flourish in Christian charity, we must actively seek to grow in the virtue of disinterestedness. We must allow those around us the freedom to be who they are without being constricted by what we want from them or what we want from a project or task. We cannot expect people to be who we want them to be instead of who they are in reality. There will be times when we must simply let go entirely of what we want, even if we don’t agree, and allow others to go before us. In fact, this is required of us frequently.
Regardless of what our ego tells us, we do not need to be acknowledged for every little task we complete and we don’t need to have power over others. We are called to give to others. In doing so, we will begin to see a change within ourselves as we learn the freedom that comes from authentic charity and we will notice the relationships around us will be transformed. All of the in-fighting, back-stabbing, gossip, anger, and other sins that keep us from communion with one another will lessen over time.
This isn’t an easy call for any of us in our Fallen state. It is a virtue we will fail at time-and-time-again because our ego is a tyrant when we allow it to take over. It is, however, an absolutely essential virtue to foster if we want to truly love God and love others as ourselves. It is an aspect of the self-emptying love of the Cross. Christ submits in love to the “interests” of the Father and brings about our salvation. We are called to do the same in our daily lives.