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Guarding Your Heart from Self-Centeredness

In an article from Preaching Today magazine, Dan Meyer relates the following story:

A lawyer from Cleveland struck it rich and moved his wife and his son, Toby to the upscale community of Rancho Santa Fe, California. The family lived in a magnificent home on a hill, with a swimming pool that overlooked fragrant citrus groves and a view of the valley that seemed to go on forever. The father wanted his son to be a success like he had been, to build a business, and know the joy of being in a position to help others, so he set up a trust fund. Each year, the trust fund kicked out a handsome income that enabled Toby to pursue his interests, which consisted mainly of dabbling in real estate development. This is why what happened at the poolside that morning is so puzzling.

One day, Toby came home while his mom was out playing tennis and found his father alone on the terrace. "Dad," he said, "There's this property near Las Vegas that I want very badly. It costs more than I have coming in. Can you give me the money I need to tie it up?" It was not a new conversation. Toby's father had often explained to his son that he wanted the best for him, but that it was important he learn to live within the generous means that was already being provided for him. "There are more resources coming once your mom and I are gone, Toby, but for now the best we can do is help you think through how to build a life of value and integrity with the gifts you've been given."

Later on Toby's mother explained that this line of discourse was always upsetting to their son. She said, in effect, "Toby never liked limits. Because he knew we had more, he felt he should have more of it. He burned through most everything we gave him and, when that was not enough, he felt like it was our responsibility to do whatever he believed would make him happy. When his dad said 'no,' Toby became very angry."

That was an understatement. On that sunny San Diego morning, Toby listened to his father set a limit one more time, then picked up one of the terracotta planters that sat by the pool and murdered his father with it. When Toby was asked if he had any sense of what this act had done to his mom, he turned my question around: "Does she have any concept of what it is doing to me that she has now cut off all my funds?"

There is a clinical word for a man like Toby; it’s the word sociopath.  A sociopath has no empathy for others. He is obsessively concerned for his needs alone. He has a heart utterly consumed with self-centeredness. Thankfully, we don't run into people like Toby all that often. But there exists in many people a milder version of Toby's extreme condition. We see it displayed in the most famous story Jesus ever told.  You can read about it in Luke 15:11-32—the story of the Prodigal Son.  In this story, we learn a lot about God, man, Christ, and our response.  But we also learn how to guard our hearts from self-centeredness.