Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
One day while driving along a familiar road, I found myself accelerating through a yellow light. Everyone behind me had to stop, and I felt for an instant that I had “won.” It was as if we had all been racing and I had just pulled ahead and beat everyone. I enjoyed my small victory.
But my pride didn’t last long. In order to make it through the yellow light, I had stepped on the gas. As a result, I flew right past a police officer. Soon his flashing lights were in my rear view mirror. From pride to embarrassment in one quick moment.
As I pulled to a stop and waited for the policeman to come to my window, I reflected on the attitude that I had been caught up in—the fleeting sense that I was in competition with other drivers, and the pleasure I experienced of making it through the light while others were left behind. I was not happy with myself. I could see the unnecessary competitiveness in my spirit, and the small, private display of pride. As a result, I saw the presence of the officer as a potential gift.
Of course I felt awful about getting a ticket. I didn’t like the idea of paying a fine or of having this on my record. But I could see that I needed an attitude adjustment, and that this ticket offered me an opportunity to reflect and make some changes.
I don’t think that I got the ticket to teach me a lesson. I got the ticket because I was speeding. But the ticket did provide me with an opportunity to let go of my pride—again. It gave me a moment to observe that if I had been operating my life at a saner pace, I would have slowed down and stopped at the yellow light. If I wasn’t half consciously believing I was in competition with other drivers, I would have been making safer, more respectful choices.
What the speeding ticket offered me was a reminder that I am one among many drivers. A reminder that together, as a community of drivers, we have a need to care for each other’s safety and well-being. That humble respectfulness and sense of community is what I needed to embrace as I let go of a sense of competition and of concern primarily for myself.
Years later, the diagnosis of cancer offered me a very similar gift. Cancer allowed me to experience in a very direct way that I am an ordinary mortal. Like all mortals, I get sick. I am growing old. I am going to die. And like all of us, I need the help and support of other people.
In the weeks of waiting for a full diagnosis I realized that I was being allowed to experience the truth of my mortality. It was a bitter-sweet experience. As a result of this direct, visceral encounter, all the non-essentials of life momentarily fell away. All the superficial ways by which I might measure myself and my life, lost all meaning and interest to me.
What mattered was no longer trying to “look good” in some way, or wanting to succeed in some way. What mattered were the simplest of truths. I came from God. I belong to God. I am loved by God. I am always with God, and God is always with me. I will return to God. I am held by God now and always. I am one of God’s many beloved children. Together we belong to God. And we belong to each other. The bitter taste of mortality lead to a reconnection with these grace-full truths.
None of us is better or more important. We are all valued, cherished, loved. Knowing this makes it possible to stop clinging to self-sufficiency. Knowing this makes it possible to die to our false selves, our defenses, our pretenses, our masks. It makes it possible for us to be who we really are—free from any need to prove ourselves, or to gain recognition. We don’t have to struggle to “be somebody” because we are already somebody. We are God’s beloved children. To know this is to have everything.
When you don’t know what to do…be who you are.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. What impact have your experiences of difficulties in life had on your pride?
2. In what way has this been freeing for you?