Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Giving your best anyway

"People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.

For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."

— Mother Teresa

I wish more people would talk about death openly so that I wouldn't feel like the only freak who has no problem bringing up the apparently morbid subject. I think about my death a lot because 1) it's one of the few things in life that I can be absolutely certain I will have to face; 2) it helps me to clarify what my priorities should be and whether, today, I am living according to those priorities.

This past March marked my 25th year of knowing Jesus Christ and this coming August I will turn 43. Even if I live to an optimistic 86 years old, I am already halfway done with my life. And as I look forward to the next half of my life, possibly another 43 years, or possibly less, I figure I'd better spend it focusing on the right things and learning from some of the wrong things I've pursued in the past. After a lot of misguided idealism, running down blind alleys, crashing and burning, and meditating on the scars left from hard knocks, I've come to the brilliant conclusion that life--in particular my life as a Christian--is about loving God and loving people.

Any five-year-old Sunday School child could have told me that. What's both profound and mysterious is why on earth it eludes me so easily, and eludes most Christians I know. It sounds deceptively simple. Just love. Love will keep us together. All you need is love. At church even our praise songs about love fill you with such a wonderful, sentimental feeling you start thinking that love must be like floating blissfully along on a soft cloud, eating chocolates. You forget that the last time you tried to truly deny yourself in order to love someone who didn't return the favor, the effort took so much out of you you wanted to take the rest of the year off from humanity. If you haven't experienced what's it's like to be hurt, disillusioned, embittered, humiliated or ill-used, you probably haven't stepped out far enough in faith to obey Jesus' command to love. And unless you are able to rise from your wounds and know that Christ sacrificed so much more because of his love for you, you won't make it very far as his disciple.

Despite of all our glib talk about love, deep down we are aware of these hard truths, so we try to make following Jesus about everything but putting his love into practice. I've been down the road of trying to make the Christian life into a cause, a self-improvement program, a path to the American dream, an area of academic study, and an occupation. Anything but about loving people and loving the God who asks me to love people, because every day I wake up and encounter new reasons not to love people.

I don't know a great deal about Mother Teresa, but from her insightful words above I can tell that she understood the secret of loving others. You have to believe that giving the best of yourself to other people isn't the equivalent of flushing your life down the toilet. Because ultimately you are offering your life to God, believing that none of it is in vain, and that he is the rewarder of those who seek him.