In a keynote address at the Religious Education Conference, Pastor Rick Warren (an excellent speaker by the way) made a couple of points that were somewhat humorous but certainly caught his audience’s attention. He asked if we’d ever noticed that in every group there’s at least one person who is annoying. Warren then went on to say, with a twinkle in his eye, that if you don’t know who that person is in your group, it’s probably you. He also mentioned that we spend much of our lives trying to improve certain aspects of ourselves, but unfortunately, what we are usually trying to improve is not what annoys others about us. (Yikes!) At first blush, this all sounds a little disheartening, but on further reflection, maybe not.
I’ve often thought that walking through the self-help section of a bookstore, can tell you a lot about the challenges facing a society. Here in North America you’ll find books on managing your finances (we spend too much), books on healthy living (we carry too many extra pounds), and of course a legion of books on how to become a better, happier you……socially, romantically, spiritually and so on. Generally speaking, it seems we are not happy campers much of the time in our self-image.
Now hold on you might say. Aren’t we all called, as that commercial for the armed forces used to encourage “To be all that you can be”; shouldn’t we try and better ourselves? Yes, of course. Moreover, we all have God-given gifts that we need to develop and utilize to contribute to society, as this is also how (in part) we express love for one another. The problem however arises, when the self-improvement becomes an end in itself and places undue stresses or pressures in our lives. Where our attention starts to be unduly on ourselves, and yes even our shortcomings, to the extent it starts to impede us from acting freely out of love in all things.
In John 14, Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…….Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” So what did Jesus really mean here? Clearly there was then, and is today, no end in sight to wars, oppression, disease, inequality, natural disasters, mental illness and on and on. But I think the start of an answer lies in the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus left us. In this prayer, we say “Thy will be done on earth…..”. If you gloss over these words, it can sound like you’re voting or giving approval to God to have His will done. Whereas the reality is quite different. God’s Will, will indeed be done. Not that God wills all of the bad things that happen, merely that God will make use of everything, that we perceive as good or bad, for the redemption of all.
A metaphor I once read that may shed a little light on how God’s Will unfolds (it did for me), is that we might think of ourselves like actors in a play. Someone gets to play the rich successful woman; someone else the athlete; another one the mentally impaired; and another the starving person and so forth. While we each have our own unique role to perform, the underlying “script” for our play is Jesus teachings in the Gospels. And regardless of our part, we know that at some point, as in every play, the curtain will go up, our true self will be revealed, and we will see that under the role we had in this life, we are all indeed equal and come together as one.
So yes, please try and get rid of those annoying habits. And be the best, most honest, caring person you can be. But always keep in mind that only God is God, and the rest of us must muddle along, doing our best, while actually being thankful, it’s not all about us.