These may sound familiar: “Your call is very important to us” (That’s why we are routing you through a painful phone process only to have you eventually interact, if you’re tenacious and lucky, with a person maybe thousands of miles away.) “Our people are our greatest asset” (That’s why we are downsizing them to increase the value of our company.) “Our children are our future” (That’s why we underfund education and burden young people with debt.) And on it goes. There are many other examples where the messages we receive each day, don’t square with the reality we experience. On a regular basis, we encounter mendacity or untruthfulness. Well, that’s life you might say. Yes, sort of, but where does that leave us?
But wait, there’s more. The society in which we live and indeed our culture, aided by modern technology, is making us less equipped to deal with this somewhat distorted reality. We are bombarded with messages, often from quite an early age, that says you’re special, you’re entitled, you deserve it, don’t settle for second best. And while I’m a big fan of affirmation and encouragement, my sense is that our egos are being inflated, in large part so that we will be more susceptible and easier marks for the various commercial products and services on offer. Also, our political leaders are no slouches too at playing up our importance. How often have we heard a politician begin with: the American people are entitled to………(you fill in the blanks). It usually turns out that we are entitled to whatever position they are promoting.
Unfortunately, with all of this pumping up of our egos, there can be a tendency to expect everything our way regardless of circumstance. And when our expectations are not met, such as in the scenarios outlined up front, our egos are affronted and often we respond with disappointment, frustration, even anger and if we’re not careful, cynicism. So what’s the answer: are we to settle for second best; not challenge an untruth; be a “door mat” for whatever is sent our way? Definitely not! So what then?
To perhaps oversimplify, we must become adult Christians (or adults in whatever faith you practice). That is, we cannot let our egos, our emotions, rule us. Living in the affluent society we do, this is no small feat. Everything mitigates against humility, graciousness, and the greater good. There’s a brilliant example of how we might think of this in the movie Gandhi. As he tries to lead the people of India to independence from the British, Gandhi accumulates tremendous power. His response is not to move into a palace, recruit an army or emphasize his importance to the cause. Instead, he fasts more, prays more, tries to live a more humble and virtuous existence, so that he neither gets caught up in his power, nor succumbs to the anger and violence gripping India. Perhaps closer to home as it were, we see Jesus provide a similar example in the gospels. To let go of everything that separates us from God.
While letting go and loving your neighbor make sense, they are certainly easier said than done, especially when faced with the many irritants we encounter daily. Often our response to the frustrations of our lives is to have a drink, eat comfort food, get a massage, and so on. And while none of these are bad, and they may give us temporary respite, there’s an underlying challenge here to grow as a person, and in our relationship with God. So when the tensions in our lives mount, we might want to think about a little more time in prayer, perhaps reading the bible or a good uplifting book and maybe even volunteering some of our time. Our egos (that got us into this state in the first place) would probably prefer comfort food, etc. but we are called to be more. And while most of us may not be up for becoming “Gandhis”, to paraphrase the rock group Coldplay, we can ensure we are part of the cure (for societies ailments) rather than part of the disease.