“I may not be much but I’m all I ever think about.”
I heard that line for the first time last week. Google reveals it’s been around for a while. I couldn’t find out who first said it, but it triggered a few reflections.
It reminded me of a clip from a movie featuring Bette Midler. She says to some other character, “Enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?” It reminded me of what a friend once pointed out: When you look at a group photo, and you happen to be in the group, where do your eyes go first? You look at how you look in the picture. It reminded me of what Frederick Buechner wrote about humility, that illusive virtue that disappears as soon as we become aware of it, bringing that temptation to be proud of how humble we are. Buechner wrote:
Humility is often confused with saying you’re not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well you are. Conscious or otherwise, this kind of humility is a form of gamesmanship. If you really aren’t much of a bridge player, you’re apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility is a form of low comedy. True humility doesn’t consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you’d be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do.
Mr. Buechner challenges us to question the way we think about what’s in our hearts. There aren’t easy answers. This is a spiritual issue. It’s been said that the word “ego” is really an acronym: edging God out. This calls for spiritual work. It’s complicated, because as I’ve said before, quoting a clergyman I admire, I never met a motive that wasn’t mixed. Amidst the mixed motives, how do we combat the tendency to think that it’s all about me? (Newsflash: It’s a tendency that is a particular challenge for clergy, among other professions. Just saying.)
For those who try to be Jesus followers, it has to do with having the mind of Christ. See the passage from Philippians below. That passage includes an ancient hymn by which the early church figured out how to put faith to work in the world. It comes with seeing Jesus as a person for others, and deciding to follow him by doing the same: being a person for others. Maybe begin each day with this thought, a kind of prayer: How can I be of service this Monday?
As Lent leads to Holy Week, we have opportunity to put other concerns aside and focus on the spirit of Jesus, who rides humbly into Jerusalem, not in imperial chariot but on a donkey, who kneels to wash disciples feet, who stretches arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us into saving embrace, who on Easter morning is mistaken for a gardener and speaks Mary’s name so she can know he is alive. Take this holy season as opportunity to shift the focus from self to other, to think about how to be of service. It’s a way to find out that Jesus is very much alive.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
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