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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's Not About Me

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
    In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had... (Philippians 2:1-5)



In July of 1945, there were events happening in our world that were far more significant than a ball game at Yankee Stadium. Soldiers were returning home as World War II came to an end, and one of those recently - returned soldiers was at the game with his four-year-old son, who happened to share his name. The father had a little time before he returned to his job, and he just wanted a chance to get to know his son again.

They were in the stands, enjoying the game, when someone sitting nearby noticed them and recognized the father. He waved, then passed the word. Pretty soon, the stadium was buzzing with the news of who was in the mezzanine. The game on the field was momentarily forgotten, and the buzz began to turn into a chant: a name, over and over, the name of a Yankee legend.

Four years before, he had set a record that has yet to be broken. The Streak, they called it, and still do. He had put his career on hold to serve his country in the war, and he had come to the park that day just to watch. But he was who he was, and the fans knew him and chanted his name.

“Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe DiMaggio!”

DiMaggio waved to the crowd. Then he looked down to see if his son had noticed the attention the crowd was paying to his dad. His shining eyes and big smile told Joe that he had definitely noticed. But before he could say anything, four-year-old Joe DiMaggio, Jr. rained on his parade.

“See, Dad?” he said. “Everyone knows me!”

Cute story, isn't it? But only because Joe, Jr. was a child at the time. Because they have no other reference point, young children tend to think that the world revolves around them. It's an understandable mistake that we all make as kids. But we learn. We see our parents giving affection and attention to siblings, and it starts to dawn on us. We start school, and we begin to get it. There are other people in the world, and they have needs and wants and opinions and perspectives that are often at least as valid as our own. We learn that the world, in actuality, does not revolve around us. We stop assuming that all applause is for us, and we stop needing it to be.

Except for when we don't.

Or when we forget.

Or when we don't care.

I could tell you some stories, stories about people who didn't learn, or forgot, or didn't care, that the world didn't revolve around them. I could tell you some stories about people who who thought and behaved as if everyone in their lives was put there for their benefit, every whim needed to be satisfied, every impulse was to be followed, and every accolade was theirs by right. I can tell you stories, and in every case they're sad stories. Tragedies, even. There's a reason for that.

I could tell you about the friend who decided that the other woman was exactly what he needed. He explained it away by how unhappy he was in his marriage, and how this woman made him feel. He's on to someone else now – he's probably been through more than one “someone else” – because it will never be enough with him. Not until he learns that it's not all about him.

He comes by it honestly enough, though. Near as I can tell, he learned that attitude from his parents, who also seem to have been burdened with the illusion that it was all about them. Scary how it can be passed down from parents to children, like a mutated gene.

I could tell you about people who couldn't find a way to stop spending, or drinking, or gambling, or lying, because down in their heart of hearts they really thought the most important thing in the world at any given time was how they felt.

I could tell you about people who have brought discord, bitterness, and division to church after church, largely because they honestly believe that their opinions about X or Y issue, or their understanding about one text or the other, or their love or hatred for a particular tradition, is more important than what God might be doing in those churches.

As near as I can tell, the Bible only mentions one person who could have ever said, “It's all about me” and been right. About him, Paul wrote “...by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17-18) Whatever else that might mean, it means that the world really does revolve around him.

Of course, we know that Jesus chose not to say that, or even act as though it were true. He “made himself nothing” and took “the very nature of a servant.” He “humbled himself” and was obedient to God even though it led to his death – “death on a cross.” He chose not to insist that the world stand and applaud him. Instead, he gave himself in service and as a sacrifice to the broken people who couldn't recognize him because we were too immersed in ourselves.

Now we know, though. And because we know the self-sacrificing grace of the One who could have said it was all about him, we're called to “have the same attitude of mind.” If Jesus can value us over himself, then surely we can value others over ourselves. If Jesus could look to our interests at his own expense, then shouldn't we follow him in putting our own interests aside to care for those around us? If Jesus could foreswear ambition, then what's stopping us?

You don't have to look far. Start with one relationship, and resolve to have the attitude of Christ with that person. Make choices that show that person how much you value and love them, and that their well-being is more important to you than your own. Start with an easy one – a child, or a spouse, or a good friend, if you like. But then choose another relationship, and another. Reach out. Stretch. God will do amazing things in our relationships if we will do our best to step off our pedestals long enough to serve, give, and love.

And one day, when you're finally with your Father forever, I think, just for a moment, that it will be about you. As worshippers bow down and sing his praises, you included, I think he might turn to you. “Well done,” he'll say. And he'll lead the applause for you. Why not? We'll have eternity – as long as we need for all of us to have our moment. And even if it's just a moment, it will be all we ever really needed.

It will be all we ever needed to know that, for God, it really is all about us.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.

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