My tomb

I know what it’s like to live a privileged life. Sure, I was born with certain advantages but I have also put a lot of effort into my success.

I’ve dedicated myself to working hard and living a moral life. In return, I’ve been blessed with resources and respect.

There is only one problem. All that striving and all those possessions don’t bring me joy. There is an ever-present ache inside my soul that won’t go away. Like a cancer that spreads silently underneath the surface of my skin, this gnawing pain is always with me.

In desperation, I turned to a man who seemed to have a peace that evaded me. His life was not dominated by the pursuit of wealth or status. He was clearly not anxious or driven by the opinions of people.

It took courage to ask him a question. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth but I managed to blurt out, “What do I have to do to have a life of true meaning?”  Underneath the question was a longing to make the aching pain stop NOW. 

His response was nonchalant. I’m used to people paying me more respect. He simply listed off commandments that I needed to follow.

Frustrated, I replied, “I’ve done all that since I was a kid!”

I think he heard the desperation in my voice. He turned and looked me directly in the eyes. It was only a few seconds but it felt like hours. An expression, I can only describe as “love” radiated from his face. Somehow I knew he truly cared for me.

Like a good doctor, he saw the disease that was destroying me. “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then you will have the life you are seeking.”

Tears filled my eyes. He knew the one thing that was in control of my life. How could I give up the comfort and safety I had worked my whole life to attain? He could have told me to fly to the moon and it would have been easier.

I couldn’t look at his face anymore. I was seen for who I truly was. I bowed my head and walked away weeping.

My story could have stopped there…but it didn’t.

That look of compassion continued to haunt me. I secretly began to follow him. I watched as he cured the ill and cared for people that no one else thought worthy of respect. THIS was the life I desperately craved!

Just as I was about to leave my successful life behind, I was shaken again. He was sentenced to the brutal death of crucifixion. The hands that healed the sick were nailed to a piece of wood. The body that embraced outcasts was beaten so badly that you couldn’t even tell he was human.

Yet, as I stood at a distance, I saw him look at his tormentors with the same love that he showed me. He never cursed them or demanded justice. He forgave them.

He willingly gave EVERYTHING he had.  In his death, he showed me how to live.

I watched in stunned silence as he gasped his last breath. Once again I wept the bitter tears of regret as I thought about “What could have been”.

Suddenly a feeling of resolve came over me. Today is the day it all changes! No more being dominated by the expectations of others or pursuit of wealth.

Even if the entire world is ashamed of him, I won’t be. I boldly went before the governor and asked for Jesus’ body so that I could bury it. Yes, associating myself with a convict could have cost me my life too, but I didn’t care anymore.

My relationship with my possessions began to change as well. One of the first things I did was buy as many burial spices as I could. I spared no expense. It was a small way for me to symbolize that money was no longer my priority.

Finally, I put him in MY tomb. I thought I would be the one laying here one day. It was a way for me to represent the truth that a part of me really did die. It may sound odd, but in dying, I found that I could truly live.

There is someone laying in my tomb yet somehow I’m more alive than I’ve ever been.

When Helping Doesn’t Help

“Wow! You are really a helper!” A counselor recently uttered those words to me. Inwardly, I thought “Why, thank you! It’s nice of you to notice.”

While the statement wasn’t spoken in a derogatory way, it also didn’t have the ring of a huge compliment. After a moment or two of reflection, I began to connect how having an awareness of the feelings of others can be an unbelievable blessing and an unwanted curse.

In my last post, I shared what I am learning about reaching out to the hurting people who are all around me. This seems odd to say, but there is actually a dark side to that type of compassion.

Helping others can be twisted and motivated by selfishness. Sounds kind of crazy right?!

Let me explain. Caring for people who are hurting can carry a sense of satisfaction for me. The look of appreciation in the eyes of someone who is truly grateful is rewarding. For the lack of a better term, it can be a “high”. It can be validating and give me a sense of respect that I desperately crave. My mixed motivations can be pretty ugly.

On top of that, there is another problem… helping is not always helpful.

When I try to help others who don’t want my assistance, I am robbing them of their individuality and freedom to choose. I could also be short circuiting growth opportunities in their life.

Some of the best moments of growth can occur when we are experiencing resistance or discomfort. Even as I type that sentence, I wish it wasn’t true! Going through difficulty in life is like hitting the gym. It’s painful but it can jumpstart your development.

When I rush to help people who aren’t ready, it’s like I’m at the gym watching someone bench press. Without even asking, I run over to their rescue. I repeatedly help them lift the weight without them even asking for a spot. That type of help is demoralizing and dehumanizing. Even if it does feel nice at the time, it doesn’t result in any change.

Another red flag for me is when I choose to serve others out of “an empty tank”. As any flight attendant will tell you, it’s important to “secure your own mask before assisting others”. I believe there are times when I can supernaturally help others even when I am emotionally, physically or spiritually drained but when this is a regular pattern of life, the results can be disastrous (believe me, I know from experience!). Simply put, I can’t give what I don’t have.

If you are a “helper” like me, you are probably tempted to believe that your assistance is essential for the world to continue to spin on its axis. The reality is I’m not the savior of the world and neither are you. My job is simply to follow the One who is.

When I am living in that reality, my helping can really help.