“To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do – to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst – is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from. You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can even prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own……the man….with his credit card in his pocket….is so effective at getting for himself everything he needs that he does not see that what he needs more than anything else in the world can be had only as a gift.”
Living Only for Ego
These words written by Frederick Buechner in his book The Sacred Journey have impacted me over the years since I read them. At first blush, they seem to describe the fabled “American individual,” the one who “pulls himself up by his bootstraps,” who goes it alone and can do anything he needs to do. We all know people who have based their lives on this notion, that they have done everything for themselves, accepted nothing from anyone, and claimed to be the masters of their own fates. Buechner says that they may even prevail, but at what cost? It sounds like a very lonely existence and one predicated on the importance of ego over everything else. Living for our egos is not what our faith teaches us. It is not the story we read in the Bible and certainly not the example that Jesus set for us.
Opening Ourselves to Others
Hear what I Corinthians 12:31 states: “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” God has given us “higher” gifts that are greater and more meaningful than the paltry talents about which we boast when our only goal is to better ourselves. The more excellent way encompasses a life of joy and fulfillment! The life of Jesus was not about being made of steel, about fending off problems and entanglements of life by building walls around himself and keeping his distance from others. Just the opposite! To really live our lives as God intended, we must open ourselves to others, be vulnerable, share their lives, accept help when we need it, and give it when it is needed. The talents and gifts we each have are not to be used solely for our own gain, but they are to be employed for the good of all. In 1 Peter 4: 10-11 we read: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
We are to approach life not with closed fists but with open hands and open hearts, to join our lives and our fates with others out of love. The love God gives us is to be shared, and it is truly a gift. We don’t earn it, and we surely don’t deserve it! That is what makes it priceless. The gifts of life and love that we are freely given will bring us real purpose and meaning. They are the means by which we become truly human and thus transcend our selfish aims. By giving and accepting God’s love, we are successful in the most important endeavor we can undertake.