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Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this. What do I do?
Doctor: Don’t do that.
Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I get my medical bill. What do I do?
Doctor: Don’t do…oh, never mind, there’s no cure for that.
I’m re-posting this because, sadly but humanly, it’s still true.
If it weren’t for mixed motives I’d have no motives at all.
I’m an idealist. I want (earnest cliche alert) to make the world a better place.
But I’m also a hopeless egoist, and no matter what I do I can never completely rid myself of the desire to impress. Argggh! (Even now, as I write this, a part of me is hoping you’ll be impressed with my “humility”!)
What can be done? If I shift my focus to killing my self-absorption, the effort itself become an act of self-absorption! In C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, a senior demon advises a junior tempter on how to keep humans stuck in this endless cycle:
Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of…
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Maddened by jealousy, Joseph’s half-brothers sold him into slavery. He was tempted to give in to despair. (Who wouldn’t be?) But he chose instead to trust in the God he knew would never abandon him.
Ah, divine irony. Two decades later his brothers came to Egypt in the midst of famine to throw themselves at the mercy of the great Vizier–only to learn he was the brother they had betrayed! Emotionally shattered and fearing for their lives, they begged him for forgiveness. And Joseph replied:
“Do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to harm me, God intended it for good… Have no fear; I myself will provide for you.” ~Genesis 50:19-21
Joseph looked past the duplicity of humans, and placed his trust in God alone. Can we? Can we forgive those who misunderstand us and attempt to harm us, “being fully persuaded that God is able to do what he has promised”? (Romans 4:21) Can we trust that no matter what others intend, God intends it for good?
“Do not be afraid. He will never abandon you or forsake you.” ~Deuteronomy 31:8
A Hindu friend told me, “You are God!” “Sorry,” I replied, “I could never respect a religion with such low standards.”
‘Round now we’re all pining to revel in spring
But seasonal timing’s no guaranteed thing
Transitional days like these are unscenic
Thermometers glaze and turn schizophrenic
So, stop being moody and “so over” winter
Put on your hoodie and celebrate sprinter!
“No man is an island
Entire of itself
Every man is a piece of the continent
A part of the main
If a clod be washed away by the sea
Europe is the less
As well as if a promontory were
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were
Any man’s death diminishes me
Because I am involved in mankind”
My life and yours were diminished by the murder of five people in London, and the suffering of many more. Our lives are, in fact, diminished every day by the death and suffering of fellow humans in Syria and Somalia and places we know nothing of.
But it’s not just the death of physical lives that diminishes us, it’s the death of souls. The London terrorist’s soul died before his life and the lives of his British compatriots ended. It died when he became disconnected from Life itself.
As true and powerful as Donne’s words are, there is an even greater truth in the words of Jesus. We are branches, he says, not merely of an inanimate mass, but of a living Vine (“No branch can bear fruit of itself; it must remain in the Vine”). When a branch becomes disconnected from the Vine, from its Creator, its very soul dies. (John 15:1-4)
There is no greater diminishment than this.
So let us redouble our involvement in mankind.
And in eternity.