It isn’t you, it’s your ego

Very often, the first thing you see in a situation doesn’t define it well. You think you’re dealing with a certain issue, but the real issue is hiding behind the one that shows up first. Maybe several layers behind.

Current example, I have found myself bucking hard against opinions over the last several weeks and months – unsolicited, random opinions in particular. I have become more and more outspoken about my notion that opinions are the lowest form of human communication. Opinions are like body odor to me: we all have them and we should avoid airing them onto others.

Why such contempt for opinions? Well, I thought it’s because I see opinions as nothing more than preferences. Your preference isn’t right or wrong. It’s just a preference. My preference isn’t right or wrong, either. It’s just another opinion. Weighing and reacting to opinions is a royal waste of time. I am highly protective of my life energy, so I avoid spending any mental or physical energy on futile exercises. I recommend the same for you.

But that’s not the whole story either. I’ll dive a LOT deeper than that, so come with me if you can handle it. I say that because getting to the deeper issue will get too personal and likely uncomfortable. It’s actually not personal opinions that I dislike reacting or responding to. It’s the ego hiding behind it. It’s the egocentric expectation that an opinion should somehow change what the recipient thinks, says, or does. It’s the egocentrism that is unable to acknowledge that there are myriad opinions and preferences and there isn’t one correct one. It’s the self-centered attempt to rid the world of anything one person doesn’t like or prefer or appreciate – at least the small sliver of the world that person occupies.

In Christian teaching, the ego is our enemy. The ego represents the false-face we develop and present to the world – our avatar, if you will. Following Jesus *requires* a complete turning away from the self-serving ego in order to follow the way of Love. Where ego seeks to satisfy itself and to defend itself and to grow itself in the view of others, humility seeks the exact opposite. We cannot feed our ego and our faith at the same time. We cannot follow our ego and Christ-in-us at the same time.

So, it’s not your opinion I’m bucking. It’s your ego.

If egocentric opinions are unwanted and unhelpful, then what does a humble opinion look like and is it more desirable? It looks more like constructive feedback. It considers the whole group, not just one person’s preference. It is offered only when requested for the purpose of growth, not thrown out unsolicited like a belch to relieve one’s personal need to release noxious gas. Constructive feedback is just that: constructive. It builds others. It builds communities. Humility is necessary in any community context because humility embraces its own transformation while the ego desperately resists it.

One's Ego Can Only Aggravate This Crisis - La Prensa Latina Media

Giving up on getting back

Don't get mad, get even
The year was 1985 and my boyfriend broke up with me because he was seeing another girl. I was so heartbroken. It was not the first time in life I had been hurt, but it was an unexpected hurt. So, I tucked it away as anger with the rest of my hurts and thought of ways to get him back. I had become fairly good at revenge, even at that young age. Within the mindset of revenge, one of my favorite memories was a telegram I sent to him on April 1st: “On this day made for fools, I think of you.” Perhaps that is the only memory I am willing to publish. Truth is, the statement pointed more to my foolishness, but I didn’t see it that way. (If I remember correctly, the telegram cost me $20!) I was deeply hurt and the only way I could find to feel better was to hurt him back.

Those feelings are really easy to find within our human nature. I suppose most of us have experienced hurt at the hands of another person that leads to our one wish for them becoming a wish for punishment and pain. If you haven’t yet experienced that, then you probably will before it’s all over.

Your ability to believe what I’m getting ready to say really depends on where you are on your life journey, but here it is: there is a better way to handle that pain. Granted, it is not the most natural response as a human being. It is however, what we are called to when we enter God’s kingdom where Jesus is Lord. The call is this: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

At first-glance and on face value, that sounds pretty ridiculous. Actually, the way most Christians have handled it as a teaching is to . . . well . . . avoid it. It’s too extreme! It’s a calling far too high for our human frailties to handle. Or is it?

Put in context with the larger Sermon on the Mount, Jesus isn’t saying to us that we are to never make mistakes. He is keenly aware of our condition. The perfection he is speaking of is the way that God the Father operates in a wholeness of relationship. We are called to behave toward others the same way God behaves toward us. Several concrete examples are given to illustrate how this Kingdom ethic plays out in human life. Those include things like resisting retaliation, praying for enemies, honoring our marriage relationships, and making amends when we need to make amends. We are not called to execute the wrath of God in the world. We are called to love and to be perfect, in this sense of wholeness.

Remember the old t-shirt that says, “I don’t get mad, I get even”? Well, we will still get mad. But we don’t have to get even. We can get better. Instead, we can always seek peace and reconciliation. We seek forgiveness. We seek first the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t change the way the world operates, but it changes us.

Thriving or Surviving?

I’ve had several opportunities over the last several days to think long and hard about the way we choose to live our life and how much we all take for granted. I’ve sung at the funeral of one of my dear cousins, completed a critical book review of “An Hour to Live, An Hour to Love,” and am still reeling from my brother’s new cancer diagnosis. He is the second sibling in my family of four children to have received a cancer diagnosis. (My sister remains in remission – thank you, God!) Surely, if I have been awake on any level over these past two weeks, there is some important message screaming out at me.

It could be the legacy that my cousin Becky left that was so nicely spoken at her funeral: Be quick to forgive and quick to laugh at yourself. After all, unforgiveness really only hurts you, and if you’re anything like me, then you give yourself your best comedic material. Use it.

Perhaps it’s the message of the book I had to review: Tell the people who are important to you how much they mean and why you appreciate them – tell them now. Don’t waste time thinking about, talking about, or fussing over things that wouldn’t matter on your last day of living if you were privileged to know when that day would be.

I don’t know yet what the lesson is in my brother’s cancer diagnosis. Perhaps it could be: Go for your recommended screenings – detection is always better than not knowing! My brother surely didn’t anticipate the outcome of his very first colonoscopy, but I shudder to think of what could have happened had he not taken his physician’s suggestion to have it done.

I think, for me, the things that are most important are 1) that I am living out my assignment in the kingdom of God, 2) that I demonstrate unconditional love and prepare my family for their own calling, and 3) that I live in a way that testifies to the fact that God is still in the business of transforming human lives.

If anyone shares that wish-list with me, the beauty of it is that, lived out, it looks very different for each of us. There is so much beauty and mystery in this world – so much variety and uncertainty. Surviving, we focus on ourselves and what we need the most. In thriving, we appreciate all the beauty, all the variety, all the mystery, and dare to focus on others.

God, grant us all a heart that desires to thrive.