Monday, September 8, 2014
Finding Triumph...the right way!
There is something within the human person that wants to succeed. Most everyone wants things better and hates feeling helpless to change the trajectory of their life. In fact, when we feel that helplessness, oftentimes depression, envy, and wrath follow. The human spirit, by its nature, wants to triumph. We want to win. We want to have the wherewithal to rise to the best life has to offer. This is not a bad thing. I believe that God places these desires in us to help to strive to be all that He has created us to be.
Many times, though, we judge success in merely humanistic terms: financial wealth, good heath, the esteem of our peers, and a world without limitations. As Americans, we have a deep seated belief that should we apply ourselves as hard as possible, that success should be guaranteed. Nowadays, many believe that success and triumph should be guaranteed with little to no effort…that success and triumphed are owed to us. There are large segments of society that believe success and all that goes with it are entitlements of which they are cheated should they not get it. When success and triumph are measured in such humanistic terms, they are bound to failure. Yet we are geared toward success…so what gives?!
More often than not, health, wealth, esteem, and such are byproducts of living a good life…not that which causes a good life. I will go one step more: should happiness in our lives be even dependant upon such things? The Scriptures would say not. By worldly standards, Jesus is an utter failure: he dies a violent death on trumped up charges, he dies dirt poor, what few people he had following him betray him, deny him, or simply run away, what little he does have (the clothes on his back) are also taken from him as he is exposed naked and bleeding to death as sport for his enemies to gloat upon. Jesus is not exactly fodder for the cover of Forbes magazine. Yet, He changed the world and changed the course of our eternal life! We know that the story doesn’t end on Good Friday. We know that Easter Sunday comes as well!
This weekend we celebrate the Triumph of the Cross. In the time of Jesus, this would have been considered utter madness! The cross would have been considered a cause of great shame and agony…a place of defeat. Christ, though, wins His eternal battle on a cross…a battle over Satan, sin, and ultimately death. No amount of taunting, torment, or shame can rob Jesus of this! Triumph comes not from a conquering for one’s own gain; it comes from conquering for the sake of others. There is no true triumph were there is no death to self. Remember, Jesus repeatedly says that those unwilling to take up there cross cannot follow Him! Unless we move away from a selfish ’me first’ mentality, we will never understand what true triumph is nor know the peace of mind that comes with it. Perhaps that is why no accumulation of worldly goods, pleasure, power, or honor ever seem to be enough. We seek triumph where it is not to be found. That which drives us to triumph will never be sated by that which can never sate it.
How then do we know if we are seeking triumph where it not going to ever be found? The clearest place to see this is our attitude. Am I unhappy, fearful, resentful, or envious? Those are solid signs that something is wrong and needs to desperately change. Many times we wait for outside sources to change, hinging our actions on theirs. This is a copout! Bad things happen to the good and the bad just as good things do. Both the good and bad have to deal with sickness, death, disappointments, betrayals, and suffering. These will happen. God desires to be with us in all of this, both the good and bad. He wants us to triumph. However, no triumph can be had until I am willing let go of those feelings of anger, envy, bitterness, and such. These things obscure my ability to see the good and right path; they rob me of joy and peace in the midst of the greatest struggles. I think so many times when we cry out to God in distress, He might well respond with “Well, quit hitting yourself with a sledge hammer!” Christ already hammered those sins to the Cross…how about letting them die there?! There is no need to carry this iron laden baggage. Christ, however, will take from us what we are unwilling to hand over. This baggage prevents our triumph.
How, then, do we change this? How do I get rid of the bitterness, anger, envy, and resentment? The first step is the hardest: getting the focus of my life off of the person I see in the mirror. All of these things need a sense of self-centeredness to thrive. If I dwell on I am put out, cheated, maligned, hated, and such, it becomes sure recipe for perpetual bitterness and resentment. Let us look to Christ on the Cross. Because He was pouring Himself out for the good of others, He endures with patience and grace everything thrown at Him. Did He deserve the scorn, hate, and mocking He got? No. Did He deserve the pain, torture, and sadism He received? No. Remember, He is the Son of God as well as human being…at a thought, He could have wiped out all his enemies and exacted revenge on His persecutors. Rather he prays for them as He says, “Father, forgive them, they know what they do.” Even though those around Him count themselves as His enemies, He doesn’t see them as such. Nor does He treat them as such. Imagine, if you will, what freedom would come from taking such an attitude!
Second, we must get away from the idea that anyone owes me anything. St Paul reminds us in Romans to owe no one anything other than to love them. It will be very hard for me to get worked up about being cheated if I am not engaging is such behavior. Furthermore, we have to acknowledge that as we are owed nothing, that we must use wisdom and prudence in how we negotiate life. How many of the pickles we find ourselves in are monsters of our own creation? How much of our problems are more because of our own poor choices and their consequences? It is not other peoples’ faults if the consequences of my choices come home to roost! It is not God’s fault! It is mine. Consequently I can reap the consequences of good choices (you know, cooperating with God’s will?) like chastity, honesty, diligence, humility, simplicity, and selflessness. Good choices, though, do require some embrace of the Cross by which we die to self. Thankfully, God gives us the grace to endure these little deaths if we should so choose to do it.
Third, we must take these sins to confession and allow the healing grace of God to bind these wounds and heal them. We cannot expect to be made whole if we are unwilling to that which is necessary to make it so. It doesn’t matter how the wounds got there. It doesn’t matter whose fault is that I became bitter and resentful…it must be dealt with or it will eventually lead to our death by a spiritual septic shock.
Our triumph as people of faith came from the loving willingness of the Son of God to leave the safety of heaven, become one of us, and offer that life on a Cross for our good and eternal happiness. Christ triumphs. Can we imagine that somehow we can find victory and triumph in any other way? I would imagine so many are weary of the bitterness and anger. They tire of living with resentment. We know that these things prevent us from success and stymie triumph. Should we actually want triumph we need to make better choices, use the wisdom and grace God gives us to make the hard decisions that will help us find peace in the storms of life. None of this can happen as long as we resent, are envious, bitter, and angry. God is all too willing to unshackle us from these chains (His Son even died on the Cross so they could come undone). It might take a strength we think we don’t think we have and unlearning destructive patterns of behavior and replacing them with life giving patterns. Triumph is never easy. Never. God is willing to give all we need to achieve that victory…but we must choose to do so.