Saturday, February 12, 2011

How Good You Are

Lately it seems I’ve been reading a lot of articles advising or reflecting on how you can be better in your relationships with other people. Certainly we, as Christians, know that Jesus is our optimum model on how we should treat others; Scripture gives us words describing how we should love one another. We’ve talked about those things here, too. These articles, however, put a lot of focus on what you are doing wrong, and why that is soooo bad, and how you MUST correct that behavior. I think perhaps, however, many of the articles are too one-sided in their approach to viewing our behavior, and we may sometimes be reading them with a negative bias toward ourselves, because they sometimes cause us to get too down on ourselves. Remember, all God created was good, and that includes us. We so often forget that. It is easy to look at our negatives, and so many people (and articles) are willing to remind us of them, but it is not as easy to look at our positives.

Those articles I wrote of point to our bad behaviors and the bad results which follow --- and these are certainly worth examining in our efforts to improve ourselves, but this focus can too easily lead us into falsely judging ourselves and equating some bad things we may do with a totally bad person, and that is a false conclusion, for we do good things too. And we often not only forget about those good actions, but we also most often do not see the results of our good actions. Most often, no one reminds us of them; they are just expected, but rarely appreciated.

You see this every day when your spouse criticizes the late breakfast, your child complains you didn’t wash his favorite shirt, or your boss complains about the late assignment or the error in your work. They don’t remember or credit the great meals over the last year, or the washing, ironing and folding even of their socks, nor the outstanding performance review they gave you last year. They often exhibit a “what have you done for me lately” attitude. And so often we take their criticisms to heart, and we too forget all we have done well in the past. Oh, I’m not saying we should take these good things and throw it up to them and cause a big fight, oh no, no, that wouldn’t be right. Being made aware of our faults is a good thing, or else we might not have a basis for improvement, but we should take any faults we become aware of as just that: a basis for improvement, not a pointing out of how evil we are. Knowing our faults is a good thing. I once read that the world is better place because of the presence of evil, because it causes even more good to occur. But knowing our goodness, and being thankful for it, is also a good thing.

I recently read a study on elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease; they have a tendency toward depression. I think perhaps all older people do, especially those who live alone. They feel unloved, and that is a lonely feeling that goes to the core of your self-worth. The study showed that someone just being with these people, in the nursing homes, the care centers, or the hospitals, lifts their spirits in a way that no words or drugs can do. Another human presence focused on them, perhaps just holding their hand, listening to soft music with them, or listening to them talk --- about anything, gives them a peace of soul. The people who visit do a great good for these elderly people, yet they aren’t really doing much except being there. How many people do we impact in that way, in ways in which we are never aware, just because we are in their live? We so often do good for others, and we never know it.

Recently we celebrated the anniversary of the miracle at Lourdes, France. What impact do you think the young girl, Bernadette, thought she might be having on others, as she knelt in prayer? What impact do you think the waiters at Cana felt as they heeded Mary’s words: “Do whatever He tells you.”? These people have had a huge impact on the world --- could they ever have guessed? In Physics, String Theory says that everything in the universe impacts everything else --- it cannot be avoided; all are connected like strands on a spider’s web.

All the good we do matters; it is felt somewhere.

Last month I read the newsletter of a very small organization which is focused on saving babies, one at a time helping women to turn away from the abortion clinic. One of the members reflected in the newsletter how the numbers saved had gone down in recent weeks, and he was considering new ways of becoming more effective. His failures so hurt him; he wanted no child to be killed. He reflected how lonely his work was, and how few seemed to care. Unintentionally, he was focusing on his failures, and only counting the good results he could see. He saw some simple scorecard, and he was the one tallying the results; he was judging himself. He forgot, however, who the ultimate Judge is.

This week I went into my local Verizon store, and I came out of the stone age. I moved from dial-up access to the internet to a wireless access. I needed the more costly service, as a friend rightly pointed out to me, to continue some of the good works I was doing. At the store as the young lady began the process of registering me, she asked me what I did for a living. I told her I was retired, but active in a number of charities and was also trying to pull a book together, a book about some of the wonderful people who were answering God’s call, and making a major difference in the lives of others. She for a few minutes and then asked: “Is it too late to add more stories to the book?” I said no, more could be added. She then proceeded to tell me about this wonderful organization to which her friend belonged which was saving babies from abortion. She said it so inspired her that she worked to provide them with donations for the mothers and babies, and also she started donating time at a soup kitchen. The organization she referred to is the one which sent me the newsletter; that man is already writing his story for me.

It’s wonderful how God works sometimes, isn’t it? I wrote a note to the man and told him the story of the woman I had “by chance” met. She saw the work of his small organization and she was inspired to help not only his work, but others. She wasn’t in this man’s tally of women helped or babies saved, yet perhaps she was a bigger tally of good than any of those --- and up until now, he did not even know she existed, much less that he was the cause of her good works. Like a spider’s web, He has created all things beautifully.

I hope my note cheered him. We all try to do our best, but so often we are our own worst judge --- we can never do enough, or well enough. But we are judging ourselves falsely, because we will never know all the good that we do, and perhaps even if we did, we would treat it too lightly. Our good far outweighs our bad in importance. That’s why we are challenged to grow in holiness all our lives, to focus on the good things; our challenge is not to become less evil. We are called to imitate Jesus; if we look at our sins or failures it should only be for the purpose of helping us do more good the next time, not for weighing our evils. Only the good in us and by us matters, and it matters eternally.

You will never understand in this life just how good you are. Only God knows, .... and He loves you.

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