One of the great challenges in life is to learn what is really most important. I remember as a child being told at Christmas that Jesus was the real reason for the season and that toys were secondary. But I was a child and although I heard what should be most important in actual fact what really was most important to me was what was under the tree. “Thanks Jesus for gettin’ born, now what did Santa leave!?”
This little childhood scenario recasts itself differently as we get older but the basic challenge is the same: learning to really accept and experience that the most important things in life aren’t things. St. Paul states well what is really most important:
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him… (Phil 3:7-9)
The psalms too express what is most valuable:
The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:9-11).
The Lord also goes on to teach us that we should value the people in our lives above the things in our lives. Consider this example.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Lk 12:13-15)
Among the teachings contained here is that the brothers should be more important to each other than the wealth that divides them. But too often our desire for passing things takes precedence over the people in our lives. Both brothers sin against eachother over money, one through greed the other through injustice.
So I want to ask you (and me) a few questions and I want you t be careful how you answer them. Often when we are asked questions of a moral nature we answer the question the way we should answer the question instead of responding with the actual truth. So as I ask these questions let’s consider supplying the truest answer rather than the “required” answer.
- Do you really love God above all things and above all people?
- Do you really love the people in your life more than the things in your life?
- Do you really believe that you life does not consist in an abundance of possessions?
And as you and I answer these questions consider what the evidence states. The best evidence in a question like this is not merely our feelings but even more what we spend our money and time on. Truth be told a lot of us struggle to love God most. We are told to worship God, love people and use things but too often worship things, use people and forget about God. The fact is a lot of us can still be stuck on that old childhood scene where we knew Jesus is the reason for the season but in the end we also knew he really had very little to do with the season, either in the culture or in our hearts.
The steps to making progress in this difficult are fourfold:
- Honesty - Honestly answering questions like the ones the Lord asks us above has go to be the starting point. Perhaps some of you who read this are way ahead of the rest and God really is first. But for the rest of us, the first step is to honestly realize that we’re messed up and that we prefer passing things to God.
- Pray – The second step is to get on our knees and say, “Lord have mercy! I am messed up. My priorities are wrong. I love things more than people and people more than you. I’m surrounded by idols and I ascribe greater worth to the dust of this earth than to you or to my loved ones. Help me Lord!”
- Regular confession and Holy Communion - Part of regular confession is to learn to focus on the deeper issues of our life. Too often we only look at our behaviors but not to the deeper drives of sins that lead to this bad behavior. Some of the deeper drives of sin that affect this particular matter are: greed, lust, idolatry, ego-centric attitudes, pettiness, worldliness, sloth, and ingratitude. Preparing for confession looks not only to symptoms such as outer behaviors but to causes which are the deeper drives of sin. In a future blog I will write more on the “deeper drives” of sin.
- Cultivate gratitude – Gratitude is a way that we discipline our mind to count our blessings and then thank the Lord for them. In particular we ought to discipline our minds to thank God for the gift that He is to us. Also the gift that others are to us. Granted some folks are gifts to us “in strange packages.” But even the difficult people in our lives teach us things like being patient, kind and more forgiving, These are blessings, even though in strange packages.
Only with God’s help can we begin to realize that “The Most important things in life aren’t things” is more than a slogan. Only with God’s help and a lifetime of grace can we ever hope to really appreciate this insight and aboslutely true.
Now a little humor and laughing at ourselves doesn’t hurt either. In this very funny video some priests send out a brother priest for beer. Upon his return there is a mishap and both beer and priest are in jeopardy. Guess which gets rescued!