My Right To Die

Standing in line to pay, I was boiling angry.  A woman had shouldered herself right in front of me; physically moving me so that she could be first.  All sorts of scathing monologues were writing themselves in my mind, my favorite being, “Ohhhhh,” touching her on the shoulder and crooning sarcastically, “I’m so glad that you let me know how much more important you are than me.  How could I possibly expect you to wait in line like the rest of us commoners?”  It gave me some dark pleasure to then imagine a kung-fu scene in which I karate-chopped her purchases to the floor, all the people cheering.  Justice!

1920534_10152247494038352_1265178566_n We want the rules respected, don’t we?  We want to see cheaters and line-cutters put in their place.  Sports have referees for a reason.  Even checkers can’t be played if suddenly one person decides he wants to use the white spaces too.

There are rules, and relatedly, there are rights, and we tend to take them very seriously.  They are the fuel behind major movements and even wars.  They can draw lines in the sand between us and others, some shouting about a mother’s right to choose, and the others about a baby’s right to live.  One camp argues that marriage should be definable by two people’s love and commitment, another that marriage is only to be between a man and a woman, having been God-designed that way, as is His right as Creator.

Day-to-day though, our sense of our rights forms a smaller orbit.  It’s that inner irritation when there are only two check-out lanes open, lines four people deep, with workers seen chatting away, unwilling to open more registers.  It’s the waiting room angst.  The tense mood on an airplane stuck on the runway for hours.  People start mumbling, rolling their eyes; their “right” to be attended to promptly is not being honored.  A car whips into the parking spot that another driver was clearly signaling to enter; indeed, almost all road rage sparks from someone trodding on someone else’s rights.  Closing the orbit more and it’s the wife’s ire that her husband isn’t washing the dishes after she cooked the meal; it’s her inner rant going something like this: “I should be the one stretching out and relaxing, not him.”  My rights.  Mine.

It was a while back, when praying or contemplating, I don’t remember which, but a word came born upon my thoughts:  die.  There was a relationship at the time that was peppered with grievances of my rights.  I had many reasons to take deep offense, to demand my due; I was quite provoked.  Every secular counsel would have been to stand up for myself, to get the negativity out of my life by avoiding the person, to think about me, my rights.  But…die?  Die to self?  Die to demanding my rights?  There was a resounding yes, an inner warmth, even a joy as I gave that thought space to grow within me.

Our world knows little of the joy of self-denial.  We are encouraged to buy, to accumulate, to improve our physical selves, our marketability, to make a name for ourselves, to strive, to climb, to self-actualize, to get what we supposedly deserve (wealth, recognition, respect, or even simply our own way).

So, what if I died a bit daily?  Died to all these nagging rights of mine and all their hooks and barbs?  What if I sent my Record of Wrongs through a paper shredder; what if I dared to forget my injuries a bit, and focused my energy and strength on loving well?  When a resentful thought came into my mind, what a delight to be able to let it find nowhere to rest.  It could slide right off of me, it really could.

Ever since the Resurrection of Christ, death has been a gateway to life; true, brilliant life.

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”  -Luke 9:23-24 ESV
Think of what a discordant note this makes with contemporary thought about our rights.  Our sense of justice conveniently ignores our own failings and focuses outwards, to the offenses committed by others.  We really are called to live in a manner exactly the opposite of this; we are to “keep our eyes on our own plate” as the Orthodox say, and to consider others as better and holier than ourselves.  Instead of focusing on our rights, we should be keenly aware of our sins and the determined routing of them when they become obvious to us.  Others’ offenses, when they become plain to us, become another opportunity to exercise dying, holy forgetfulness, and true forgiveness.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  -Matthew 6:14-15 ESV

What I did not expect in all of this, especially in the difficult relationship, was that God would bring about justice in a beautiful, healing way.  When I agreed to die, He enabled me to live.  When I did not demand, He delighted to give.  The testimony of my, though very imperfect, sacrifice caused a change in the relationship, and the person who had grieved me sought my forgiveness without me ever having to name the offense.  I was quite floored, honestly.  And since God had enabled me to let their offenses take no bitter root within me, my heart was already full of love and not resentment; there was ready grace and no debt to satisfy.

shortstory9I have so very far to go yet, in this dying to self, to my rights, to my own way.  But the joy that follows is a very good bait to advance further on in love and holiness.

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Mine to Give

“Go and pick every apple you can reach,” said the old man, passing a basket to his grandson.  The young boy looked back over his shoulder where the orchard was busy with workers, most on ladders, all with overflowing carts full of fruit.

“Such a small basket?”

“Go”, he said, nudging him.  The boy bounded off to the first tree, and though he circled it, and stood on his tiptoes, there wasn’t an apple within reach.  He looked back where his grandfather stood with eyes closed and face tilted toward the fall sunlight.  Shrugging, he skipped to the next tree, his basket so light.  Again he circled, he stretched, none.   A dozen more trees.  A dozen after those. The workers higher up smiled and winked at one another and teased him about his empty basket.

The boy’s bottom lip protruded and his little muscles tensed and he looked angrily towards his grandfather, far off, who still stood enjoying the warmth of the sun, oblivious.  He gripped the basket’s handle tighter, and tighter yet, and in a fit of frustration, he dashed it to the ground.  It bounced away, so light, so empty.  A nearby roar drew his eyes; a worker dumping a large basket of apples into his cart.  He looked at the boy and winked.  And smirked.  The boy marched over to his basket, hot tears stinging his eyes.

“FINE…JUST GREAT.  I’ll try to find some stupid apples in my stupid basket even though all the stupid apples are so stupid high”, he huffed under his breath.  Then there it was, peeking out from behind a clump of leaves, an apple.  He gathered it angrily, but began looking closer at the dense clumps of leaves.  Maybe some more were hidden that the other workers missed.

An hour passed and he had worked his way through the whole orchard, and to his misery, he had only twelve apples.  He trudged his way back to where his grandfather stood, all of his excuses and complaints rising up his hot throat.  As he neared, his grandfather opened his eyes and smiled.  He looked into the basket and smiled again.

The boy misread the smile; he reacted, “THERE WERE HARDLY ANY APPLES THAT I COULD REACH!  Why didn’t you send me with a ladder or something?  All that for just twelve apples?!”

His grandfather’s smile faded and solemnly he asked, “Did you bring me what you could reach?”

“Yes”, huffed the young boy, by now a little embarrassed about his hollering.  “I brought you all that I could reach”.  He felt miserable, and he kicked the basket with the toe of his shoe.

“Well done”, said the grandfather, watching as his grandson’s shoulders relaxed with the affirmation, “Let’s go”.

The boy climbed up into their truck, the basket riding alongside him.  The small cab was soon filled with the sweet fragrance of the apples as they bumped along the dirt roads.  Instead of driving to his grandfather’s home, though, they were headed into town.

“Where are we going?”

“There’s a family that’s in need, lots of kids to feed.  We’ll take your apples there.”

The boy felt miserable all over again.  Such a small offering after all that searching and walking.  If only he’d had a ladder and a bigger basket, he could make a real difference.

They pulled up to a small house on the edge of town, three kids out playing on the grass with a tattered soccer ball.  As his grandfather turned off the rattling truck, more kids erupted from the house, followed by the mother with a toddler on her hip.  As his grandfather talked with the woman, he stood awkwardly with his small basket, eyes on the ground.

“My grandson brought a snack to share together,” he said, nudging his grandson and gesturing that he should pass out the apples.  The littles toddled over first, their eyes alight with happiness, “Apple!  Apple!”  He filled each set of dirty, cupped hands.  Then kids his own age came too and gladly accepted the fruit, biting in ravenously.  His basket was getting lighter again; he hoped there were enough.  When the hands had all been filled, there were three apples left.  He turned to the woman and offered her the rest.

“Oh, no son, we eat together when there’s food,” she said, reaching into the basket and taking one for herself and plopping the other two in her guests’ hands.  They all sat down on the grass and a chorus of crunching and satisfied slurping filled the space between them.  The boy felt his heart grow warmer.  They began kicking the ball around, and the boy joined in and they passed a number of hours in a rousing game.

As dusk neared they said their goodbyes and climbed up into the truck with light hearts and a light basket.  They rolled the windows down and felt the cool fall air on their faces as they drove home.

“Grandpa?”

“Yes, son, what is it?”

“Why didn’t we bring a ladder and a big basket so that we could bring them lots and lots of apples?”

His grandfather smiled, “You have to give what you can, even if it’s small.  It’s no use wanting a ladder and a big basket and a wagon and all that stuff if you just don’t have it.  You have to find what is yours to give, and then just give it.

“We can’t change their circumstances; we don’t have the means to, but we can be kind; we can offer what is ours to give, just as the orchard manager let us glean from the ones the harvesters missed.”  He grinned, “And weren’t those the sweetest apples you ever had?”

“Yeah, yeah they were,” said the boy, as the truck bumped over the ruts and his heart grew ever warmer.

…………………………………………………………………………..

My house is a wreck and we have dinner guests coming.  My back is in pain, and I can’t undo the wreck and make it pretty and presentable.  I’m stuck in this humbling circumstance, but the Lord spoke it to my heart, “Give what is yours to give.”

So I will not give a tidy home, nor a presentable yard; I will not give a good impression, nor my ego a soothing boost.  I will give a warm meal, I will give my smile, I will give my welcome.  I will give what is mine to give.