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!
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
“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.