Recently, I landed on a blog site and under the section of “More about me” the author wrote the following, “I use to want to change the world. Now I would just like to leave the room with a little dignity.” I’m sure all of us have daydreamed from time to time about changing the world. Maybe it was imagining ourselves larger than life as a rock star or movie star. Perhaps we daydream of being a charismatic leader, triumphing over some ominous injustice or evil that is threatening the existence of world. Maybe daydreams of being president, a doctor, or lawyer. Or maybe of being a bishop or even pope – then I could really change the world.
But then reality sets in as I look around my own little ho-hum world and the not so glamorous or exciting people in it and my daydreams just melt away. I find myself faced with the never ending stream of bills to pay, the mortgage payment, the mind-numbing traffic jams, the death of a friend from AIDS, the grisly evening news, my sister’s breast cancer, the dirty dishes, and oh yeah, the laundry needs to be done too. There too are the everyday faces of those who commit unspeakable violence, the innocent faces of the poor, and the smug faces of self-proclaimed “righteous” ones who can so easily pass judgment on others. Making it though the day unscathed by major mistakes or breakdowns and with some semblance of self-respect and dignity, can often seem like a major accomplishment. Thoughts of Christmas can seem like just any other day of the year.
The truth of the matter is that God built me to be with people – my family, my co-workers, my parishioners, my fellow citizens, my people. That includes those I would just as soon not be around: Those who have hurt me. People I resent. Folks who’ve been unfair, judgmental, and blaming toward me. Those who have wronged me. Those who hate me because of who and what I am. I don’t often admit that it is tough for me to hang in there with these, my people. Sometimes even my seeming to accept or tolerate them collapses under the weight of my false self. I even try to kid myself into believing that I can save the world, and somehow, somewhere, do enough stuff right to become acceptable and right with God.
But God calls me over and over again to make a space, to crack open a place in my busy life, to break through my ego’s facade to hear the Advent message of hope, love, and mercy in a crazed and noisy world. If I can listen deep enough, if I can crack open my heart wide enough, I can hear the Advent message in the everyday work of love – finding the patience to be with an annoying person who happens to need my help. The courage to not attack or fight back against those who have hurt or wronged me. Digging deep into my soul for the grace to love those who dislike or hate me. God’s unceasing invitation is to get my false-self out of the way and accept that my entire life and being comes from my dependence on God, as opposed to some hypocritical, self-righteous notion that somehow I can save myself.
“In this life we cannot do great things” said St. Mother Teresa. “We can only do small things with great love.” I don’t need to change the world. Jesus has already done that. But I do need to change my world. If I can allow the ordinary and common events in my everyday life to be infused with great love, then at the end of the day, leaving the room with some dignity is not about surviving life. It’s knowing that the Incarnation has changed everything and my dignity in being a child of God is anything but ordinary and common.