I never cease to be amazed at how life teaches us, if we let it. Or, as Paula D’Arcy writes, “God comes disguised to us as our lives.” Over the last couple of months a recurring subplot in my life has been humility…sometimes forced upon me, sometimes chosen, but always, ultimately, a place of privilege. It has happened like this:
This year, in fact this month, I reach the twenty-fifth anniversary of graduation from college. I went to a prestigious college and during those four years and beyond, I carry the mantle of achieving great success. There was an expectation that I would be a great something. No, not just anything. A great something that the world/US society valued. As the year progressed, I feel more and more dread. My day of reckoning, meeting up with fellow classmates and receiving the class report in the mail did arrive as expected. And as I expected, I did not show up as someone that was interesting or valued. Only one person in the room even asked me what I did. Somehow they sniffed it. I had not become something great. I was nobody.
Enter my ego, my false self, the one who tries with all her might to take center stage and be the boss of me. First, there is the feel-sorry-for-me play. This takes the form of the story, where I, the protagonist, suffer greatly because no one really understands me and the sacrifices I have made for my family. When that gets played out, next comes the pride and arrogance: I happen to have aged better than anyone in the room! Who else can say they have 3 grown children and fit quite nicely into a pair of size 0 jeans?!! Finally, there is my connection to a successful man who has achieved. Am I not the woman behind that man?! Do I not have considerable spending power?! Blah, blah, blah….
Fortunately, the Spirit does not let me get away with this crap for too long. I am reminded to breathe. To look into the eyes of the people right in front of me. To pay attention to their stories. I am reminded not to seek out the best seat at the banquet.
A few months later, I find myself literally at a banquet table, banished to a far end, seated next to children. As I gaze over toward the center of the table, at powerful, beautiful people, she rises up again, my false self. She plays out the stories again. She feels sorry for poor misunderstood me. She wallows in my nothingness. But now I have had plenty of practice. This time I focus right away on those seated with me. I laser in on their eyes and their words.
The next morning, there is still a residue of hurt and an unsettled feeling on my soul. I read my email and I find a comforting message. It is from Psalm 131. “I am quieted like a child at her mother’s breast.” It becomes a mantra for my day and the day after.
Later when I could look it up, I find the complete psalm. Its a rather short one and probably often overlooked. It reads:
Most gracious Presence, let me not be arrogant, nor boast of my virtuous deeds; Let me not seek fame or set my heart on the riches of the world. Help me to calm and quiet my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted, be so my soul. I shall be at peace in You, O Breath of my breath, from this time forth and forevermore.
I marvel at Jesus’ wisdom. At how he knew that the real place of privilege was at the end of the banquet table. I know that I still have so much to learn but I am grateful that I am nobody. I am grateful that my greatness comes in my union with the Greatest One. I am grateful to know that this union is a place of calm, quiet peace.