1 John 5:14-21
It may be a result of being one of ten children, or it may be in the genes I inherited from my driven type-A father. Regardless of its origins, I have a competitive streak. I want to be exceptionally good at whatever I do. I strive for perfection, preparing endlessly and working very hard. This is both an advantage and a nemesis. It allows God to use me in many ways and most of the time I feel humbled and privileged to be God’s instrument. At other times, though, my shadow side breaks through.
When that happens, I am tempted to compare myself to others in unhealthy ways. I feel envy creeping in when someone else’s presentations or classes receive higher ratings than mine. I find myself evaluating and critiquing liturgies, lectors, teachers, speakers, and anyone else who has a skill I also possess. I have to fight my desire to be recognized and rewarded for the work I do. When I’m on a team, I get too impatient with people who are not working as hard as I am, and I often take over the tasks assigned to others because I want them to be done "right". I find myself being overly critical of another’s successes. In short (and to my profound embarrassment), I realize that I want others to decrease so I can increase.
It is too easy to forget that all my abilities were given to me from heaven, and that it is only the grace of God working through me that touches people’s hearts and changes their lives. Even when I do achieve something or am recognized for my abilities, I cannot take all the credit myself. Our gracious, loving God has given me many gifts, and God keeps placing opportunities in my lap that allow me to choose to use them. I hope I am using them well, but God is the focal point and destination, not me. God is God, and I am clearly not.
John’s gospel today is a relevant and pointed lesson. John had created quite a name for himself. He achieved "success" in the eyes of the world and was recognized as a force in the society. Yet he gladly and humbly steps aside for Jesus, whom he knows is greater than he. His followers are concerned by all the attention Jesus is getting, especially when they see people going to Jesus to be baptized instead of coming to John. Yet when John sees people flock to Jesus, he is happy and proclaims that his joy is complete.
My challenge is to counter my shadow side with John’s gospel. As it so aptly reminds me, God is the source of everything I have, everyone I love, and everything I own. Nothing I have and nothing I have done would be possible without God. In this new year, may I be even more aware that in all I do, I am an instrument of Someone bigger than myself. God must increase and I must decrease. It is only in that way that my joy may become complete.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.