When checking out at the grocery store the other day, I realized the cashier hadn’t given me the one plastic bag I’d asked for (at this store, you have to purchase each bag). I’d filled my two cloth bags and so I turned to the cashier to to ask for one, and what came out of my mouth was, “Uh, one bag?” She told me I hadn’t paid for one, to which I sarcastically snapped, “Well, I asked for one.”
I could tell the cashier wasn’t impressed. To clarify, I hadn’t meant to sound sarcastic or rude. I wasn’t having a bad day; in fact, it was a good morning. So why was my ad hoc response to a simple miscommunication delivered with such a rude tone?
We all live with this fundamental principle underscoring our entire worldview: I am the most important person in my life.
If I’m honest, this is what I believe and struggle against in every one of my relationships and interactions. I believe this is what prompted my response to the cashier. Though nothing was wrong, my response showed that I assumed that I was certain that I was right and she screwed up.
But let’s take things one layer deeper. I rarely see the people on the other side of the counter as a person with a name, a family, and their own struggles. Not to say I treat people in the service industry terribly (if I frequent a place, I try to get to know the staff), but my first thought is usually not, ‘how can I encourage this person like Jesus would?’
I saw this rather dramatically a few weeks ago at McDonald’s. It was busy and somewhere, someone messed up big. It disrupted the flow and the 19 year old manager (who’s never had management training, I’m sure) couldn’t get things back on track, resulting in chaos behind the counter. And nearly every customer proceeded to treat the staff terribly. Most noticeably, two large men were getting aggressively angry with the teenagers who were making minimum wage and have been poorly trained and by poorly trained managers (I’ve worked in fast food, including McDonald’s). For twenty minutes, every customer was a king and every employee a slave, scorned and berated.
The opening line to the New York Times bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life is, “It’s not about you.” Completely counter-intuitive, but if taken seriously, this constitutes a fundamental shift in our human psyche. In placing myself second, I position myself to recognize my own shortcomings, grow in love for others, and discover true greatness. Jesus never rebukes the desire for greatness, but tells us that whoever desires to be the greatest must become the servant of all.
To place ourselves in the position of second is to partake in the very nature of God.
This isn’t something that’s easy; it’s a pattern that grows with time, intention, self-examination, and daily interaction with a living God. But there is a deep joy that I have found in living my life for a greater purpose than Mark and his kingdom and desires.
I believe we were meant for something greater than ourselves. I believe that service is the key to greatness. And I am striving to believe more everyday that Christ’s purpose in my life is more about you than it is about me.