Friday, February 19, 2010

My birthday is coming soon

In Rom 12:3 Paul implores the believers in Rome not to be conceited nor to think too highly of themselves. In doing this he warns them against one of the oldest sins in the book, the so called “hubris” (pride), or what the church fathers named “superbia” - that is the very human inclination to see yourself as bigger and stronger and more important than you really are or ought to be; to be overly boastful and proud, to glory in your own gifts, achievements, contacts…and in the process look down upon others, think yourself better, smarter, more glamorous and even more pious and godly than they are. We all know how subtle and sweet this allurement of the “hubris” can be.

There is however another kind of sin, a perhaps more subtle temptation for the believers and that is that they think too little of themselves. This, in the words of Jesus, refers to an inclination to hide our light under the proverbial bushel, to live a life of constant apology - as if we have no inner dignity, possess no special quality or presence, don’t really belong where the others are. In fact, in “Eternal Echoes” John O’Donohue reminds us “the Western tradition of sinfulness and selfishness has trapped many people all their lives in a false inner civil war. Fearful of vaulting themselves in any way, they have shunned their own light and mystery”.

It is because so many Christians fall into this trap of playing too small, of embracing a false humility, that in Romans 12 Paul reminds them of their special gifts and their part in the body of Christ. He emphasises that although they should be modest, it has to be in accordance with the faith (and dignity) that God has given them (v 3). And he reminds them that this should be shared with others (v 10,13)

My wife has a younger colleague who understands this well. She is not overly confident, but she is aware that she is intelligent, charming, gifted and special – she also has a special sense of humour and sensitivity to false or sincere social positioning. One of her very endearing habits is to remind her colleagues and friends when her birthday is coming up. A month before the special day she writes it in glowing colours on the whiteboard in the staff room: “Remember, 25 days to L’s birthday!” And then, almost like with the upcoming worldcup soccer, she counts down the days: ”24, 23, 22, 21, etc.days to go”…until the big day when there are cakes and candles!

Many may find such an exuberant announcement of one’s own birthday rather awkward. But this friend has a different perspective: she enjoys the celebration of her birthday, and says if you do not tell people, they will not know – and mostly feel bad afterwards if they forgot or missed it! This shows the beauty and freedom of dignity, of a person who knows that she is somebody special and does not hesitate to claim and share it. As O’Donohue puts it: “When you have a worthy sense of yourself, this communicates itself in your physical presence and personality”.

So how about claiming your birthright and reminding us when your birthday is due, so that we can share in another happy return!

Carel Anthonissen

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