It’s 8:15am. I’m on the corner of Granville St. and Nelson St. on Sunday morning. There is no traffic. The orange stop hand is illuminated. “Don’t walk!” I’m waiting to cross the street. On the other side of the street, a woman waits as well. She notices me, I notice her. She clearly notices my clerical collar. Together, we once again take note of the absence of any cars. And there we stand, playing crosswalk chicken. By the look on her face, she was surely thinking, “Will the priest jay walk?” And I can tell, if I do it she’s totally going to do it too. I don’t. But only because I want to set a good example. If I was by my lonesome, I absolutely would have. She would have too.
How often do we simply do what’s right but for the wrong reasons?
A few years ago, if you wanted to see my true colours, all you would have had to do is listen to me talk to a customer service representative on the phone. It wouldn’t matter what company. It wouldn’t matter if I loved their product. If I felt wronged, all common courtesy and respect for human dignity went out the window. I was horrid.
I remember the first time Julia saw me berate a customer service rep on the phone during the first year of our marriage. Our cell phone provider had duped me in a dubious duping way. I lost my temper. I made demands. I persisted in my belligerence until I got my way. I got it. But I also got a mouthful from Julia afterwards too. She asked me “How on earth can you talk to someone like that?” but her eyes said “Who the hell did I marry?!”
It was a needed wakeup call.
Since that fateful day, I have never talked to a customer service representative without an ample amount of feigned respect and courtesy.
Everything we do — the rules we keep, abstaining from wrong, seeking what is right, doing good — it is only pleasing to God when it’s done for God, because we love God for who he is and what he has done in Christ Jesus.
Seven years later, we went through, what I’ve titled, “the great flood of 2014.” Our home was wrecked by an unfortunate mishap. A trade worker busted a pipe. For the past three months (and counting) I’ve been dealing with insurance companies. God help me. And Julia has observed countless hours of my time wasted away on the phone dealing with this situation. If there has ever something to make me emotionally distressed, this would do it. If there has ever been a reason to lose my temper with someone on the phone, this would be it. Given the ordeal, it could even be excusable and perhaps even understandable if I did. But I haven’t. I’ve been kind. I’ve been thoughtful. I’ve been trying to get to know the people we’re working with. I ask them how they’re doing.
It has all the makings of an extreme makeover.
And Julia has noticed the difference.
Just the other day she said to me, “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown when it comes to dealing with customer service people.”
But I knew she was just admiring the glossy exterior. I confessed, “No. I’ve just become a better manipulator. You see, I realized that being cruel and unkempt towards people doesn’t really help you much. If you’re kind, if you’re courteous, if you care about them, it’s far easier to get them to do what you want — and quicker too.”
It was a sobering confession.
I haven’t changed much.
Once again, just like not jay walking, I’m doing the right thing but for the wrong reasons.
It makes me wonder how often we may truncate our relationship with God because we settle for this pseudo-goodness. We look in a carnival-like mirror that presents a false image of who we really are. But in this instance, we prefer what it shows us. But if we look at our motivations, if we have a clear reflection of what really drives us, what would we see? Our relentless desire to advance in our career? Our drive to maintain appearances? Our fear of doing the wrong thing? The guilt or shame or fear of failure that drives us?
I once heard Tim Keller say something along these lines, “If you feel like hitting someone in the head with a rock, do whatever it takes to stop yourself from doing that. Tell yourself ‘I’ll go to jail’ or tell yourself ‘it’s wrong.’ Whatever it takes, don’t do it! But don’t ultimately settle for these false-motivations. You may need to use them, but they can never replace the fact that your heart needs to be addressed and healed.”
St. Paul encourages us with these words, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Any good and right thing we do is supposed to be done in response to who Jesus is. It’s supposed to flow out of our hearts. It’s the difference between buying your wife flowers out of duty or buying them in response to your love for her.
If we can admit that we do the right things, but driven by all the wrong reasons, we’re actually doing something right. We’re opening ourselves up to God in a vulnerable, needy way. We’re making a true assessment of ourselves before him. Encountering his profound acceptance and goodness in our messy hearts is the only thing that will heal our broken motivations. Truly experiencing God’s grace ultimately drives us to do the right things for the right reasons.
Only through an experience of God’s grace — an encounter of it over and over and over gain — will we finally do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus. Everything we do, the rules we keep, abstaining from wrong, seeking what is right, doing good — it is only pleasing to God when it’s done for God, because we love God for who he is and what he has done in Christ Jesus. As Paul concludes in Colossians 3:17, we “give thanks to God the Father through him.”