Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. (Romans 12:15 - 16)
I find these verses from this morning's daily office reading to be incredibly challenging. Why? Because they call upon me to focus outside myself in my daily living. They don't ask my opinion or encourage me to think about how I feel.
And not only that, but the last phrase was for most of my life one of the biggest stumbling blocks (among many) I've ever encountered. My husband likes to quote Buckminster Fuller: "Dare to be naive!" But I always wanted to at least seem to know what is going on all the time. I don't want to admit that I don't understand something or someone or some situation. I don't want to be found lacking in knowledge and insight. (And no, I don't like to ask for directions, either.)
In fact, I hate not knowing what's going on. I still remember times from my teens when others were talking something that I didn't know about. Did I ask? No, I nodded and agreed with them even as I was wondering what they heck they were talking about. I didn't want to be naive. I didn't want to be found lacking and be laughed at. And so, in that context, I didn't learn anything at all.
Ladies and gentlemen, the world is not all about me, no matter how much I want it to be. My feelings and foibles are not the most important thing going on in the world. My discomfort, my inward focus on that discomfort, or even my joy do not override the need for me to be present with those around me in a caring way. Living in harmony with others means I pay attention to them and their needs, not to the exclusion of my own (we all know people who burn out because they don't take care of themselves or those who are unhealthily focused on others) but at least in conjunction with my own.
In our quest to be authentic all the time, we sometimes think this means being brutally honest all the time. But the operative word here is "brutally." If our honesty is simply self serving (I can't rejoice with my friend because I'm upset about something in my own life), then our authentic self is being shown to be simply a self-absorbed self.
I recall a friend who complained, when our children were little, about the "self esteem movement." Her son, she said, has plenty of self-esteem. What he needs to learn is how to esteem others!
The world presses us to focus inward. And we do need to know ourselves and to make room within ourselves for the Spirit to speak. But the Christian life is lived in community, and a constant inward focus on oneself cannot build up the community. A constant need to be right, a constant fear of being laughed at simply stunts our personal growth and does nothing to build up the community, either.
And at the end of the day, that was always Paul's message in the letters that he wrote: We Christians are a community, and so let everything we do be about building up that community.