Last week I made the long, challenging trip home. The trip was long and challenging in two ways. First, the trip involved driving 1,202 miles over nearly 19 hours. Second, it involved a considerable amount of soul-searching.
That soul-searching helped me realize several things. One of those things was that my primary goal in life has changed considerably since I was a young person raised in my small hometown of approximately 1,5000 people.
When I was young, my primary goal was to be a nice guy. On the surface, that goal sounded pretty good. As the years passed, however, I realized that there was a dark side to being nice. Being nice often meant doing things like not speaking one’s truth, for fear it might upset someone; not questioning the status quo, for fear it would offend those whom had created it; and not setting healthy boundaries, for fear those boundaries could be perceived of as me being selfish and ignoring the needs of others.
Over the past 30 years, the word “nice” has become a four-letter word to me.
So what has taken its place as my primary goal?
My newer goal is to be Christ-like. That goal might sound pretty simple and straight forward – but it’s not. For being Christ-like involves doing things that are opposite of being nice.
Take the whole “speaking one’s truth” thing. Jesus knew very clearly what was expected of folks in his day. He knew, for instance, that a nice person was expected to follow the leading of the religious and political figures of the day. And yet from the first time he stood up in the Temple and spoke his truth (i.e. in Luke 4:21 when he stood up and said “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”) In that moment, Jesus showed that he and his followers should say what needed to be said; not what others want to hear.
Jesus also presented a challenge to the “not questioning the status quo” thing as well. Jesus knew very well, for instance, that if was frowned upon for Jewish men to engage foreign women. And yet when the Syrophoenician woman approached him and begged for healing for her daughter, what did Jesus do? He not only engaged the woman; he healed her daughter – thereby obliterating the social norms of his day. Jesus also knew that his religious tradition forbit individuals from doing work on the Sabbath – including healing. And yet when Jesus approached the man with the shriveled hand outside the Temple on the Sabbath (as told in Mark 3:1-6), what did Jesus do? He violated the laws of the status quo and healed the man. I could give countless examples of how Jesus questioned the status quo, but I think you get the point.
Finally, there’s the matter of setting healthy boundaries. When word began to spread about Jesus’ ability to bring healing and wholeness to those who were sick, there was no end to the work that Jesus could have done. Many probably expected Jesus to work non-stop.
So what did Jesus do?
Luke 5:15-16 tell us something rather unexpected. “News of [Jesus] spread even more and huge crowds gathered to listen and to be healed from their illnesses. But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.” What a marvelous thing that Jesus modeled for us: that if we want to care for others, we must set boundaries on our time and energy in order to re-charge our batteries. Only then can we return to the work God has called us to do.
So when I say my goal in life is now to be Christ-like, perhaps you can now see what a dangerous goal that is. One might even go so far as to say, being Christ-like is the opposite of being nice: for being Christ-like means speaking one’s truth boldly; challenging the status quo when it becomes an impediment to the in-breaking of God’s reign; and setting clear and healthy boundaries that balance the needs of others with your own needs.
I’ve taken a moment and reflected on how my goal in life has shifted over the years. I’m curious about you. As you think back to your spiritual journey, how have your goals for life shifted or evolved?