There is something in the human heart that wants to be exalted and noticed. We want to be seen and recognized. We want to be valued and treasured. I wonder how much of what we do in a given day is done with the primary intention of being exalted and recognized? By others.
How many conversations do we initiate and continue during the course of the day because our deep motivation is to be noticed? How many times do we take the time to look someone in the eyes — not because we have noticed him or her — but because we want him or her to notice us? We are weak and broken creatures, hungry for others to support and satisfy us. We are empty and we long to be filled. We want to matter again.
But we get into trouble every time we look to others to fill us.
A senior stopped my classroom after school today. We had a long talk. We talked about the difficulty of the looming college and career choices. We talked about how it gets tough because our choices are colored and shaped by intended and unintended motivations. Sometimes we choose things to prove something to others or to ourselves. We feel desperately compelled to construct a narrative of meaning around our lives. Without a story of significance, our lives swirl chaotically in a cess pool of meaningless and unconnected facts.
We want our lives to be exalted. We want the years of our lives to matter to someone. And so we pick spouses and friends, careers and cars, and even our daily conversations in order to add weight, significance and a meaningful story to our lives. Sometimes it works for a few years, months or hours.
David was tending sheep while his brothers were fighting an important war. I imagine some of those hours were spent wrestling against insignificance, boredom and bitterness. In Psalm 30, he cries out,
“What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me;
O Lord, be my helper.”
When there was no one around to notice him or support him, he had to wage battles against ferocious bears as well as against his own ferocious flesh. He had to come to a place of complete dependence on God alone, discover Him as the only true helper. He had to discover and internalize God’s faithfulness, instead of his own.
“Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” James 4:10
We often think the world needs to be grooming us and preparing us for greatness. But God has a way of working completely contrary to the ways of the world. He takes us through lonely and dangerous nights, when we don’t depend on any of the securities of the world. God knows there are giants in this age who will have to be taken down. But He needs humbled men and women who have detached themselves from importance and have instead chosen to rely on His Presence.
Forgive me, Lord, for inflating my presence. Give me the grace to look into the eyes of Your brokenhearted, even if they only stare back blankly at me like lost sheep. I can’t do that in my own strength because my strength desires to be exalted. Grant me the strength of vision it takes to keep my eyes on You — and not to look away, even as the story means for You to carry a cross this week, while the world spits on You, ridicules You and ultimately kills You.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
It is not easy to live and die like that. But we’ve seen how the Real Story ends. Easter changes everything. The new story matters enough to change how we look at everyone and everything. Especially at ourselves.