The society in which we live relentlessly drums into our brains that the only way to go is up.
Our culture values “upward mobility”, staying on a stable career path, appearing to our colleagues as a clever guy, rising in the professional ranks, succeeding in business, academics, sports and even our spiritual lives. Marketing experts tell us that we should become a recognized expert in a practice niche to stand out from the crowd. Heck, I’ve even said that to my readers.
We are promised success when we do things better than other people, say things other people don’t say and do it long enough to receive recognition, awards, and salary raises.
Every fiber of my being wants to move upward. To be a success. To make a difference in the world.
Yet one of the most profound mysteries of life is how voluntarily going down can be a means for our spiritual growth. We often grow spiritually more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.
The way of Jesus is radically different. He calls us to follow his example to voluntarily move downward. Recently I was confronted with my deep-seated resistance to let go of resentment to grasp contentment.
My father-in-law’s cognitive abilities have diminished quite rapidly in the past year. Anne’s mother is providing 24-7 assisted living and memory care. Their declining situation has needless to say put a tremendous strain on the family. Despite a heroic effort by their children to help them overcome a recent health crisis, they have resisted making any necessary changes.
It’s hard not to get angry at their stubbornness and let go of the inevitable consequences of not transitioning into assisted living before its too late.
In an intense conversation, Anne and I were talking about what might lie ahead this year and the disruption that will probably occur in our lives. The thought of helping them move out of their home is overwhelming. The uncertainty of their future frequently works it’s way into our psyches and communication.
We were vehemently sharing our thoughts back and forth about the amount of effort and time it’s going to take to clean out their house when I heard myself say,
“I don’t to give up my wife, nor do I want to give up my life”.
Later I thought about how I was going to deal with my apparent anger and resentment. I recalled a quote in a Henri Nouwen book I’m reading with a friend.
” One of the greatest temptations in life is to become resentful. The world is full of resentment. Resentment is the opposite of gratitude”.
The great mystery of the Incarnation is how God came downward and became one of us. At a critical time, Jesus obediently chose the way downwards.
He wrestled all night in anguish over his dilemma. Emotionally he didn’t want to do it. It required an extremely difficult selfless act.
But he chose to do it.
Out of compassion.
I saw that I had a choice. I could stand my ground, hold my position and not deal with my resentment.
Or I could choose to be grateful.
Out of compassion.
Even though my feelings haven’t caught up, I’m focusing on the positive memories we shared with her parents. I pray for them. I’m trying to love them by being grateful for the blessing they have been to our family.
Voluntary displacement downward frees us from being swept along by a river of messages to rise to the top or hustle to get ahead. Gratitude helps to deal with life’s raw disappointments and injustices without becoming resentful.
It is a discipline that helps us remember who we really are and helps us to keep in touch with gratitude and compassion.
Gratitude is the antidote to resentment.