Prepared for our local paper, The Border Watch.
Peak-hour traffic is relative.
In Mount Gambier it’s the seven or eight cars in front of me waiting at the Jubilee Highway – Wehl Street roundabout. In Brisbane it’s nose to tail traffic for kilometres for three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening.
And yet the experience of Brisbane peak hour doesn’t alleviate the frustration I feel when waiting for the cars in front of me on Wehl Street to get through the roundabout in Mount Gambier. I still think they’re too slow and miss gaps in the highway traffic.
Knowing that someone somewhere else is doing worse than you doesn’t always help you in your current experience. Perhaps you were told to eat the dinner you didn’t like for the sake of starving children in Africa. Despite a childish inability to truly empathise with that tragic reality, the prompt to think of others worse off never made dinner taste any better.
The tendency to find comfort or motivation for our own situation by thinking of worse situations is a temptation that seldom offers satisfying fruit.
It doesn’t develop our own sense of empathy for others, and depends on negative emotions such as guilt to compel us to our action. This won’t deepen relationships with those around us, nor will it grow our own senses of responsibility and self-discipline.
Instead we need to ask ourselves what our impatience points out about ourselves. What sense of privilege encourages us to believe we should be free of frustrations that are common to all? Why would we want to exert power and influence over others on the basis of negative emotions instead of investing the time to motivate them through trust and conviction?
The answers to these questions might cause us some discomfort, but they point the way to areas where we need to grow. Our own growth will then equip us to better serve others as we focus on their needs rather than seeking to influence their behaviour in order to make us feel better.
Those who are specially focussing on following Jesus during the weeks leading up to Easter can reflect on this principle as well.
It wouldn’t be helpful to think of activities being done, or other activities refrained from, in terms of wanting to make Jesus happy or being in fear of disappointing him.
It’s true that Jesus told his disciples that their love for him would be demonstrated in keeping his commandments; he also bid them to take up their crosses and follow him. But in doing so Jesus was not implying that a life following him was lived in fear of his frown; or that those who follow him should be mindful that whatever they’re going through Jesus went through worse.
Jesus doesn’t need validation from his disciples’ obedience or reassurance that their actions seem to hold him in high enough regard.
Christian faith holds that Jesus has done everything needed to bring forgiveness and freedom to his disciples. He bids those who follow him to do so for their sake, not his.