Luke 17:33 “Those who keep their lives will lose them; those who would lose their lives, preserve them.”
The paradox of faith is that we discover our lives by giving them away. In sharp contrast with many of the advertising messages circulating around us, it is the giving away and not the hoarding of ourselves that is the way we understand and experience abundant life. The heart of conversion, the movement of holiness, the model of Jesus and the understanding of what God is doing in creation is to give life away. The great spiritual models of history are those who shared their treasure, their power, their homes, their gifts, their talents, their lives. And, most often–in fact, without exception– their sharing extended into the lives of those who most often were neglected.
With these words: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” Jesus is actually giving us a definition of human maturity. The mature man or woman, the mature boy or girl, the mature teen-ager are those who have managed through some kind of great grace to be able to freely give their lives away.
Maturity, then, is not a matter of age. There are, in fact, mature children. Maturity is not a matter of being fiscally responsible. In fact, many of the great saints were pathetic in their inability to manage resources; they often gave more away than what is prudent. Maturity is not a matter of holding down a job and having a nice house in the respectable suburbs, and going to the opera. In fact, all those things might well be a sign of immaturity. Immaturity is self-absorption, it’s prudence and fear of the future, which of course defines our preoccupation with retirement accounts, and stock portfolios. Maturity is generosity that borders on reckless. Maturity is humility born of the act of giving away our ego. Maturity is compassion that is the proof that one is free enough to love, to take on and take in the wounds of another.
The mature people in your community are not necessarily those who dress nice. They are not necessarily those who own their own businesses. They are not necessarily those who think important thoughts and smoke pipes. The mature people are those who give their lives away. They are those who are generous with their money. They are those who care about and advocate for the elderly, who care about and advocate for those with disabilities, who care about poverty and advocate on behalf of low-income communities. They are those who can speak to an issue without having to win, without having to fuss if the world doesn’t go their way. They are those who can contribute to this community and not worry about being recognized. They are those who have endured criticism without concern for retaliation. They are those who want for the good of everyone, even if it means less for themselves.
So, in some ways, the choice is before us all. Do we want to be mature or immature? Do we want to squander our lives on self-preservation or drink deeply from life in the adventure of self give-away?
And I guess it’s the farmer in me that always needs to ask the question “how?” How am I going to get watermelons to grow? How am I going to get water to this field or that? So, in this case, how do any of us ever grow to ever more generous postures in our lives? Well, I certainly don’t know all the answers, but I will give you one hint from personal experience.
The most potent spiritual life is always aware of what I will call the comfort zone. In other words, there is a place where I am comfortable with respect to giving away myself, and there is a place where I am obviously uncomfortable. The spiritual adventure is lived with an eye on the dividing line. And our task is to be about stepping just a little over the dividing line into the discomfort zone. For example, I know folks who are just the most committed advocates for children with disabilities. But they have a disdain for street people, thinking of them as lazy and opportunistic. Well, to employ the strategy of the comfort zone, the path to maturity is to spend 20 minutes at the homeless center. Just 20 minutes. And then see what happens. And then 40 minutes. And after they discover–and they will–the real hurt that is homelessness, they will be transformed. And then it will be no problem to spend all day with those who are homeless, in friendship and solidarity.
All of us have places we don’t want to go. We have broken relationships we don’t want to admit, we have financial insecurities we try to justify. And we must look at the dividing line between our comfort and the beckon of love, and try to step over. All the while, pray to the God who wants life for us all that we might be graced with courage and faithfulness. Because what is at stake is maturity. And maturity, finally, is a glimpse of God.