A Virtuous Man
He’s a good man, and he prides himself on treating others – all of them – with honesty and fairness. And he’d had one of those weeks. You know. One of those weeks where the car dealership cheated him on repairs, a coworker backstabbed him and a love interest lied to him…AGAIN. And in an unusual (for him) moment of frustration, he remarked, “WHAT is even the POINT? There’s no place for a man of virtue in this world!”
Now, I’m a fairly optimistic person. I see the good in people much of the time, and I work hard to cultivate compassion the other times.
EXCEPT IN JANUARY.
I typically spend the first week of January talking about how AWESOME the New Year is going to be. (This year I pronounced my 2018 tag line to be “Level Up!” and danced around singing “All I see is green lights!”) Then one morning mid-month I wake up and realize I’m still me, and I spend the rest of the month pouting about it. So January is not the best month for me to have a discussion about why-people-do-mean-things. But I WENT THERE anyway.
We talked for a while about the struggle to be a good person when others are not, or when it goes unnoticed, unappreciated or even scoffed at…We engaged in some half-hearted speculation about exchanging a commitment to virtue for an every-man-for-himself attitude…
You know, we talked about life.
I fumbled for advice to give my friend, because he’s agnostic (AND it was JANUARY). I treasure the agnostics and atheists in my life. They push me, they make me think, they make me BE REAL. They make me uncomfortable when they say irreverent things like, “Soooooo…God killed His own son for the bad shit I’m going to do? Awesome parenting right there.” But they also help me SEE things, and the things I SEE make me think long and hard about the things I THINK and SAY about Jesus of Nazareth.
So, as my friend is always honest with me, I decided to be honest with him, and simply said,
“Well, it’s different for me. Because when those things happen to ME, they suck, but I can at least discuss them with Jesus.” I paused, then added, “I’m motivated to follow His code.”
NOW MURPHY’S LAW CLEARLY STATES
After you tell an agnostic that Jesus is a comfort to you…
I had a crappy week. One person misunderstood my motive when I reached out with a sincere act of kindness, my boss misjudged me and someone close to me was shockingly unkind. (AND DID I MENTION IT WAS JANUARY?!?!)
SO OF COURSE I took it to JC.
And I prefaced my list of complaints with this:
“At least it won’t be like it is for my agnostic friend, will it, Jesus? Because I have you.”
I listed my complaints. I added some in. I had a regular old rock-n-roll rant of injuries from/disappointments in my fellow man. And then I waited expectantly for ‘The Feeling’ to settle over me and for Jesus’ words of response.
AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT JESUS SAID?
He said nothing.
“Hey, Jesus.” I said. “You there? Where’s ‘The Feeling’?” <awkward pause> “I mean…feeling you there is kinda the reward…You know that, right?”
Thinking perhaps Jesus didn’t fully understand how upset I was, I ran through my list of complaints again. I stressed how upset I was.
“But Jesus,” I urged, “surely there must be something more for me, WHO BELIEVES IN YOU, than for an agnostic. Right? I mean …”
Like a child winding up for a temper tantrum because she isn’t getting the M&Ms she wants, I felt myself start to boil.
“So I’m just supposed to be kind and work hard and just…nothing?!?!? Not even YOU? WHAT IS EVEN THE POINT?” (Reeeeemember…I told you I behave badly in January.)
Suddenly I flashed back to my friend’s protest, his words echoing in my head. And I realized, startled, that I was RIGHT where he had been…
I let it all sink in. My friend’s words, my past week’s experiences, my anger, my frustration… and my present ‘lack of Jesus.’ I sat with it for awhile, and finally my anger and indignation dissipated. I heaved a huff of a sigh, shrugged and announced to the empty room:
“Wellscrewit. I don’t care. I’m not changing for anyone. I’m just gonna keep doing it anyway.”
I felt humor ripple through me, and THAT’S when I knew Jesus was there. It was in THAT moment that I felt 'The Feeling.' And I realized, as a calm crept over me, that I had been given a very special gift. Today’s lesson wasn’t about Jesus. It was about me.
I was able to see that beyond my hurt feelings, beyond my reward-seeking behavior was…The Other Me. The ME that Jesus and I have been working on.
And the ME that we’ve been working on is much braver and much stronger – and runs far deeper -- than a child screaming for the next piece of candy from the spiritual-reward Pez dispenser.
As soon as February hit, I returned to ask my agnostic friend what he had concluded about our conversation. He said his favorite band, (Enter Shikara) had a lyric in the song “Airfield” that would answer my question. Here’s that quote:
“Through adversity hope must not become a casualty.”
I found his response… profoundly beautiful.
The next morning, I'm thinking about all of this, musing over my experience, and my agnostic friend’s experience. “All I Have” is playing on Houston's NGEN Radio, and when NF spits the line
“I’m in a place where I can't let go”
I realize that both myself and my virtuous friend are in a place where we can’t let go. And maybe that’s what a profound commitment to good/God looks like…
You get to a place where you can’t let go. You will keep on keeping on.
It delights me that somehow the Good Universe brought BOTH me and my agnostic friend to the same place.
As NF would say,
Don’t tell me that this isn’t real.
HAPPY NOT-JANUARY, my friends! Be your Other Self and Keep. The. Code.