Parishioner Robert Propst wrote and read this reflection for one of our Sunday evening contemplative services.
Jesus asks in the Gospel of Mark, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
Whenever I hear that passage, it always reminds me of a story involving my dad.
When I was a kid – 11, 12 years old, somewhere in there – I was telling my father about how I had gained an advantage over a classmate at school by some slightly devious means. I don’t remember now exactly the circumstances, but basically, I had tricked someone and come out on top in a situation at their expense. I remember my buddies were impressed with my little stunt and I was pretty proud of what a clever guy I was. Because it was such an innocent little thing, nothing more than playground mischief, really, I decided I’d tell my father because I wanted him to know how clever I was, too.
My dad, who by the way, was not a man of nuance – he believed in getting right to the point – listened to my story, considered it for a minute, and then said to me, “And that’s what you’re willing to sell some of your soul for?”
His assessment seemed a little harsh to me and I didn’t understand what he meant, really. For me, at that age, selling your soul conjured up ideas of making a deal with the devil at midnight in the graveyard. That’s all I could come up with, and I asked if that’s what he meant.
My father said, “No… no, that’s not how it works at all.” He said, you don’t sell your soul all at once in one big transaction. You sell it off a little bit at a time, in little bargains and seemingly little harmless compromises and justifications. It’s an incremental thing, and in my case, he said, I’d been willing to sell a little bit of my soul for the cheap admiration of some of my friends.
He warned me that as I went through life there would be lots of shiny objects out there that the world says are good… money, attention, power, status, toys, all kinds of toys, and if I wasn’t careful, I could lose my soul, little by little, chasing after them. And then he said something that didn’t mean much to me at the time but has come to mean a good deal since – “It will be one endless chase because you can’t ever get enough of the things you don’t need.”
He was right, of course, my dad; you can’t ever get enough of the things you don’t need. But despite his good advice, it didn’t stop me from trying. I spent plenty of time in my life with my priorities out of whack, chasing things the world insists are important, and losing some of myself along the way. That’s easy to do when you’re not guided by something larger than yourself.
And then, eight years ago, my soul exhausted by this world, a total stranger to this church or any church, I wandered into this very service one evening… I sat right back there in a pew… and from that moment on, things in my life have changed. Now I come to this place and I kneel down before God and pray things like “Thank you” and “Help” and “Forgive me for the things I’ve done and the things I’ve left undone.” With God’s help, I get much needed guidance for my journey, and I make a little progress in becoming the person He created me to be. Nothing the world has to offer can restore my soul like that.