Today I was shocked by my own selfish hypocrisy.
Let me be clear: this is not an unusual state. Like every other human being on the planet, it’s pretty much my default. It’s just sometimes it’s so obvious and blatant it takes my breath away.
I went to the carwash. There were two lanes. The car in front was mostly in the inner lane, but sort of straddling both lanes, the driver taking a punt each way so he could go into whichever carwash finished first. I noted this as I pulled up in the outer lane. While we sat waiting, another woman pulled up behind us, sort of behind me but in the inner lane (because of the way the man’s car was angled, neither of us could get properly into a lane). Of course, the man fulfilled my expectation and cut in front of me to take the carwash that finished first. As I grumbled about how rude he was, I pulled over into the other lane to take the next carwash, in the process cutting off the other woman in exactly the same way I had just been cut off. She beeped me and waved her arms around and I waved my arms back, indignant. Couldn’t she see I was here first? Why does she think she has the right to get the next carwash when I got here first? I’ve been here at least two whole minutes longer than her! And we sat there, side by side in our lanes, if not fuming then at least harbouring ill-will towards the other, for the next 15 minutes.
The longer I sat there the worse I felt.
Of course, this story is a tiny, piddling example, but amplified, it is the core of what is wrong with us, as humans – each one of us has him or herself at the centre, and anything that threatens or encroaches upon that is an injustice and requires retribution. The biblical ideal is to treat others as we would be treated ourselves, not to mistreat them the way we’ve been mistreated. In this case, the woman hadn’t even done anything to me, but I was reacting badly because someone else had wronged me. If I had not cut her off, perhaps the woman wouldn’t even have noticed, but by pushing in I definitely brought stress and angst into both our days, and I definitely wasn’t behaving in an other-person-centred, generous way (and the man who started it all was probably completely unaware).
It brought to mind the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35, where a servant who has been forgiven a huge debt to his master immediately goes out and beats up a fellow servant for not being able to pay back a small debt. I don’t want to be that servant, in the big things or the tiny things of life. I have been forgiven and given much by Jesus; I can afford to be open and generous and servant-hearted. But left to my own devices, there is no way I would ever become that kind of person. That’s why I’m so glad he’s given his Spirit to do the work of changing me, to make me want what he wants, to keep directing my gaze off myself and onto him.