“For every one of you who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11
I have in my files a story from the New Orleans paper dated December 8, 1986 about a contest held near New Orleans. It was called “The Cutest Kid in the World Contest.” More than five hundred children were entered. Prizes included a trip to Disney World. It was botched from the beginning. Delays in starting lengthened. Frazzled families grew increasingly impatient, and finally one mother jumped up on the stage and screamed at one of the officials, “Where are the judges? When does my child get judged?”
The official, who was no doubt frazzled and impatient herself by now, unwisely said, “If you want a trophy why don’t you just come up here and grab one?” Scores of parents decided to do exactly that. Some with small children in tow stormed the stage. Some men fought over the larger trophies. One loving father who wanted only the best for his cutest kid tore the largest trophy away from other parents and staggered down the aisle, carrying it like the Stanley Cup. Others scrambled for smaller trophies scattered over the stage.
That was nearly 30 years ago. I wonder about that biggest trophy. Does it sit enshrined on a mantle somewhere in south Louisiana? Does the victorious father point it out to the now grown child and say, “you won the cutest kid the world contest!” I wonder if the kid ever found out the trophy doesn’t mean a thing.
What drives this?
We all are seeking significance. We want to be important and respected. We want to know that we are here for a purpose and there is meaning and substance in our lives.
The tragedy of course is that we go about trying to meet these legitimate needs in all the wrong ways. We collect little trophies, scramble for chief seats, crave little tid-bits of recognition and long for fifteen minutes of fame. At some point we discover to our dismay that fifteen minutes of fame is nothing against the back-drop of eternity. None of the scraps mean a thing and they never did. Instead of finding significance, we rush to embrace emptiness.
The self-centered life pushes God to the periphery. Passions reign. Grace is an afterthought. Success in the shallowest sense of the word is ours, but it is fleeting. Life soon breaks the strongest self, and if that is all we relied on then we are dust.
At some point we may learn. All the sexiness we so valued, all the accomplishments we carefully chronicle on our resumes, all the approval of friends, peers and superiors will come to naught when we find ourselves at the bedside of a dying loved one. His body is wracked with pain and ridden with disease. You will take a cold washcloth and wipe her forehead. You will spoon feed him soup or ice. You will hold her shoulders during violent spasms of sickness and clean up afterward. You will hold her hand, kiss her forehead and whisper, “I am here for you, no matter what.”
You will have no more important appointments to keep, no meetings, no seminars, no chief seats, no urge to surpass others no matter the cost. Your entire life will be defined by the needs of another person. Perhaps then, for the first time in your life, all the layers will be stripped away. Instead of trying so hard to make something of yourself, you will try only to help and serve someone else.
At that moment, God will have the real you. And you will be exalted.
Dr. Terry Ellis
March 7, 2015