Lenten Journey Day 19 – Ego
We are at the third week of Lent. It has been a good journey. We have had time to look inward, to contemplate, meditate and pray. We have restricted our diets as well as restricted idle conversation. We are feeling good. The changes we are making are starting to impact others, our families our surroundings, our work environment, our communities and therefore, our world.
Now we start understanding that real changes come from within. Perhaps it is the only thing we can alter in this world, because it is the only thing in which we have complete control. God places that control in our hands. He gives us this life and He allows us to live it the way we wish.
We conclude this week by looking at one more dimension in the story of the Prodigal Son, namely the ego dimension. You see, all of our difficulties in life stem from the ego. It is for this reason that all major religions, true religions, ask you to lose the ego as part of their spiritual discipline. For the Christian we are reminded of Jesus’ words, “ He who loves his life will lose it and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it for eternal life.”
Take a look at great people who have impacted society and life and are recorded in history in a very positive manner. You’ll find something very similar among all of their biographies. They have been willing to sacrifice themselves. They have given of themselves. Now, do not mistake this for low self esteem or low self worth. People who impact life in a positive manner have a very positive image of themselves, but they are also willing to sacrifice because that positive self image is not a false one nor is it built on false pride.
False pride is very easy to acquire. Especially going through some of the Lenten rituals, as we are doing now, it is very easy to confidently boast, “Look at me, I am doing something that others can’t do.” In that statement we forget the reason for the Lenten season. In other words, the means become the focus of our actions rather than the end or goal of our efforts. The goal of Lent is to better ourselves and therefore better our relationships and our world. In the same way, we can think of our dietary restrictions during Lent. There is a reason for us to abstain from animal products. It is not only for the sake of lowering our cholesterol or our weight, but it is to keep things on an even playing field, understanding what is essential in our lives.
Think of the great people who have impacted the world. Now focus on the great people in your own life. They may be a parent or a teacher, a mentor. You will find again that these have been the ones who have been willing to put themselves second to better the lives of others, be they their children, their husbands, their wives, their country, their society or their community. Whatever the case, in the sacrifice that they made ego was contained. Ego was put on hold so that others were allowed to prosper.
To raise children, to support a husband or a wife, to deal with aging parents, to offer love and affection to people around, requires sacrifice. Many times in church life we need volunteers to get jobs done. Sometimes we think, would it not be easier if we paid people to work in these positions? Certainly it would be easier, but the real power of getting things done in the church is by volunteers, because in volunteerism the ego has to be suppressed.
When you get down on your knees and wipe the floors of a church you are acknowledging that there is something greater than yourself there that needs to be served. When you volunteer to help in community organizations, in organization that have goals that are striving for peace or world justice, you are placing a greater-than-sign (>) between the purpose and yourself. In volunteering, the ego gets left behind. You are not as important as the we.
In the story of the Prodigal Son the younger brother is driven by ego. He wants his inheritance, not for some community project, not to better the lives of other people but to enjoy himself. Quickly we see that when the money runs out and so does the enjoyment. His friends back off. There is no intrinsic value to the things he acquired. He was driven by ego and he lost the value of life.
Think about all of the difficulties you have in your life, can you trace them back to ego? Think about the very basic seven sins that we identify, namely pride, envy, anger, gluttony, lust, laziness and covetousness,. Each one of these sins has a foundation made up of an ego that needs to be fed. When we get rid of ego, or at least trim it down, we start seeing that our motives become more pure, our actions are more productive. We begin to understand that we give because it is right to give, not because we are expecting something back in return. We care for people because it is right to care for them, not because we are obliged to do so. If we love people, we are doing so because it is right to love, not because we are living out someone else’s ideals. When the ego is abandoned, we find a new purity of purpose and of self. Our motives and intentions move toward the noble and perhaps even the sacred. We find the power to become the people we want to become and need to become. It is for this reason that our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us, “Blessed are the pure at heart for they shall see God.”
Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali in concluding today’s meditation:
Son of God, true God who descended from the bosom of the Father and took flesh of the Holy virgin Mary for our salvation, who was crucified and buried and rose from the dead and ascended to the Father. I have sinned against heaven and before you. Remember me like the robber when I (yes?) come in your kingdom. Have mercy on your creatures and upon me a great sinner. (I Confess with Faith 4/24)