God invites us to a life of gratitude while the world fosters discontent. God proposes trust, the world arouses fear. God promotes giving, the world promotes getting. God invites us to cooperate with His providence while the world rallies behind self-determinism. God appoints us in stewardship while the world touts ownership. The world encourages entitlement when in reality everything is a gift from God. God invites us to look out for our neighbor, the world tells us to look out for ourselves. God operates from abundance, the world from a place of scarcity. God created us out of generosity to live generous lives, the world encourages us to live a small selfish life.
So says Matthew Kelly in his new book The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic: How Engaging 1% of Catholics Could Change the World, published earlier this month. His observations about the contrast between what God calls us to and what the world calls us to is an especially relevant topic for reflection on the eve of Thanksgiving Day.
All too often, we are inundated with the world's so-called wisdom.
- Nice guys finish last.
- Look out for Number One.
- You only go around once in life; go for all the gusto you can get.
A bishop-friend of mine talks about the world's New Holy Trinity: Me, myself and I.
Apart from the overwhelming empirical evidence that self-centeredness does not serve us well as leaders -- or in any role in life -- the teaching and example of Jesus is absolutely clear that putting the self first is not the way to be his disciple or to find true happiness.
By my count, Jesus tells us six times in the Gospels: "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mat 16:25). When we put ourselves first, we relegate God to no better than second place -- perhaps less than that.
Three times in the Gospels Jesus asks the haunting question: "What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mk 8:36) Stephen Covey of 7 Habitsfame suggested that many of us don't come to our senses until we are on our deathbeds. At that moment, he asked, how many times do you hear a person say they wished they had devoted more time and effort on themselves?
S3 Jesus-like Leadership begins with the realization that each and every one of us has a God-given purpose in life -- and it is way more important and world-changing than self-aggrandizement. In response to the awareness that our lives, our talents and our opportunities all come form God, we are filled with gratitude and moved to express it in generosity.
"One of the leading indicators of whether or not I am spiritually healthy is whether or not I am in a place of gratitude," Kelly writes. And being "in a place of gratitude" affects more than our own frame of mind. "It is impossible to be grateful and be in a bad mood. It is when we step away from gratitude that we become irritable, restless, and discontent," Kelly adds. Obviously, none of those things makes us better, more Jesus-like leaders as we face the challenges of the day.
As the new liturgical year is about to begin with Advent, I suggest we all make a New Year resolution to take at least one minute a day to be grateful -- to reflect on the blessings God has given us, beginning with life itself. Better yet, write down your blessings on a regular basis. There are a host of empirical studies that show people who do that live happier and healthier lives.
Also resolve to express your gratitude with generosity. "Generosity is at the heart of the Christian life, just as it is at the heart of the Gospel," Kelly notes. "God is inviting us to a joyful life of selfless generosity."
When we accept that invitation on a daily basis, we take a huge step toward being the S3 Leaders that Jesus calls us to be.
Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute