By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
I have a friend -- I’ll call him John -- who was a stockbroker for several years but finally cut himself loose and went back to doing what he had loved doing most in his professional life – coaching and counseling high school students.
The change came with a huge cut in pay.
While he was never motivated much by money, he did need to keep a roof over his head, food on the table, wheels under his seat and gas in the tank. I asked him what prompted him to contemplate leaving a lucrative and mentally challenging career as a stockbroker.
“The only time my phone rings is when there’s somebody on the other end of the line who is motivated by greed or fear,” he said. His phone rang a lot. So after a while he decided he just wanted to relate to people in other contexts. The curiosities, challenges, gifts and aspirations of adolescents seemed like a good place to start.
As he considered life after the stock market, John had a lot of options.
He had run dry cleaner shops. He had learned how to be a printer and run a print shop. He was an experienced bartender. He had a Ph.D. in education research. He had served with distinction on two major state university faculties and shown a remarkable aptitude for writing research grants. But of all the things he had done in life, nothing had given him the satisfaction of coaching football and serving as a high school guidance counselor.
So he threw thoughts of financial enrichment and status to the wind, packed up his car and followed his passion to a remote Indian reservation. There he found a Third Way. No longer were his interactions with people driven by greed or fear. In a high school on a remote reservation he could focus on helping people develop something other – something even more critical – than their bank accounts.
(Not to disparage stockbrokers, John left his investments in the care of the most honest and competent colleague he had ever met – and soon enough he was referring me to the same guy. That was almost 40 years ago. John and I still have that same broker, and he found his own Third Way as an option to greed and fear by helping others through his church and the Lions Club. People in many of the poorest parts of Eastern Europe owe their vision to the hands-on care he and his team members have provided.)
The focus here is on the notion of a Third Way – whether we are talking about an option to greed or fear, as my friend John did, or an option to pride and fear, as we do in our Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus Encounters. In either case, we’re talking about a distinction without a difference. Greed is just one manifestation of pride, and ironically, both arise out of a deeper, fundamentally fear-based insecurity.
That people would let their lives be driven by pride or fear is truly a shame -- because in the Gospels Jesus offers us a Third Way that liberates us from that binary trap.
That Third Way is acknowledging and accepting the unconditional love of God.
To the extent that we are convinced of God’s unconditional love for us, we transcend the temptations of pride and fear because neither serves a purpose in our lives.
- Why resort to pride in ourselves, our aptitudes, our positions or our possessions when something so much greater – the love of God – gives us complete, absolute and unconditional value across the whole universe?
- Why fall prey to fear when we know that God loves us – that He can and will deliver and save us as His own child, if not in this world then surely in the next?
In either event, clothed in the unconditional love of God our worth is never in play, never at risk. No matter what happens to us, our Father loves and embraces us.
Yes, we’ll still have good days and bad. We’ll suffer losses as surely as we celebrate achievements. But no person, no circumstance can undermine our fundamental, priceless value as a cherished child of God.
In his classic poem If, Rudyard Kipling offers some conditions for true manhood: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same.”
Man or woman, you can do that if your sense of self-worth is anchored in the assurance of God’s unconditional love for you.
Today I urge you to take a moment to reflect on that fact: God the Father sacrificed His own son out of love for you; God the Son sacrificed his own life for the love of you. That’s how much God loves you. That’s how much you are worth – no matter what others say or how large or small your house or bank account happens to be.
Reflect on that fact now. Then reflect on it again and again, tomorrow, the next day and the day after – for as long as you live, for as often as possible every day of your life.
God, Creator and the Redeemer of the universe, loves you. Without limits or conditions. You are, as the scriptures say, “His delight.”
Recognizing that is the true Third Way. And it’s surely the best way.
Now be on your way – to love and serve God and your neighbor out of gratitude for the love God showers on you.
Blessings always! Rejoice!