Choose always the hardest.
The words still ruffle me, even though it’s been several weeks since I first read them as the final sentence in a list of “Antidotes to Pride” that were part of a daily devotional written by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
The rest of her list, though by no means easy to accomplish, at least made sense. For instance: speak as little as possible of oneself, pass over the mistakes of others, and never stand on one’s dignity, all need no further explanation as to how those actions could fend off the temptations of succumbing to our own pride. This final antidote though, choose always the hardest, was a real head-scratcher for me.
I happened to read this particular devotional only days after Baxter died, so it seemed natural to think that in her words might be a clue for me as to the timing of getting another dog. I wondered if in her words were the answer to whether we should get another dog right away, wait awhile, or never get another dog again. The problem with that scenario was that all three of those situations, at that particular time, felt like they very well could be “the hardest.” After all, another dog, only a year after putting all my time and energy and effort in my first-ever dog, seemed like a LOT of work! And could very easily wear me down, making it “the hardest” thing for me to do. At the same time, with the gaping hole of his loss and the constant deep sense of sadness I felt, waiting to fill that hole seemed equally difficult. Sitting with reminders of his absence day in and day out at times nearly drove me mad! Then, of course, to think that perhaps he was my first and last dog ever, felt both like a tribute to him, and the worst possible thing I could do with so many other dogs in the world who are in need of a good home. Do you see my dilemma? All difficult choices for their own reasons…but which was the “hardest”? I felt it important that I let God show me the way, even in this “smallest” of decisions, rather than counting on my own pride.
Then, I can’t recall the exact incident that made me realize this, but at some point…maybe it was something someone said to me, or a thought that just simply “came” to me, I realized that perhaps I’d already done the “hardest” thing: I’d made some choices. And I’d done that even before the saddest day came. I’d chosen gratitude, and to continue to take care of myself and my family (even though the dog was high maintenance by then), and I’d already decided that regardless of any outcome, I would not blame.
That’s when I came to believe that Mother Teresa was not asking us to make our most difficult earthly choices by always choosing the hardest, but to choose always the most difficult choices of the heart: forgiveness, compassion, faith, joy…and love. These are the gifts only God can provide us, but only if we choose. And in nearly any situation, any circumstance, they are always “the hardest” choices thanks to that other God-given gift called free will.
So, now I see more clearly how choosing always the hardest is an antidote to pride. It was just another way of saying words I’ve prayed so many times they’d fallen numb of meaning: Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.
Or, perhaps even more to the point, as Richard Rohr puts it: Thy kingdom come. My kingdom go!