Less than nine months after moving to Kodiak, I am amazed at how my standards of traffic have changed.
Recently, I was trying to turn left onto Mill Bay Road, and found myself getting impatient after waiting for three minutes. I caught myself thinking that traffic was heavy, and laughed at myself. I have lived in much bigger cities, with much worse traffic, but we adapt quickly to our surroundings, don't we?
From my experience, this impatience at having to wait for traffic, or in a line at the grocery store, or at the doctor's office comes from a sense that our time is valuable, and that what WE have to get to is more important than the next person. When someone zooms past me, I often laugh at the person, thinking, "s/he must be important. I hope s/he gets there." (yes, I think in slashes. don't you?)
But what about self-importance? I'm not a brain surgeon or lawyer whose time is that valuable, so where does that sense of self-importance come from?
For one thing, we live in a culture that makes a cult of "self" in an unhealthy way. We are told constantly, "you deserve this," "you are important to us," and in the extreme, we are constantly asked what our opinion and our preferences are.
Preferences used to be a matter of computer settings. Now it is about what we entitled to. This matter of our personal preferences is really starting to affect the church, where people now choose to leave if they don't like the pastor's personality, or exactly where the candles are on the altar, instead of thinking about what may be best for the common good, or working together to find a mutually acceptable solution for everyone.
Being part of a community is hard work, and our culture's "cult of preference" undercuts the sense of common good necessary for us to live together as a group of friends or an island or a country.
There is such a thing as healthy self-worth. Each one of us is a child of God, knit together in our mother's womb by really big knitting needles. We are loved unconditionally by our Creator. We do not have to earn that love by doing certain things, or even by making certain proclamations or even being a martyr for our faith (although I'm pretty sure God would love it if we did those things voluntarily without having to be asked).
It's the reason we're given freedom. God wants us to be free to love God back, not be scared into loving out of fear that we're going to hell. (Uh oh. I can imagine the email I'm going to get over that very strong theological belief).
Someone once told me that humility (a very important spiritual principle which really helps you get along with others) is more about being "right sized" than it is about being less than and groveling before others. Your — er, my — time is no more important than that person who is driving 20 mph on Mill Bay Road (what's up with that anyway?).
So, let that fellow child of God in front of you next time you're sitting in front of the Island Espresso, not going anywhere anyway.
The Rev. Liz Simmons is rector of St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church.