A friend shared a chuckle of the day with me this morning: A very wealthy man, nearing the end of his life, set about to turn all of his wealth into gold bricks and made his friends promise to put two suitcases he had prepared with his wealth into the casket with him. The man reached the Pearly Gates and Saint Peter said, “So you have brought things with you. What do you have in the suitcases?” Upon opening them for inspection, Peter exclaims, “Oh, you have brought paving bricks!”
The story got me to thinking about perspective and how value and worth are all in the eye of the beholder. We all have an individual mind-set about what is principled and worthwhile and what is not. We make the most important decisions of our lives - where to live, who to marry, what kind of work to do based on what we value. Or do we?
It seems we often make those decisions without thinking about what we value and find worthwhile. We fall into relationships before we take time to take the measure of the partner against our standards. We accept careers that go against our basic values. We live where we find ourselves; in some cases it’s the place the bus ticket takes us regardless of the level of health of the community.
We can live our whole lives never standing back to look at our choices and having the integrity to stick to our sense of worth and values. Instead we split off parts of ourselves to justify certain behaviors in others or ourselves.
We begin to believe “its only temporary,” or that “it doesn’t really matter,” that “no one is getting hurt by my choice.” But the person who is getting hurt is us; and it does matter; and it way too often turns out to be more permanent than temporary.
We begin to see gold instead of paving stones and think we have it made when in reality we have sold away our principles and the things we valued most. For what? Mostly, I think it is for what we each perceive to be happiness.
We all have ideas about what will make us happy. If happiness is our goal then we start behaving in ways we think will bring happiness. If we are not clear about what is really of value and worthwhile we can be seduced into “selling our souls.”
Jesus talked about laying up our treasure in heaven and that where our heart is there also will be our treasure. We hear a lot about integrity or lack thereof these days in the political arena. We have friends that harm themselves and others with poor behavior choices.
The world is full of opportunities to be true to ourselves or not. Which will you be? A person of integrity or one who puts happiness ahead of all else? A person who knows what he/she values and uses that to measure choices or someone who just goes with the flow whereever it takes them? How will your life be measured?
Evelyn King is a preaching elder at the Community Presbyterian Church with graduate work in values education from San Francisco Theological Seminary and a BA in psychology/social science. She is a past director of the Healy Senior Center and the facilitator of senior fitness exercise.