Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
In my painfully self-conscious thirteenth year, I conducted an experiment. I told the pimple-faced boy in the mirror: Set aside macho coolness and athletic bravado, and smile at every one you see today. See what happens.
What a reckless dare! Who knows what kind of grief I might get? Yet, almost everyone smiled back. They welcomed the warmth. Whatever they thought of me, niceness seemed to pay.
But that did not erase my adolescent insecurity. I kept believing myself inferior. It did not dawn on me that people might like me just because I showed up.
So I assumed the nice guy role in a tacit deal with society and fate: If I am nice to people — with hard work on studies and sports thrown in for good measure — they must reciprocate by welcoming and not abandoning me. And fate should spare me anything untoward that a little reasoning and communication cannot tidy up.
Amid the ups and downs of my first four decades or so, I did not suffer enough to question the deal. Overall, niceness most of the time with most of the people along with diligent work corresponded with a fair share of educational, career, and domestic success and stability.
I do not know what imp passed gas on my house of cards, but it dropped in a blink. Suddenly I found myself feeling like a lost traveler in an eerie town begging for directions home from strangers who didn’t care.
Based on what worked before, I responded by redoubling kindness and work. That only brought exhaustion and near collapse, not results.
So I called off the deal. I dropped the expectation that being a nice, hard-working guy would pay off. But after three decades of wearing that mask, I took it off and saw a nice, hard-working guy in the mirror looking back, pimple-free. That’s really me.
Should I keep the nice, hard-working persona whether it paid off or not? I decided I would not recognize myself without it, so I kept it.
How then should I love people who will never recognize my good intentions or reward me for them. I realized that accounts for much of “sharing Christ’s sufferings” as Paul called it (e.g., Philippians 3:10), for Jesus came to save us and lead us in love; yet, he faced crucifixion for it. He set the ultimate example.
Jesus was meek, but not for pleasing everyone. He was meek because he loved everyone, and that entailed speaking his truth, a truth forged in love that comforts some and cajoles others. It meant trusting God to do something good with love even when it seems to get us nowhere.
Blessed are the meek for they may not get a fair shake in this lifetime, but they will inherit the earth in the end. Living by that promise, I mean it when I smile more than I ever did.