I recently relayed this story as a way of reflecting on how doing good for the sake of feeling good is an unsustainable motivator. The girl in this story wishes to remain anonymous. so I will call her Page for privacy reasons. Page was in eighth grade, some of her friends considered themselves popular, and in order to maintain their uniqueness as "the popular" they had to make sure there were unpopular people. This story Page shared was about the lengths that people go to in order to maintain an identity.
One day, after school, some of the boys from Page's class started bullying a special needs third grader boy on the playground. Page jumped in, "Why don't you guys pick on someone your own size! That is wrong. Leave him alone, you bullies!"
"Shut up! B@$%! Who are you to tell us what to do? You think you are better than us, you always think you are the good one...." The boys turned on Page with a rage, following her around yelling obscenities at her. Soliciting other kids from her class to chime in. Page started crying and ran off, while they chased her and made fun of her.
A few minutes later a teacher stepped in and asked her what she did to get them so rowelled up. Page refused to say anything. The boys were told to leave her alone. Page went home thinking that everything would die down and be fine, but when she got on her facebook page later that evening they had taken their derision to the cybersphere. She was receiving texts from 'friends' calling her a 'snitch' and a 'rat'. One by one her friends told her to get lost.
Page felt awful, lonely, isolated. She didn't want to go to school. She refused to tell her parents because she didn't want to be a 'snitch'. The next day the Principal caught wind of what happened on the playground from the parents of the third grader and he suspended the three boys. Page's classmates thought she had ratted on the boys and so they turned on her with a vengeance. For three days the classmates relentlessly picked at her and cut her off. Page spiraled into depression. One of her teachers noticed it and called her parents in.
The teacher and principal met with the parents and explained what had happened and encouraged the parents to talk with her about the incident and find a way forward.
Later that night her dad took her for a drive and they talked about it. He listened to her side of the story, offering support. He applauded her courage to do what was right and stand up for the third grader. And then Page said this...
"Dad, I don't want to do what is right any more. It's hurts doing what is right. I think it would be better to not be bad and not be good, just don't involve myself with anything. Doing good doesn't feel good and it doesn't turn out good."
What Page had to say to her dad resonates with me. Sometimes doing good doesnt feel good. It makes me wonder what should the Christian motivation be for doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly before God? If we are improperly motivated our good works will not be sustainable. Moreover, if I do good works for bad reasons it can lead to:
- Burnout when I feel like my good isn't making a difference in the world.
- Bitterness when I work so hard at doing good and no one recognizes me. Or when it seems like I give and give and give and others take and take and take and at the end of the day they have more to show for their life than me.
- Resentfulness of others when my sacrifices and good works keep me so busy that I don't have the time for fun and recreation like those who don't do good.
- Arrogance and airs of superiority toward others when I do good and other religions or other people aren't doing as much as I am. I may think that I am better than others in my church, or my church is better than other churches, or my religion is better because of all the good we are doing. In the end, this may lead to prejudice or discrimination.
Jesus calls us to do good works (Matt 5:16) but only after he makes it clear that our heart needs to be in the right place (Matt 5:3-11). His work was not merely behavioral modification, it was heart transformation.
Jesus did not come to make bad people good, he came to make dead hearts live. He is not merely concerned with good behaviors, but he concerns himself with hearts, with the motives as to why we pray, why we fast and why we give (Matt 6). Jesus seems to understand that our hearts are the engines of our lives.
If we are doing good to appear good we will stop short of him perfecting our hearts, we will be in constant Good Works Performance mode. Our goodness will not be sustainable. So what should be our motivation?
That is the question for the next post.