Vanity and the Preacher

“I think you’re vain.”

The dinnertime conversation suddenly turned from polite and enjoyable to blunt and uncomfortable.  The words were directed at me.

At me.

By my son.

Maybe I should clarify.  And no, the words were not spoken in the heat of a father/son argument, with the overbearing father squared off against his teenage son in a territorial dispute.  This is not ancient history.  The young man who uttered the words quietly is thirty years old.

It happened last week.

He is not wrong.

We were discussing my exercise regimen.  I made the comment that I needed to work out that evening, but was still sore from the extra miles I had done on my run the day before.

He wanted to know why I couldn’t just do a few less miles at a slower pace.  I suggested to him that I was too competitive to let myself do that.  I push myself every time I go out.

Faster!  Farther!

Feet hurt?  Keep going!  Muscles cramping?  Stretch it out!

We talked about my alleged competitive nature.  He wondered who I was completing with.  The Lovely Lady, seated beside me, nodded her head in agreement with his question.

Who am I competing with?

I thought for a moment.  I suggested that it was actually myself, but I knew that wasn’t right.  I thought maybe it was because of my lofty standard of self discipline, but quickly dismissed that.

Then I made a mistake.  I admitted that I know other people are watching me.  I use a social application on my phone to report my runs and rides.  Anyone who is my friend can see my stats for my workouts.

I worry that they will see I am slowing down.  I’m afraid they’ll notice I rode fewer miles tonight.

My, he’s getting older, isn’t he?   It won’t be long now; the weight will pile on soon.

I hear the voices already.  Imaginary?  Sure.  But, I hear them.

The young man sitting across the table stared at me for a few seconds and offered his diagnosis.  There was no accusation whatsoever in his voice; it was simply a factual declaration based on my own words.

“I think you’re vain.”

He’s still not wrong.
__________

The Preacher said it, centuries ago.  Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.

Vanity.  The word used to mean something different.  Emptiness.  Futility.  Meaninglessness.  The way we use the word today, it has another attached to it.

Vainglorious.

Glorious!

Now, there’s a word to celebrate!  It is a word to which we can aspire.  We glorify things and people worthy of honor.  The sunrise is glorious!  A hard won victory on the field of endeavor gains the participants glory.  We glorify our God.

Not so with vainglorious, or vanity.  The praise earned in vanity is void and empty.  The glory is futile and useless.  There is no real achievement, only the momentary surge of pride, followed by the subsequent letdown of disappointment.

Vanity seeks more glory.  Always.

It is never enough.  Never.

Empty.  All is empty.

Was the Preacher right?  Is that all there is?  Emptiness followed by more emptiness?
__________

I ran yesterday.  As usual, the phone recorded my distance and speed.  In the back of my mind though, I heard my son’s voice.   Purposely, I ran a bit slower.  I still extended the distance a bit, but the slower rate helped me to think I was achieving a victory over the vanity.

Clarity sometimes comes when we least expect it.

As I ran, I saw others out doing the same thing.  I did as I usually do and kept my eyes on the trail ahead of me.  Suddenly though, I saw him.

I saw him.

The young man was overweight.  Extremely so.  Nevertheless, he was running.  Ahead of me on the fitness trail, I saw that I would soon overtake him.  Normally, I would give a little wave and speed past.

Something told me to do something different.  I pulled even with him and slowed a bit.  He was struggling.  I could see it in his face.  All it took was a few words.

“You’re doing great!  Keep at it!”

His face beamed through the perspiration, and he gave me a thumbs up sign.

I ran on.  My face beamed a little, too.

I know.  I know.  It’s nothing more than we should do all the time.  But, for just a moment, I realized that it wasn’t about me and my achievement.  How far or how fast I ran, or how many calories I had burned–those were insignificant.

The clarity hasn’t faded.

This is the place where I usually preach.  I’m supposed to tell you about The Apostle and his remonstrance that we should consider others better than ourselves.  I should encourage you to quit seeking the approval of man and instead seek the blessing of God.

I should.

But, my son wasn’t wrong.

About me.

And, that’s not vanity talking.  It’s conviction.

I’ll take a pass on the sermon.

Another day, perhaps.

“But I begin to fancy you don’t like me.  How strange!  I thought, though everybody hated and despised each other, they could not avoid loving me.”
(from Wuthering Heights ~ Emily Bronte ~ English novelist ~ 1818-1848)

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself.”
(Philippians 2:3 ~ KJV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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