Columnists > Soul Food

Donkey talk

Learning contentment from a messenger of God

Issue: "The gay getaway," May 2, 1998

God sent me a two-legged donkey to deliver a soul-enriching, life-saving message. My personal donkey was a non-believing acquaintance who one day blurted out, "You have a sense of entitlement.'' He seemed startled when the words left his mouth, and when I asked him, "A sense of entitlement to what?'' He couldn't support his assertion.

Afterwards, in the way that Balaam beat his balky beast, I berated the man, mentally flogging him for his audacity in suggesting I wasn't the sincere, humble, self-effacing person I pretended to be. But then God took over where my donkey left off. "Why have you beaten your donkey...? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me'' (Numbers 22:32).

In a moment as real and as life-changing as my moment of salvation, God lasered in on my vast shortcomings. Here's what he tells believers throughout the Bible: I have redeemed you, yes, but I still hate, yes, with a burning passion, the sin in you as much as I hate the sin in those yet unredeemed.

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I needed to hear that. I had convinced myself that my sins, especially the "small ones," were less reprehensible in me than in others. A self-deceit, God says, a lie, which points to the big problem, my pride, or as my donkey put it, my Sense of Entitlement.

I realized that God, indeed, had used my acquaintance to utter words he needed me to hear. I understood that I had been the beneficiary of a supernatural moment, that God had commandeered his tongue to deliver involuntarily a message to me. It was an utterance beyond the man's control.

That is when I knew God was working on me again. That is when God confirmed, again, that he loves me.

The process of looking myself in the eye, of explaining this to my wife, has been painful and embarrassing. "Are you really humble,'' a friend asked me, "or just self-conscious?'' That's a fine distinction, but I had to admit that it was more of the latter than the former. And just now, I had to fight myself to keep from minimizing it by writing "it was probably more of the latter.'' Even now, pride raises its hideous head.

God exposed my superior attitude (which I kept neatly hidden even from my view) and showed how my sense of superiority led to my Sense of Entitlement. Of course I deserve more money, a better house, a book deal, a Pulitzer Prize, a comfortable life. "Why do you want to win a Pulitzer Prize?'' "You know, God. So we can have believers succeeding in secular journalism. So I can be a witness for you.'' "Tell me again?'' "Um, so I can make more money and be famous and rich and have a book deal.''

God shows everyone through the Bible that a Sense of Entitlement fuels discontent and ingratitude-but I needed a reminder that when I think I deserve more, I'm saying God hasn't given me enough. In complaining about my situation, I'm biting the hand that blesses me by already giving me more than enough.

We are to have the mind of Christ. How can we have that? The starting point is God's gift of contentment. He is quieting my soul. He leads me beside still waters. Admitting my pride, and every detail of it, has been hard, but Jesus has been walking me through it, not condemning but encouraging, loving me, enveloping me the way the warm West Texas breeze used to wrap me in security in my grandparents' backyard.

I'm praying more, because I now see the need in ways I didn't. I'm not so cocksure, even though six weeks ago I would have argued that I wasn't cocksure. I took pride in my humility. I fret now that I will forget all that God has so graciously shown me about myself. I fret that even in writing these words, I'm starting the cycle all over, that I'll be proud for admitting what a worm I am. (Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, "I have sinned," but Numbers 31 suggests that he returned to his prideful ways.)

I now start each day with the words of my donkey: "Please, God, destroy again today my sense of entitlement.'' My prayers are almost in quiet desperation, for I know that I am a sinner.


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