“Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who …
emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…”
– St. Paul
“Stand on the edge of the abyss and when you feel that it is beyond your strength,
break off and have a cup of tea.”
– Elder Sophrony
As I meditate on the words of St. Paul to the Phillipians, the phrase “He emptied himself” keeps turning over and over in my mind. What does this mean? How do I imitate what Christ has done? How do I “empty” myself? How does one live an “emptied” life? I don’t have the answers, but it’s similar to looking out over an abyss: this concept is much bigger than I am. Jesus emptied himself to take on the form of a servant. I too must empty myself to become a servant. The problem is that I don’t like empting myself. My Self has many wants, desires, likes, and dislikes. I have to lay them all down and be a servant. This is hard.
It is easy to blithely spout rhetoric about being a servant to those around you, but harder still to live it out realistically. To truly be a servant means to first empty yourself of what Self wants. I contemplate what this means and I shrink back. Jesus said, “If you want to be great in the Kingdom of God – learn to be the servant of all.” This is like standing at the edge of abyss and being told to jump off: in giving you will receive, in becoming empty you will be filled, in dying you will find life. This sounds good on Sunday morning when we applaud the sentiments; but to make that choice is more than I want to do on Monday morning.
Yet there is grace for us. God knows that we are but dust; that we have feet of clay. Do what you can to empty yourself a little bit today for someone: your spouse, your child, your friend, your mother, the stranger in the grocery store. There are countless small ways in which you can choose to lay down what you want and serve others instead. Then when you can go no further, take a break and have a cup of tea. Relax and be grateful for mercy. “One does not become a saint in four days,” said St. Phillip of Neri. Resolve to take another look at the abyss tomorrow and pray for strength to empty yourself just a little bit more.
May the peace of Christ be with you,