July 25, 2012My daughters had a fierce, take-no-prisoners competition going over Flintstone vitamins. It was downright brutal. After their bath every night, they raced to get into their pajamas so they could be the first one to the kitchen to get their nightly tablet.
It's not that they're health nuts. They didn't even particularly enjoy the taste. It's just that they had a thing about being first, especially when it made the other sister last.
What's the point of winning if someone else doesn't lose, right?
They weren't messing around either — jostling, shoving and slamming the other out of the way like psycho hockey players killing each other for the Stanley Cup. They were totally out of control. Somehow they had to be stopped.
Wait a minute, I thought. I'm a minister. I can handle this.
"Girls, girls," I said. "Do you know what Jesus said when his friends argued about who should be first?"
They shook their heads, bummed they weren't getting a vitamin anytime soon.
"The first will be last and the last will be first," I said.
I went on to tell them that being kind and loving was more important than winning.
"Do you understand?" I asked.
They nodded then broke into a fist fight over Barney Rubble.
Clearly I needed a new tactic, so I came up with a brilliant plan. I decided to pull the old switcheroo. The next night, I would reward whoever made it to the kitchen last by giving them their vitamin first. That ought to fix their selfish little wagons.
Sure enough, the first night it worked beautifully. My oldest daughter, Emma, sprinted into the room, her younger sister, Kate, trailing behind. She bounded up to me and demanded her Flintstone chewable. I said, "The first will be last and the last will be first," and handed the vitamin to her sister.
Gasp! Her whole world had been turned upside down. You could see it all over her face. Winning was losing? Losing was winning? What kind of insanity was this?
But it worked.
The following night, she let Kate go first. Her sister, being only 3, wasn't as quick to catch on. Once again I said, "The first will be last and the last will be first," and gave Emma the vitamin.
Unfortunately by night three, the jig was up. I walked into the kitchen to find both girls hovering near the back wall.
"What are you doing over there?" I asked.
Emma said, "The first will be last and the last will be first."
Everyone understood the new rules, and now it was a flat-out dash to see who could be last. The next thing I knew my 3-year-old disappeared into the living room.
"I'm last," she said.
A few minutes later she had the front door open and was stepping outside.
"Emma," she said. "Look how last I am!"
I think she missed the point.
It's funny from the lips of a preschooler but not so funny from the rest of us. Like my daughters, we all have a hard time letting others go first. Whether we're in traffic or the line at the grocery store, it's like we're all in a race to get wherever we're going before the rest of the world.
It's the same in our work. It's not enough to be successful on our own. We have to be more successful than someone else. Like two immature kids, we can't enjoy winning unless someone else is losing. Sad, but, too often, true.
Even when it comes to our acts of charity and kindness, we're often like my 3-year-old, trying to use it to get attention, saying, "Look at me, everybody. Look how last I am."
I guess that's why Jesus spoke those words 2,000 years ago. The first will be last and the last will be first. He had in mind a different way to live, a way that puts God first, others second and us — you got it — dead last.
It's actually the best place to be, because in last place the pressure's off. We're free to just be ourselves, relax and breath. It's called contentment, and those few times I've tasted it, I can tell you I wouldn't trade it for all the Flintstone vitamins in the world.
Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more, visit www.jasonbyerly.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/jasondbyerly.