Ends, not a Means

“Greatness and goodness are not means, but ends!”

I love that line. This morning’s TFT is by one of my favorite poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I geeked out about the romantic poets in high school–Wordsworth and Longfellow and all those guys. I’m… probably one of four people in the world who geeked out about romantic poets, but I’m pretty much okay with that.

What particularly strikes me about this poem is the initial person’s ideas that it isn’t very often that “good, great” men get honor and wealth, and when it does happen it’s like some otherworldly tale. Still seems like this sometimes, doesn’t it? The good, wonderful people in life struggle to get by, never seeming to catch a break. The horrible, awful people never seem to get their comeuppance. We see it every day, all around us. Beloved friends who work hard to make ends meet have to borrow gas money to make it home while someone else shouts  in outrage at fast food workers because there was mayonnaise on their burger. These are the kinds of things that make me shake my head.

But Coleridge admonishes this friend, saying that goodness and greatness are not means to an end– wealth and success are not what good/great people strive for. (Although maybe a little wealth would be kinda nice…) No, goodness and greatness are what these men strive for. Truly good and great people already have love, light, and peace of mind. They also know that there are three things they can count on: themselves, God, and Death. Not a super comforting thought but no less true. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much wealth or power or status we have. I have yet to walk by an epitaph in a cemetery that has “Dr. So-and-So” stamped on it, or the sum of their bank account at the end of their life. (Although size and type of headstone might be an indicator…) No, what you see is “Beloved Father and Friend” or “Loved and Respected By All Who Knew Her”

Wouldn’t you rather be remembered like that? Are we not called to live humble, generous lives? When I read this poem I think about all those verses about being humble, giving away wealth, honoring each other before God. It’s easy to get caught up in the friend’s point of view–despairing over the unfairness of life. But that is not what we are called as Christians to do. No, we are called to be good, great men (and women!); to strive for love and light and peace of mind.

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