by Catherine Upchurch
Special to The Leaven
On a recent visit to my niece’s home, her 2-year-old son became fussy and disgruntled. After several attempts to calm him down, my niece looked him straight in his eyes and said very calmly, “Thomas, I think it’s time you go to your room and adjust your attitude. You can come back and play when you find a new attitude.”
He wasn’t happy about it, but he went straight to his room and in just a few minutes he came out ready to get back to his toys and be in the company of his family.
Thomas’ time in his room gave him the opportunity to catch his breath and break his momentary pattern of fussing for what he wanted. Maybe, in some ways, we too are like children who need a change of space and time to reorient ourselves, to find a new attitude so we can better engage with the world in which we live.
In a beautiful passage from a letter to the church in Philippi, Paul writes about an attitude adjustment. His letter is filled with joy and thanksgiving and a deep desire to pass on to the community what he is no doubt also learning even while he is in prison. He encourages believers with a hymn about the humility and exaltation of Christ, and to introduce it, he says, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Some translations use the word “mind” in place of attitude, or even the word “heart.”
Attitudes involve moving beyond impulses to cultivating a mindset or, we might even say, a disposition of heart. In the hymn found in Chapter 2 of Philippians, Paul praises the attitude of Christ, who set aside his equality with God to become one of us. He emptied himself, humbled himself and even suffered death. It is only because of that life of emptying that he experienced the exaltation of rising from the dead.
There is no better way to get an attitude adjustment than to take on the mind, the heart and the attitudes of Jesus. Although in the form of God, he refused to take advantage of a position that was already his. He did not exploit his position for his own advantage. Instead, Jesus chose to renounce the trappings of his divine status; he refused to be trapped in what others might have believed was necessary for God’s anointed one.
Rather than becoming a king of Israel or a military commander, Jesus became a servant, even “taking the form of a slave,” serving humanity’s need for mercy at the cost of his life.
It is no small irony that the highest form of being (God) chose to be clothed in the form of humanity, even to the extent of being fully humbled by obedience to death.
So, what does that mean for us? At the very least, it means that we, too, must be ready to empty ourselves of anything that stands in the way of being humbly obedient to our Creator. It means that we search our minds and hearts, identify and root out those dispositions that are alien to our true selves and cultivate attitudes that reflect God’s image and likeness. We will be exploring a few of those attitudes each month in these articles.
Paul urges: “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind . . . to know the will of God and what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2). What we put into our minds and hearts matters. Ultimately, what we feed on with regularity will transform us, and so we must choose wisely.
Questions for reflection or discussion
- In what circumstances have you become aware that you might be in need of an attitude adjustment? What steps do you take to reorient yourself?
- Review in your mind some of your favorite stories of Jesus. What attitudes do you find rising to the surface in the ways that Jesus acted?
- Prayerfully read the hymn found in Philippians 2:5-11. At this time in your life, how are you being asked to humble yourself?
- What regular spiritual practices help to keep you open to being renewed in mind, heart, and attitude?
Catherine Upchurch is the general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible and contributes to several biblical publications. She writes from Fort Smith, Arkansas.