My brother visited recently and decided to go on a run.

“Are you going to run up the hill?” I asked. It’s huge. Super steep. You have to go up the hill to get to the runnable parts of our neighborhood. I always walk. ALWAYS.

“Yeah, I think so.”

He played football in college and, for the most part, knows what his body is capable of. But he started stretching his legs in the dining room, trying to get his Achilles tendon warm

“Yesterday I just felt like it might pop.” he explained.

I rolled my eyes and told him to walk up the hill.

“Don’t be a hero, Danny.” I told him in the way only a big sister can.

I don’t know what it is, but I think this time of year can bring out the heroine in all of us. Maybe it’s the return of a school structure, or the promise of a new year -– new grades, new extracurriculars, new skills for our favorite little ones. The little switch gets flipped, and we want to do all the things really well.

That’s not bad, necessarily. But sometimes, actually often,we let good desires become ultimate ones. And they get out of control.

Here’s what I mean. My daughter starts kindergarten this month, and in our district the teachers do home visits before school starts. How cool is that? I love that these teachers will have insight into what these little souls are bringing into the classroom.

So, my instinct is to have the house EXACTLY like it is on a day to day basis. Not extra clean, not super tidy -- clutter in this corner of the counter, and a pot I didn’t feel like washing last night in the sink.

But I’m guessing my daughter will want to show the teacher her room. So we’ll probably want to tidy that up. Get the dead flower petals out of the corner, sweep, make sure the closet closes, etc. And if we’re going to do that, I should probably make sure the rest of the houses matches a little bit, so it’s not obvious. I could at least make a pot of coffee in case it’s been a sleepy morning. And I might as well make some healthy baked goods. (Scones? Muffins? Both.) Oh, maybe I should spell “Welcome!” on them. And if we’re going to have scones and coffee there should probably be fresh flowers on the table. Maybe some for her to take?

You get the point. Suddenly I’m hurling unnecessary (although nice) gifts at this woman who came to see who my daughter is at home so she can love her best at school. Almost like I’m trying to earn her favor. Almost like I’m trying to prove something. Am I trying to prove something?

And that’s where we get in trouble. We have nothing to prove, but we forget it so often. The Gospel says that we are made in God’s image –- wonderfully made to reflect him -– but we exchange the truth for a lie, and our instinct, over and over, is to prove ourselves.

It takes work to turn away from that. We want to be the hero, every day.

We aren’t the hero(oine), but we have one. Jesus, who was on high, descended. Made himself low (the opposite of what we’re so prone to do) so that we can be lifted up.

Jesus was the hero so that we don’t have to be. In that, we can find freedom from our striving, freedom from our self-centered need to impress, and therefore, freedom to actually care for the people around us. We can quit our navel-gazing, and meet the eyes of those around us who are hurting, who are tired, maybe even those who see some difficult things in the homes they visit. We can still offer the scone and the coffee, but we can do it FOR THEM, not for us.

The good news sets us free. Let’s live like it.

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