“In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.
-Jesus, Luke 22:25-26
San Francisco’s Pier 39 is famously known for its lively waterfront vibe and restaurants. But it also has a unique natural phenomenon. Only a few feet into the bay, a colony of sea lions has set up permanent residence on a series of floating docs. They moved in after an earthquake in 1989, taking over an entire section of the local marina. After residents were unable to get rid of them, they embraced this new reality, and the Marine Mammal Center helped to create a protected space for their new urban hangout. Now, any time of the year, hundreds of sea lions call Pier 39 home.
Though there are a lot of sea lions, there is also quite a bit of wooden real estate available. There’s enough room for all the blubber to get a little sun. And yet, inevitably, when you visit the marina, you will see that scores of sea lions spend all of their time defending their turf. They bark at each other, stick their chests out, and play a slippery version of “king of the floating dock.” One will leap out of the water and climb up a raft, only to get bull-rushed by whichever sea lion happens to be near the edge. And back and forth they go, until one or both of them just gives up.
When you see the whole dock, it looks a little ridiculous to see this need to push others away. Not to mention that these guys are not made for land, so they just look like idiots throwing their flippers around chasing each other. It looks like a dance-off where the only move allowed is The Worm. But the moment they enter the water, doing what they were made to do, they become magnificent creatures again. They flip and spin, weaving around each other. It’s beautiful.
Every day, we have a choice to make with our lives and our attitudes. We can choose to defend our turf, keeping our attention on making sure that we have enough, while being suspicious of everyone around us. We can see people as a threat to our livelihood, our happiness, or our belief system, and treat them accordingly. Or, we can follow Jesus. Jesus speaks to us of abundance of time, energy, and resources. Jesus teaches us to look at others graciously and with a servant heart, being unafraid to share a bit of space. Jesus teaches us that what we have is God’s anyways, so constantly worrying about our goods is the last thing we need to be doing.
Perhaps you have fallen into the trap lately of looking around at others through the lens of competition. Perhaps you are listening too much to your news station of choice, and you’ve become convinced that everyone is out to get you. Maybe your job constantly tempts you to climb rank among your coworkers. Or perhaps you just find yourself constantly irritated at people around you. Much of the world lives like that. And to be honest, we look ridiculous when we do. It’s not what we are made for. Our version of barking can be critical comments toward others (with them or behind their back), or even a critical spirit when no words are said. It accomplishes nothing. But when we welcome each other into our lives and when we seek to serve, and when we're unafraid to give up our ground and ] swim if that gives rest to someone who needs it... that's beautiful.
There’s room on the dock, friends. Stop jockeying for position.
Take some time this morning to be present enough with Jesus to find identity in being loved by God. As you do, it will transform how you see others and how you respond to them throughout your day. Jesus has come to rescue you. The pressure is off. Extend your flipper to the one in the water.
Jesus, help me to release the worries or competitions that distract me from living fully.