Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, and I took it upon myself to bake her birthday cupcakes. I like to bake, and I have even begun to venture into the world of baking from scratch. But that applies only to things I am quite familiar with, bread and cookies. From long experience with packaged mixes, I know roughly what I want, and what to look for. But cakes remain a terra incognita of sorts, and so I entrust myself to the wisdom and industrial science of Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines.
But it was not merely a boxed mix. It appealed to our higher aspirations. It contained special frosting mix and a genuine icing bag to use in frosting the cupcakes. My efforts at laying on frosting have been less than successful, but armed with such tools and directions, I had hopes that I, too, could create a confection worthy of the finest bake shops.
My efforts yielded some perfectly ordinary cupcakes. It took me until my fourth cupcake to apply the frosting so that it completely covered the cupcake with one go. In the end, some did not get frosting at all, but I had my one cupcake to properly decorate and present to my wife replete with candles. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out, because I wanted to do something nice for her. Before I brought it in to her, I took a picture.
And therein lies the trouble. I wanted to post the picture to Facebook, that repository of the odd effects of our lives. So in part, my motivation for posting the photograph was to show how we were celebrating my wife’s birthday, sharing a bit of our loves with family and friends. But I wanted something too.
At first, I was going to introduce the picture apologizing that it was not on par with the work of a cousin who is a professional baker. That would shift the focus from celebrating my wife’s birthday to the cupcake. Worse, it would make the present of the cupcake to be less than what it was. No, I could not say that, so off those words went into the ether.
But I could not let go of the desire for people to admire my cupcake, and, by implication, me. So I tried another tack, attempting to describe my labors as producing something worthy of my wife. Again, this subtly shifted the focus. “Please look at my cupcake, and sing my praises for making it.” A voice cleared in my head. This would not do. The focus and the point must be about my wife. So I simply wrote, “Happy Birthday Dear,” and left it at that.
All of this took little more than a minute in the privacy of my mind. It seems somewhat contradictory sharing it here, as if trying to draw attention to my virtue. But I do offer this because I really wanted people to tell me what a wonderful cupcake I had made. It speaks of the vanity that is in us all, sometimes masquerading as a sense of emptiness that needs filling, and brings me to the point I want to make.
In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul tells us, “Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus “every knee shall bow”, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, “every tongue shall confess” that Jesus Christ” is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phillips, emphasis mine)
I’m wondering if that is what is meant by “carrying our cross.” It wasn’t so much that Jesus suffered, though He certainly did. It is more a sense of forgetting of self, not, as I often do, because of a sense of self-negation and an earnest desire for approval. Rather, Jesus so thoroughly full of Himself, and understood Himself completely, that there was no need to pay attention to Himself in that way. The usual ups and downs that so assail us in no way changed who He was. Secure in that, He could, and did, do anything, and underwent the slings of outrageous fortune in no way changed the fact that Jesus was God, even if no one else chose to recognize Him as such.
As we close out the year, this episode brought to mind that I should work on cultivating that same sense of self-forgetfulness. That no one will have to ask if the cupcake was good, because the focus is on the recipient, where it belongs.