The Lost Art of Humility—Part 1

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I’ll be honest. My life hasn’t been pretty lately, which may explain my absence here.

Presently, I’m sitting among a stand of fir trees and taking in beautiful Dickey Lake in northwestern Montana. The setting is perfect for woolgathering.

When life and relationships get messy, I tend to pull back and pull inside myself. My voice shrivels up along with any permission I feel I need in order to speak or to be seen or to belong. I hear and respond to the accusing voice in my head that condemns. Why should anyone listen to anything you have to say; you’re life is shaky at best?

My (sometimes) wonky, dilapidated life and perspective have driven me into hiding. Again. Pride and fear send me there. Again, the voice: After all, Miss Messy Pants, shouldn’t you be a little further along by now—shouldn’t you have this licked?

I’ve been here countless times before and thankfully, by God’s grace, I do manage to drag myself—or does He pick me up?–back to the simple truth that often drives the seemingly beat-up truck of my life–and of this blog.

The Lord’s words spoken to an infirmity-beleaguered, conflict-riddled Paul give me courage. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

I lean heavily upon this promise as I return to the page and allow God to use my vulnerability and my transparency–some would say foolish, indiscreet openness–to invite others to look at their lives as well. Hopefully to become more inspired or encouraged.

I don’t think it’s too bombastic to say that we live in a time where isolation has never been more culturally prevalent. It may be a generalization but don’t we hide our stage 4-shame-ridden selves behind religious mantras and our social media updates while we attempt to buy time to tidy up our real lives enough to actually engage in real time, with real people.

We’re afraid of being judged, uninvited, or rejected because our realities don’t quite measure up to the ideals we’ve adopted for ourselves, borrowed from the glossy pages of the picture-perfect examples plastered all around us.

We hide. We don’t connect. We don’t engage. And this incubates and spreads the virus of neglect in the body of Christ. Have we become so introspective that we can’t see past our own navels to the lives and needs of others? Ouch!

In the rare glimpses I am given into someone’s real-time life I often hear the don’t-judge-me-but… preface to their hesitant transparency and self-disclosures.

We desperately want to connect, we want to be in loving and nurturing community but we feel inadequate. Our messy cars, the unfolded laundry piled on our couches, the pastries we swear off and then order with our skinny lattes, our failures, our excesses, and our perceived deficiencies keep us confined to our privacy–and to our pain.

We say, I’ll crack the door open to my life but you have to promise not to judge or reject me because my life isn’t the way I want it to be and it sure doesn’t look anything like what I think everyone else’s life looks like.

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All the naval gazing I’ve been doing lately has led me to think about humility. I guess you could say Jesus has teamed up with life and they’ve graciously handed me a not-so-free scholarship for another term in the school of Grace and Truth.

My human nature and some gray matter issues medical science has assigned a stigmatized label keep me in perpetual supply of humility-inducing opportunities. I don’t like it. In fact, I hate it! I often mount Self-sufficiency and try to outrun my own life and my reality. I try to overcome in my own power. I fail. Every time.

“When you think you stand, take heed lest ye fall.” (Doesn’t that sound more impactful in the King’s English?)

“God resists the proud (self-reliance and hubris) but gives grace to those humble in heart.”

When I get caught up in trying to please man or achieve man’s standards for acceptance, favor or approval, I know that I’m walking in pride. I know that humility has become a missing spoke on my wagon wheel. And I know I’m flirting with a religious spirit. And I’m terribly close to a face plant.

There’s a line in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes that describes this propensity toward pride:

“The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up.”

Pride is going to come up in our lives for as long as we breathe earth’s air. Only humility can displace it. Only humility allows us to see rightly.

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We need grace.

I’ve determined that I cannot live in grace if I don’t walk in humility.

Two things are necessary for this sojourn we call our lives:

Grace-reliance and Humility-dependence.

  • Humility gives us the receptors for grace—it allows us to receive the grace our insufficiency requires.
  • Humility quiets our perfectionism and releases us from approval seeking.
  • Humility opens the door to let others see into us.
  • Humility keeps us from promoting ourselves and our purposes; it enables us to serve.
  • Humility stifles our tendency to judge and our propensity toward cynicism.

Humility positions us rightly before God—it keeps us looking to Him as the Awe-inspiring recipient of our lives rather than the resource for our agendas.

On that note, I’ll break here for part 2 of The Lost Art of Humility and post it next week.

Shame: The Truth About the Lie

We sat in my living room, the four of us, in the glow of candle light and Christmas trimmings. While sipping mulled cider and nibbling dainty food we shared our holiday traditions, talked about our kids a bit and toe-stepped around the lighter topics unsure of how to broach what was really on our minds.

We were acquaintances from church. Each of us had found ourselves less relational than we’d like to be–too insular. Oh snap! Let me just tell it like it is. We’re swimming in the flow of a large church yet we feel a lack of connectedness and belonging. Like so many other women, we glide through the foyer and sanctuary hugging necks and exchanging greetings. An onlooker might think we were well connected–but it’s an illusion.

We’re busy. We’re afraid. We’ve got baggage. We’re ashamed. We have many reasons why we’ve positioned a guard around our hearts and posted a limited access sign to our lives. What if they really knew me and I wasn’t enough–didn’t measure up. What if I was judged and rejected?  

Have we lost our appetite and tolerance for vulnerability?

One of us braved self-disclosure and confessed her benchmark shame. The I-can’t-get-over-this kind of suffering that’s done in isolation. The I-can’t-talk-about-this-to-anyone kind of fear that breeds secrecy. The others listened empathetically; heads nodded in identification while soft uh-huhs pinged affirmation. One by one, each woman unburdened her heavy heart–not with transparency alone but in the raw vulnerability necessary for true connectedness.

Tears spilled politely from carefully mascara’d eyes; shy hands reached for tissues and nervous laughs peppered our confessions now simmering in the beginnings of regret. If the phone call I received the next morning is any indication, we all second-guessed our vulnerability and doubted the success of this planned journey toward sisterhood.

The most ironic thing about the evening was that each one of us practically pleaded with the others to recognize their shame for the lie it is but were unable (or unwilling) to pry the shame-lie from our own white-knuckled grip. We saw one another’s shame source for what it was: a tactic to drive isolation. But we were deaf and blind when it came to our own. Why?

I remember taking the microphone at the funeral of my younger sister. Her tragic death, in my opinion, was a culmination of spiraling shame and self-medication. With each successive attempt to anesthetize her pain it grew larger until finally, the consequences resulted in death. Shame is like phantom pain–you feel it but there is no legitimate cause for it and no man-made remedy.

I faced the auditorium of her mourners that day and appealed to us all to consider the lethal power of shame and the absurdity of trying to appease it.

“Imagine having wracked up credit card debt to such an astronomical amount that it would be impossible to pay it within your lifetime. Imagine the frustration you felt at only being able to pay the interest portion and never seeing the principal reduced. The futility in it is unbearable. Let the weight of that settle.

Now imagine that a compassionate and rich benefactor took mercy on you and paid the debt in full. The initial relief would be indescribable–you’d be ecstatic. But then let’s say the credit card company sends you a letter and states with mock authority, “Yes, it’s true. The principal of your debt has been paid but since you yourself did not pay it, we reserve the right to bill you for interest on the amount previously owed.”

You don’t like it but you rationalize–that’s not so bad I guess. After all, you’re used to paying interest so you continue to make interest payments on a zero balance all the while you declare: “My debt has been paid!” 

Well, you’ve been duped. There can be no interest on a zero balance! 

Our debt of sin has been paid. Our shame has been expunged along with our guilt. Shame is merely the illegitimate interest payment we make on our forgiven debt. Do we somehow think we can offset the cost of our forgiveness by paying shame interest? That is so completely absurd we reason AND YET, we find ourselves writing interest checks.

What we don’t fully realize is that while we’re quietly entertaining our shame in hopes of offsetting our guilt somehow, we are forced into some form of secrecy. That secrecy leads to hiding and hiding progresses into isolation. Here’s the really dangerous part: When our enemy has us isolated we are unguarded prey and primed to believe the other heinous lies that keep us tethered to disconnection.

God designed us for community and connectedness not simply because we are healthier that way but because that’s how He grows His family.

Shame is the lie that causes us to disqualify ourselves from belonging.

So. Imagine a cosmic-sized PAID IN FULL stamp. Now. Imagine seeing that bad boy slapped across every accusation you’re presented. About Your worth. Your love-ability. Your belonging. Your purpose. Your validity. Your righteousness. Your shame.

Let’s get to stamping, shall we? Jesus provided the red ink of His blood–first in the manger birth and then once and for all on the cross.

PAID IN FULL–both our guilt and our shame.