The Lost Art of Humility – Pt. 2

One Sunday he was just fine.

The following Sunday prayer was requested for an upset stomach.

The Sunday after that he arrived with a report of stage 4 cancer in his esophagus, his liver and his lymph nodes.

In the short span of time between his first scan and his second the spots on his liver had migrated into a single large one. Oncologists said it is advanced, aggressive, incurable, and untreatable. They advised against chemo and suggested a course of pain management and palliative care.

DSC_0325 (1)His response?

Glory. Glory. Glory. All glory belongs to our savior Jesus Christ! God can do whatever He chooses to bring glory to His name. I ask that God would give me strength to glorify Him in this and that I would not fail to praise Him in all things.

His wife sings harmony in this chorus, echoing those sentiments.

The report landed softly in the room where our Simple Church gathered. Our collective response was, O Lord, nothing is impossible for you. We ask you to heal our dear brother. We trust You with the outcome. 

Like a scalpel, the news sliced into our respective hearts confronting our faith, our theology and our unspoken fears.

As my fingers move over my keyboard just now, our brother is receiving, in faith, his first chemo treatment–against the advise of his doctors. There are days when pain and nausea thrash him like mortal enemies and still his lips speak praise for our Love-sovereign, gracious, merciful, omnipotent LORD who’s ways are perfect and worthy of all the glory.

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He’s no stranger to affliction.

  • He and and his wife worshiped while grieving the stillbirth of their twin sons and said, “We count it a privilege that God would consider us worthy to display Himself through our loss.”
  • When their wealth was vaporized by a Christian brother who had defrauded them they responded, “Nothing in this life compares to the riches of knowing the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And they forgave.
  • Presently, unless God intervenes, he is moving rapidly toward his heavenly home and great kingdom reward.

This unassuming couple is quietly speaking volumes in the way they are standing in this furnace of affliction. It’s a message about the incomparable worth of being a child of God with humility that is focused on bringing glory to Him.

You see, I’ve been giving this humility thing a lot of consideration lately. Early in chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul urges (actually entreats or begs) believers to walk in a manner worthy of Christ’s calling (or ordered steps) for our lives. He describes what that looks like, opening with humility:

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love…

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Right out of the gate I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who can walk into a room where 99% of its contents are in good order. Invariably my eye will fall on the crooked picture frame or the tilted lampshade. I’ve fought it my whole life. Flaw or gifting? I don’t know. Either way I try not to let it in the driver’s seat but I don’t  stuff it in the trunk.

As someone who has experienced childhood abuse, alcoholic family dysfunction and mental illness I can tell you that I’m no stranger to the world of self-help.

In my early twenties when I began my healing journey there was virtually nothing on childhood sexual abuse. PTSD hadn’t been coined. Adult children of Alcoholics was just gaining a voice. Melody Beattie’s spotlight on Codependency wasn’t mainstream. At that time most of the emerging self-help conversation was in secular arenas. The faith community eventually responded and has since contributed some amazing helps for wounded hearts and broken lives. But…

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I’ve noticed the pendulum swing wide since those early years when it was just me and Jesus gutting out my chaotic internal world. But now I think we have become obsessed with ourselves and with our wellbeing; with our passions, our purposes, our dreams, and our voices. We have personality assessments, gift assessments, love-language assessments, and ministry gift assessments. We have markers, labels, identifiers, and a whole vocabulary of newly coined terms–all intended to help us better understand ourselves and recognize each other.

We seek the deep mysteries in ourselves but in the process have we lost our appetite for the deep mysteries of God?

The result of this propensity for introspection, indicated in too many ways for me to list here, has been summed up in a Brennan Manning quote:

“God made man in His image and man returned the compliment.”

Have things gotten turned around in the relationship between the Creator and the created, the Redeemer and the redeemed, the worshipers and the only One deserving of worship?

I’ll never forget the impression made upon me by a book title that caught my eye in the 80’s: Write Your Own Ticket With God. Really? Not in my bible!

Entitlement has crept into our culture–not just in the secular arenas, but also the sacred. Sadly, I recognize it in my life as well. Ugh. I’ve noted how my conversation with God has shifted. It grieves me that:

  • I petition more than I worship. 
  • I too often scrutinize my life and world, determine what or who needs fixing and then petition God for remedy as though He were life’s Customer Service Agent.
  • I can be much more concerned with my petty agenda than I am of His kingdom purposes and of His redemptive story forged in and throughout my life. 

Ironically, the quiet humility of my friends has been God’s megaphone in my ear:

God is whispering to our preoccupied hearts. “Keep your eyes on me. Stay focused. Live to glorify me. Lose your life to find it. Be the least so you can be great in my kingdom. Trust my ways. Walk humbly before me.

The truth of the matter is that our lives really don’t belong to us, they’ve been purchased by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

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.

The Grace of Emptiness

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Dare to live empty. 

It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It runs against the grain of our cultural fabric. We like full–we strive for it: full cupboards, full bank accounts, full schedules and full social calendars. We’re full of information and knowledge, of resources and tools. Full is good, right? Full means comfort and protection and insurance and sometimes power. Full indicates that we’re prepared. It suggests that we’re competent, ready for anything, geared to go.

But what if empty is better?

Sometimes we can get so full of ourselves, so weighted down with our own ideas and game plans that navigating life on God’s terms can feel like an uphill race. Sometimes in all our fullness we can find ourselves bloated.  When we feast on trend or fill on consensus, we leave no room for God or for what matters most.

When I look at the way Jesus did life, I see Him empty of Himself and empty of this world—empty of it’s trappings and clutter. That emptiness precipitated the infilling of His father. Jesus said, I don’t say anything that I don’t first hear my Father speaking. I don’t do anything that I have not first seen my Father doing. Jesus lived surrendered and Jesus lived light: no home, no headquarters, no apps or clubs or communities—not even a backpack to carry a few essentials.

He filled himself with the Father and then emptied himself giving heaven’s bread away. Like the mana in the wilderness, Jesus filled daily and He emptied daily.   When he was empty, He sought out a place of solitude with his Father to be filled again.

Of the various ways I seek to fill my life, the area of fullness that most weighs me down is being full of myself. When I am full of myself, there is little room for God—and frankly, it’s like junk food that fools me into thinking I’m not hungry. I am full of my own words, my own opinions, my own agenda, my own solutions, my own initiative, my own sufficiency—my own need to be approved of and affirmed by others. I’m full of ideas about how things ought to be. When I fill my head and my day and my agenda with the goods I think will carry me, I am actually just weighing myself down and crowding out what I need most.

The prophet Micah tells us what God requires. Among living justly and loving mercy, we are to walk humbly with our God. It takes a certain kind of emptiness to walk with God in humility. And it takes a certain type of humility to walk in emptiness.

It was an empty womb, an empty manger, and an empty ego that brought Christ to humanity. It’s that same emptiness that will bring humanity to Christ, through us.

What does it look like to live empty? It might look differently to each of us. How do we respond when God asks us to give up something or someone so that He can fill us with the fullness of His life–so that when we are poured out, His life is given through us rather than a paltry collection of cute cliches and soft impacts?

There is nothing in this life that we can hold onto or that will sustain us.  There is nothing in this world worth crowding out God. As this year winds down and I prepare to step into a new one, I’m asking God to show me the grace of daring to live empty.