I recently celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday. I think sixty-five years is a loooooong time to be doing the same dumb things over and over. I also think God agrees! I believe that’s why he is intent on repeating himself until I – hopefully (hope springs eternal) – change.
Let me say that God has done some pretty incredible work in my life! And there have been significant changes over the years. But there is one thing, and unfortunately, it is the main thing I have refused to succumb to: Humility. Oh sure, I can lay claim to superficial humility. You know, that surface stuff that implodes the first time some jerk gets on my bad side!
And so, like our poor friend Phil, I go to bed every night with good intentions and wake up the next morning, finding myself stuck in the same place.
Remember when Phil said to Rita, “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned, and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me”? That would make a great metaphor for my life and probably all our lives to one degree or another, except for the “without a scratch” part.
Here’s how my life has unfolded:
I was once a concept of God’s wild and magnificent imagination. I can envision all the angels in heaven dancing for joy at the sight of every single creature God brings to life. Then, without warning, I was plopped into a broken world, and life immediately began re-creating me into the person God no longer recognized. And the angels fell silent.
Through life, I, too (metaphorically), “have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned”. First, by those entrusted with my care. Then, by my own attempts to live within the context of that person. Everything this Original Creation was supposed to be, became unrecognizable. My focus was not on living with joy and the fullness of life promised to me. My focus became simply a matter of survival, like Phil waking up every day in a world that never changed.
I tried to end my pain too. I didn’t have a groundhog strapped to my steering wheel, and it wasn’t on railroad tracks. Instead, it was me drunk in my little MG on the highway, praying that I would crash and die. Phil’s reaction when his attempt to kill himself failed was, “Ah, nuts.” Mine was the same. I think my exact words were, “Great! I can’t even do this right!” I remember getting out of bed that morning and going off to work: same empty life, different day.
Over the years since that not-so-fatal day, much has happened. As I said before, God has done some remarkable work in my life, considering my incessant resistance to the death of my own will. We have been through so much together! When I think about what he has managed to accomplish in this continual wrestling match, it has been nothing short of a miracle! (Genesis 32:22-32)
After Phil described his torture, he exclaimed that there was “not a scratch on me”. I couldn’t say that, but I did think that “not a scratch on me” meant symbolically that no one ever noticed that I had changed. Considering that has made me, and God, very sad. Since God recently raised the issue again, and not so subtly, I knew that a lesson was coming, and it wouldn’t be pretty.
Sure enough, I have embarked on a new meditation titled “Bridges to Contemplative Living”. A compilation of the works of Thomas Merton and other Spiritual Giants. I know God is ever so gently loosening my white-knuckled grip on my self-will.
You know how you get a song in your head and can’t escape it? How about just a word: Humility? Of course, as is God’s mysterious way, and because I have been in total denial of my lack of humility, I am confronted almost daily with examples of “Who do you think you’re kidding, Linda?”
I’ll give you one example, but my head and heart are still reeling from the raw truth of many more! Reality bites. Can I just say that?!
Within all of our relationships lies the truth of our faithfulness and sinfulness, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. If we’re not afraid to face that truth, there are powerful lessons to be learned.
So…humility. I recently had a conversation with my husband. Okay, let me restate that. I had an angry confrontation with him concerning a family matter that I felt was going badly. I wasn’t angry with him but wanted him to know how I felt about the situation. So God sat quietly while I whined and wailed and wore myself out. Then he stepped in and stuck a big fat mirror in my face!
I had to sit with that and realize that my anger stemmed not from the current situation but from many years of trying to defend my fragile ego and pride. It isn’t just with this particular person but everyone who pushes my ever-so-delicate buttons. And I hear God say, “Humility…Linda. Let’s give it another try.”
Here’s what God has been showing me in the process of the mediations, prayer, and almost daily experiences that provide the litmus test of how I’m doing. I think it’s some pretty awesome stuff. Let me know what you think!
What I believe has set this entire process in motion did not begin in the last couple of weeks. It started with my hospice training and work with dying patients. You get a much different perspective on life when you sit with the dying. It is impossible to fully understand the richness and beauty of life if you cannot face the reality of death. They are both part of one continual journey and cannot be separated. Though death is something you can choose to ignore, participation is mandatory. For some people, death is just one thing on a long list of “How did that happen?” moments:
- Every day he ate a carton of ice cream on the couch, watched TV, and got fat. He scratches his head and wonders how that happened.
- She was doing 90 in a 30 with no driver’s license and went to jail. How did that happen?
- She was walking on the tracks, got run over by a train, and died. How did that happen?
Anyway, the beauty of humility seems more and more appealing to me as I sit vigil with those who are actively dying. Things that always seemed to matter diminish in significance. I witness what’s really important to those with so little time to fool with ego, pride, and self-centeredness.
If we consider the wasteful things we busy ourselves with, it’s astounding. Like we’re going to be here forever. Yet, working with hospice patients has finally begun to awaken me to the truth of my own life. That Ground of Being hidden behind the false self-created long ago.
The Scriptures and meditations I want to share with you were not “dug up” by my efforts. They unfolded before me just as God planned. This, by the way, should be a powerful lesson for anyone who thinks that God does not want to be deeply involved in the details of our lives. This has happened too often for me to believe otherwise. Now, if I can just get out of his way, perhaps humility is not impossible – even for me.
The following is a list of thoughts, Scripture verses, and quotes that have gradually caused me to loosen my grip on my pride so God can do what he does best: Love me. I hope and pray that I will surrender to that Love and be the empty vessel he desires.
- Matthew 4:25, “Great crowds…followed him.”
Meditation from “The Word Among Us”: “People are going to be attracted to Christ in you – not you (my emphasis). Your joy, your peace, and your love will grow, and that will attract people to you.”
OH, MAN!!!! I thought it was all about me!
- Have you ever felt rejected? I have, most of my life. Even today, there are people I feel rejected by, and I react to them with unkindness. But, how often do I consider the times I reject God by those thoughts and actions born of pride and cultivated in arrogance?
Lord, I pray for your forgiveness for putting so many things ahead of you. You love me so much and feel my rejection so profoundly. You cannot make me love you, though you love me unconditionally. Help me to sit in silence in your presence and teach me how to love. By your power and grace, help me to let go of the things that fill my thoughts and keep me out of relationship with you and those you bring into my life.
- Mark 6:34 says, “When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them.”
Not so much the hearts of his disciples. All they did was complain. Jesus said to feed them. And their response? “What, are you kidding? There are thousands of them.” They counted the meager change in their pockets, “You can’t expect us to just call out for pizza. Let ‘em’ get their own food!”
Jesus always shines a spotlight on our smallness while beaming his might and power at us. In those moments, there are always thirteen disciples. I’m standing there with them all indignant about my weaknesses and inadequacies, forgetting the Source of my power. He’s trying his best to get through to them, and me, and you. He even humbles himself, for heaven’s sake! “I can’t do anything without my Father!” (John 5:30) But, do we listen?
We are all called to love; to have faith and trust and hope; to be filled with joy and peace; called to humility which underlies it all. None of this is remotely possible if it is not born of a heart filled with awe and wonder at God’s magnificence, power, and glory. None of it!
- Matthew 3:13-17, “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me?”
There is a whole bunch of humility going on here! John the Baptist never felt worthy “to tie Jesus’ sandals (Mark 1:7)”. How often are we willing to decrease so Jesus can increase?
And think of Jesus himself allowing John to baptize him. He wasn’t a sinner and didn’t need to be baptized. Yet he humbled himself before everyone to lead the way to his Father.
What I was led to consider this day was the fact that I am not Heartland Hospice’s Chaplain. My
ID badge doesn’t proclaim that I am; my supervisor, although recognizing that I “qualify” as a hospice chaplain, reminds me that I am a volunteer.
Up to this point, I have made it a practice to tell people I was a “volunteer chaplain” – I had to get it in, and technically it’s true enough. But, I have slowly, and ever so profoundly, been admonished by God. He rolls his eyes and repeatedly shakes his head at my need to pump up my false self. But the more I sit with dying patients, the more I realize how little it matters. No one has ever said, “Thank you for being a chaplain.” They say, “Thank you for coming.” That’s all. They thank me for my presence, not any vast wisdom or knowledge I think I possess, and they need to hear. They’re dying; they could care less about my degrees or accomplishments.
Reading that verse was like a one-two punch. No, God doesn’t punch, but I’m telling you, he flicks! I have been flicked often enough to know. And it hurts. Because he’s not flicking my head, he’s flicking my heart!
You see, everyone I know, friends and family, know I have a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Studies. How many of them, I wonder, look at how I treat people and make a note to self: mistreating people must be okay if Linda is doing it. After all, she’s the “holy one”.
I am supposed to be, we are all supposed to be, giving witness to God’s love in a hurting and broken world. But if all others see is my brokenness, how will they ever have hope?
When we go our own way, we obey the parts of God’s command that are easy and discard the parts that don’t appeal to us: Love your neighbor – check. Love your enemy – scratch. Is it any wonder God hates that? Are we putting forth an image of ourselves – more importantly – an image of God that others can use to justify their own sinfulness?
I want to say that I have finally conquered this one, but I know better, and I’m pretty sure there will be another lesson tomorrow…
and the day after that…
and the day after that!
It’s funny; the Scripture verses here are not new to me. “HOLY COW, I never knew God felt so strongly about THAT!” – Liar! They have just been an inconvenient truth. They demand something I have not been willing to submit to. I pray that is all changing. The power of humility lies within every one of us. We have no excuse to believe or act otherwise.