Humility

Ice, Mice, and the Lessons They Teach Us

About nine months ago, we moved into a new house and inherited an ice machine. That was exciting in itself, but even more exciting is the kind of ice the machine produces. It’s soft and porous, a little crunchy but not too much so. You can actually bite a cube in half with your front teeth! It does wonders for my oral fixation, but it is much less suited to my TMJ. While this condition has laid dormant for some time, this newfound ice-chewing habit of mine has caused my symptoms to flare up. They extend beyond jaw pain at this point, causing horrible earaches as well as sharp headaches throughout the left side of my head (I’ve even begun to wonder if they aren’t migraines). And yet, I sit here munching away. I’ve even been known to delay my bedtime routine some nights just so that I can eat a few more pieces of this marvelous confection. All of this, even though I am likely driving myself to one day need a titanium jaw replacement—and that is not a good thing to have to have replaced!

The whole thing reminds me of a research study I once read about, involving a bunch of lab rats (or mice, I don’t recall). These rats were placed in cages containing buttons that, when pushed, would allow them to directly stimulate the pleasure centers in their brains. What the researchers found was that the mice would literally pleasure themselves TO DEATH! They wouldn’t eat, or sleep, or do anything else. It seemed so sad and pitiful.

But my ice fetish got me thinking, aren’t we all a bit like those lab rats? It seems that many of us could identify something that might compel us to pleasure ourselves to death—literally or figuratively. It might be something that in itself is relatively benign, or it might be something highly destructive. It might be something that affects only ourselves, or it might affect our friends, families, colleagues, and communities. It might not reach MOAS (Mother of All Sins) proportions, but it might.

In any event, recognizing our own weaknesses, temptations, and vulnerabilities should awaken us from our delusions of self-righteousness. It should give us a frame of reference from which to reach out to one another in our shared humanity. And from this place, we can reach out in grace, and compassion—and yes, in accountability, but first and foremost, in LOVE…because after all, didn’t God first love us? (1 John 4:19).

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Feet and Ashes

John 13:5-9
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

I didn’t grow up observing Lent, or Ash Wednesday, or any of the traditional liturgical calendar really. But our church home of the past six years does observe these “holidays.” And each year, I’ve attended the self-guided contemplative service that is offered on Ash Wednesday. But I have always bypassed the actual ashes. On the surface, that is because it feels to me like one of those rote rituals that loses its meaning in repetition.

But as I’ve reflected on it more this past week or so, I’ve realized there is more to my abstention than that. First, there’s a bit of my own rebellious spirit. I tend to buck the system, oppose authority, and dig my heels in at every chance. I like to think of myself as a rebel for God’s cause, but sometimes it’s just me being contentious. And Proverbs 13:10 warns that contention is born of pride, and as we all know, pride goes before destruction.

Pride also opposes humility, and I’ve come to realize that this too is lacking in me as I decline to receive the ashes. At a safe distance, I can hide my flaws. Someone may not notice if my bangs are full of cowlicks, or if my forehead is greasy, or if my breath smells. But up close, that’s another story. Every part of me that’s out of place or imperfect is magnified and on display. But to hold back and keep my distance on account of these imperfections exposes a pride deep down, doesn’t it?

I can think of someone else who was likewise prideful: Peter. Now, don’t get me wrong—feet are definitely gross. And you wouldn’t catch me giving or receiving a pedicure…yuck. But as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He was setting an example of humility and servanthood, and one the disciples needed to see if they were to humbly serve others. But for Peter, it wasn’t enough to learn to serve others. He first needed to humble himself to receive his Lord’s service.

Even after Peter gave in and allowed Jesus to wash his feet, I expect he was uncomfortable. Humility doesn’t come easily. And I can tell you that tonight, as I approach the altar to receive the ashes, I will be uncomfortable. My heart will be pounding, my palms will be sweaty, I may even start hyperventilating. But I will choose to receive, as a discipline of humility.

Maybe you’ve thought about attending an Ash Wednesday service this year, but have resisted. Maybe you’re hesitating because you feel too unworthy, or too worthy, or too busy, or too hurt. Whatever your reasons for holding back, would you consider letting those go, humbling yourself before the Lord, and joining me in approaching the altar on this Ash Wednesday?

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Rebel

Colossians 3:18-22

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”

Rebel Elizabeth—that is the name I had long planned to give my firstborn daughter. It had a special meaning to me, too. It meant “rebel consecrated to God.” What does that mean? Well, it means someone who doesn’t go along with the crowd or the status quo, someone who fights against injustice, who responds to hatred with love. In short, someone who lives like Jesus did when He took on flesh and dwelt among us. The name was to be a blessing spoken and prayed over this little girl.

The problem was that the name actually predated her dad, who had more delicate sensibilities regarding what the name might imply to some and how it might be misinterpreted. “But that’s not how I mean it,” I argued over and over. “My intentions and reasons are good and noble and righteous…godly even.” BUT in the end, I had to consider how the name might adversely impact some unknown percentage of people for whom “Rebel” carries a very loaded meaning. Striking it from consideration was one of the greatest acts of submission I’ve ever undertaken, and one that frankly had me kicking and screaming deep in my heart (and not really all that deep, as I was pretty vocal about it). That was in 2012, shortly before racial and ethnic tensions in our country really started to flare up. In the long run, the choice to submit was the right one…at least until something horrific happens in the town of Laredo to tarnish our daughter’s namesake.

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I think this story tells us a few things:

  1. God’s desires for us do not always match our own desires—no matter how well-intentioned ours may be. He knows things in His infinite wisdom that we couldn’t possibly foresee, and we need to trust His guidance. Sometimes that guidance comes in the form of an earthly authority figure that He has placed over us, one to whom we our called to submit.
  2. Our reasons and intentions matter far less than our decisions and actions, and their consequences. Our love for the least of these, our faith in God, and our intent to follow Jesus require ACTION on our part. And the truth is that sometimes we think (or convince ourselves) that we are acting in accordance with God’s will and direction and in the best interest of all concerned, but the outcome demonstrates that we were wrong. In those cases, God calls us to repent and to make right the wrongs we’ve caused, whether intentional or otherwise. That requires more humility than is comfortable for most of us. But it is what God requires nonetheless.
  3. God’s instructions are there for our protection and our good, and we can trust HIM. We are often hesitant to submit if we lack confidence in the authorities placed over us. But look at the list of relationships outlined in Colossians 3:18-22—wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. Surely earthly husbands, parents, and masters will fail us. But this passage does not permit us to forego submission when they let us down. Instead, we are to submit to God through our submission to others, placing our faith not in them but in HIM.

Submission is hard, but it is necessary. And even more, it is rewarding, if we allow it to be. Maybe you can think of an area in your own life wherein you’re being called to submit and surrender, perhaps one wherein you’ve been resistant to doing so. Pray over it. Ask God to help you. Ask other believers to help you. And then DO it.

Who I Am–Part VII

Matthew 16:24-25

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me,
he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it;
but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

I’ve been married almost seven years. But I have to admit, I was never one of those girls who was anxious or eager to get my MRS degree. I had plans, and I worried that marriage would interrupt those plans—be it through an inconvenient move, or an unplanned pregnancy, or any number of other “trials” that sometimes come along with marriage.

But what can you do? I met a great guy and we decided that we might be able to serve God better together than alone. Besides, when the time came to say good-bye and go our separate ways, neither of us really wanted to. So we planned a beautiful but casual wedding—in a barn! And that was before it was “cool” to get married in a barn. But before we got married, I got my most recent tattoo. It’s on the inside of my left wrist, and reads “Surrender” in Arabic.

This was very intentional. I knew that marriage would mean sacrifice. I knew that motherhood would mean sacrifice. Knowing this, I chose to give up any control that I perceived myself to have, in pursuit of the greater good. But making that choice consciously didn’t negate or nullify the sacrifices that would follow. It hasn’t even always made those sacrifices easier. But if they were easy, I guess they wouldn’t be sacrifices.

As I’ve thought about this truth over the past few days, it occurs to me how perfectly suited this entry is for today—Easter. Jesus, after all, is also well acquainted with the ideas of sacrifice and surrender. He chose to submit to the Heavenly Father’s will, to come to earth, and to humble himself, taking on human flesh. He laid down the rights of his deity, and then he laid down his very life as a sacrifice for our sins. And we sometimes console ourselves with the delusion that, because this sacrifice was undertaken willingly, it was somehow less sacrificial and less requiring of surrender. But the Bible makes clear that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even knowing the glory set before him on the other side of the grave, Jesus pleaded with God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). As if that wasn’t enough, Luke 22:44 tells us that “in His anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

And if surrender and sacrifice were so taxing to Jesus’s spirit, how can we expect anything less? Our lives will offer these opportunities and invitations over and over again, until we are ultimately called home. When they come my way, I do my best to hold open hands up to the heavens in acceptance of God’s will. And when I do, I’m reminded of that word—surrender. I’m convinced that Jesus also holds his hands out in front of him from time to time. But instead of his scars reminding him of surrender or sacrifice, they remind him of you and of me. It is as though his hands are tattooed with the word beloved…along with each of our names.

Isaiah 49:16

“Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms; your walls are constantly before me.” 

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To DO Great

Proverbs 11:2
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

 Proverbs 16:18
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

 I confess, I have some big dreams. I want to do great things for my family, the world, and the Kingdom. And I believe that it is God who has given me these dreams. You can probably relate. After all, we all want to be a part of something great. But it’s hard to do that without also wanting, on some level, to BE great. We seek credit for our work and good deeds; we want recognition for our accomplishments.

So for me, a fear that creeps in is that if I do all of the things I hope to do, I may begin to seek some of the glory for myself. I can’t help but realize that Satan delights in this insecurity. When we fail to act or to obey God because we are afraid of our potential to become prideful, we render ourselves useless. For him, it doesn’t get any better than that. So I’m constantly asking myself, “What are some ways to seek a great and meaningful mission and calling, without also becoming prideful? How do I remain humble?”

But as I write this post, I realize that I’ve already answered my own question. Did you see what I said at first? I want to do great things. But maybe it isn’t about me doing great things. Maybe it’s about GOD doing great things through me. After all, God’s M.O. is to use ordinary people and ordinary things to reveal His glory. HIS glory. Not ours. Not mine.

God, we ask that YOU will do great things in and through us. But as you invite us to join you in your work, please help us to always remember, in everything we do, to give you all the glory and all the honor. For you are worthy!

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