It’s Day Two.
School started on September 1st, which lead straight into a long weekend, and now we are on Day Two of this post-Labor Day weekend. I know that some send their kids back to school with much weeping and wailing. Not me. Even though I was sentimental about these major milestones….of launching my oldest into middle school and my youngest into kindergarten, I was still very ready to send them back. On days before school started, I nearly tied them to a tree outside, with notes attached: ‘Please take this child into school on the 1st day. His mother loves him but was just done.’
It’s odd, right? Those last few weeks are hard, in part because we psych ourselves up for it. We condition our minds. When summer approaches, we think, ‘I cannot wait one more day….thank God it is finally summer!’. Then, when it is time to send them back, ‘Praise the Lord, they are back in school….now, I can go back to my routines.’ I am a routine person. I am not very spontaneous…aside from that time my friends wouldn’t stop bugging me about blogging, and so I actually did it sans much forethought or planning.
So, hallelujah, we are getting back into the swing of things. Being the mother of good intentions that I am, that included cracking open our Jesus Calling devotional for kids during breakfast. Today’s devotion, September 7th, reads: I did not come to this earth to make you feel guilty. I came to free you from guilt. And, I don’t like it when others use guilt to get you to follow Me. I want you to come to ME out of love.
I’d been toying with a blog post along these lines. Reading this devotion with my kids felt like God hitting me over the head with a 2×4, as if to say, ‘yep…this is the topic.’ With the kids back in school (for more than 2 days in a row!), and now with this nagging sense that I had my next topic – I’m left with no excuses. So, here we go.
(This is your moment to grumble…..I know…..another one of those ‘feel good’ topics…)
We’ve all heard the verse from Proverbs, pride before a fall. It’s so commonplace, I don’t even think we stop to actually reflect on its meaning. CS Lewis spells it out a bit more directly, saying in Mere Christianity: “For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” Damn. That harsh. But, unfortunately – true.
If pride is bad, then the opposite must be good. And, most would probably say the opposite of pride is humility. Yet, even for this life-long Christian, I learned something new this Sunday that really made me rethink my understanding of humility. In talking about relational vital signs, Scott Scruggs listed humility as a valuable posture for gauging our attitudes towards others. The part that I’d long gotten wrong, was that humility isn’t about thinking poorly of myself or fixating on my weaknesses. In fact, it’s not about me AT ALL. Scott read Philippians 2:3-4 , which says:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Now, I’ve read this verse many times. But, I seemed to have habitually missed the main message, that humility isn’t about how I see myself – it’s a commitment to how I see others. There are about 101 reasons why this matters, but here a few.
#1) Many people like our Christ a whole lot more than they like Christians (to quote Gandhi). Pew Research data just published last month says this about ‘nones’:
Perhaps the most striking trend in American religion in recent years has been the growing percentage of adults who do not identify with a religious group. And the vast majority of these religious “nones” (78%) say they were raised as a member of a particular religion before shedding their religious identity in adulthood.
Care to take a lucky guess as to what one of the top reasons young people give for leaving the church?????? The majority of nones say they were disenchanted. I’ve got a daughter in 6th grade, so let’s momentarily revisit those middle school vocab lists. Disenchanted is defined as: disappointed by someone or something previously respected or admired. When asked why, one of the reasons they give is that too many Christians are doing un-Christian things.
#2) Christians are in denial about being un-Christian. I know that reading my post on racism is about as appealing as going for a colonoscopy. So, let me give you the Cliff Notes on one key message: we suck at art of seeing ourselves as we really are. The fancy word for this tendency is unconscious bias. Since I like fancy words/terms, I’ll give you another: motivated reasoning. According to Amanda Marcotte, psychological research shows we almost never look over a bunch of arguments and choose what to believe based on reasoning – instead, she says we tend to defend what we believe, rather than trying to better understand the world. She cites Chris Mooney at Mother Jones, “We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close.”
#3) We’ve got it all wrong….ourselves + world.
I may need to rethink my blog genre (so far, not so funny).
At the rate I’m going, if you actually believe what I’m writing, you’ll want to just throw in the towel by this point.
Spoiler alert: In the end, God wins.
God’s got this. As a great man of faith, Martin Luther King Jr said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Fortunately, in addition to God’s overarching hand, young people seem to be more inclined to learn about the world, accept others, fight poverty, etc…in certain places, we are bending towards justice. But, are we bending towards Jesus? In the end, God wins. But, I think the question for our generation is whether it matters to us if every year, the ‘nones’ increase. Because, let’s be clear – the increase in nones is not due to Muslims migrating from Syria or folks who crossed the Mexican border and are staying in the US illegally. Nones are the folks who were raised in the church and then decided that it was not a religion they could call their own. They left because of us. So, do we care?
Yesterday, we had our first Mothers Together gathering. It was awesome. Not so awesome was the moment when I was introduced as a member of the teaching team and co-leader of the Missions Team. Now, it’s suddenly *for real*. Fabulous. I put myself out there this year – not because I have everything figured out, but because I know the only way forward is accountability and vulnerability. And, I don’t write this as some sort of pseudo humility bull shit. Missions is one area where I am definitely not a poster child. I’ve never been on a missions trip. The homeless make me uncomfortable. Shall I continue??? My Achilles heel is my intellectual pride…the fact that I’m far more comfortable with my books, academic journals….of knowing the right thing to do. But, I’ve been slow to convert that understanding into actually doing the right thing. Sounds familiar? It’s been the constant struggle. Paul writes in Romans: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Please don’t hold your breath for amazing stories on how my family has suddenly transformed into missionally-minded Christians on steroids. But, we’re going to try. I love the way Rachel Held Evans puts it, in her book, Searching for Sunday: “Sometimes we are closer to the truth in our vulnerability than in our safe certainties.” Books and blogs have gotten me this far (which is a start!) but it is time to exit my own safe certainties and intellectual pride, and get my hands dirty.
Rick was right.
The Purpose Driven Life was first published in 2002. I got married on September 6th of that year – 2002! (Yep, yesterday was anniversary!) I remember reading the 40-day devotional, which has sold over 30 million copies since it was first published. I have to admit that I forget much of what it said. But, I remember the way it started: “It’s not about you.” As beautifully simple and true as this is, we read this and then can turn even something like humility into a matter of ourselves. So, here are a few tips that I’m going to try to follow myself.
#1) Make it a family goal to go do something, anything, to serve others by the end of this year (2016).
#2) Help the harassed and helpless.
For sure, we need to be smart about figuring out what works for our family, assessing our gifts, yada yada yada….. But, let’s be careful to not fall into the trap I often do….paralysis by analysis.
This week, I was convicted by a photo of Mother Teresa, who was just granted sainthood by Pope Francis (who is a rock star, by the way!). Her feet are deformed because she would always choose the worst pair of shoes for herself.
Definitely feeling a bit guilty.
But, quick reminder…that’s not God’s point. I love the way the ‘grown-up version’ of Jesus Calling puts it: I grieve when I see grace eroding. His main message is love – for us and for others. Mother Teresa’s feet changed because her heart was moved. The world won’t be better if our feet look like hers – it will be better when our hearts do. And, what’s clear from her life is that she wasn’t striving to be humble, she was just overwhelmed with compassion for those around her. Matthew 9:36 says (speaking of Jesus), that He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless. So, maybe consider leaning into the places you’re not comfortable…the people that the world has either forgotten or is picking on….maybe them. If we can psych ourselves into the changing seasons of life, maybe we can psych ourselves into changing our hearts.