My words were NOT full of grace.

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A soothing tongue [speaking words that build up and encourage] is a tree of life, But, a perversive tongue [speaking words that overwhelm and depress] crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4 Amplified

God recycled an earlier lesson. Obviously, I had not internalized his teaching in previous versions of the training. To my shame and with some pain, that is.

It happened like this.

Before I dump some details on you, you have to know that I often indulge in prideful practices.  My go-to reflex is to assume that I have the scoop on the best way to do some things.  And I don’t hold back from letting you know.  What works for me, I assume will work for you. I also take it as a given that you actually want to hear my solution for your particular problem.

Anne, my daughter-in-law, has been softly saying otherwise. By nature, she doesn’t try to solve anyone’s problem.  She just listens and absorbs. In that way, we are very different. I probably want solutions, so I have believed that everyone else does, as well.

I recognize in Anne a better way.  And I need lots of repetition for this and every truth to sink in and for new practices to take root.

I have a young colleague where I volunteer.  We see each other one morning a week.  Gradually, over time, she has shared a huge source of sorrow in her life.  Each time we served together, she has told me more of the context and story encompassing this painful issue.

I made some assumptions.  I took her on as ‘an encouragement project’ and started sending her bits of scripture and prayers from others that I thought might help.  And I think they did. So far, so good.

But then I stepped on her toes.  I wrote a blog piece with her in mind.  Then I sent it to her and said that her situation had inspired it.  Ouch!  How little did I reflect ahead of time about how my frank words would make her feel, would wound her?  Not for one moment did I put my feet in her shoes.  I let fly, confident in my ‘diagnosis’ and ‘remedy’.

By God’s sovereign grace, she had the guts to text me last week and let me know that 40 % of the time my ‘advice’ has harshly wounded her, that I have gotten her wrong.

Immediately, I felt shame, sorrow and regret. It has taken me a week to process what happened.

When I read her text, though, I absorbed her criticism humbly and immediately fired back an apology.  I affirmed her response to question my assumptions and discard what she didn’t think was true about her.

Here’s some humor, though. Three days prior to this sobering text, Mike and I had sat under one of our teaching elders as he led a class from Proverbs about having a humble spirit. That’s an attitude which accepts ALL criticism with a meekness that prayerfully sifts through it to find truth.

My colleague had been speaking truth to me when she wrote to set me straight. 

The day after her pride-bursting announcement, I asked for Anne’s perspective. Again, by grace, God provided a good hour with her in person.  She admitted that she almost never gives advice unless someone asks for it. What she DOES do is ask gentle questions as she carefully listens:

  • Can you explain what that has looked like in your life up until now?
  • Walk me through what led up to your decision.
  • What most frightens you in this situation?
  • How does that make you feel, that you can’t seem to ‘X’?  
  • (and for someone who is a believer, ‘What is it you are asking Jesus to do?’)

Nowhere does she offer advice or a solution. Until or unless they pointedly ask.

Wow!  What a novel concept for me!  Not really, though.  Anne explained all this seven months ago on an earlier visit.  She described a distinction between people who share burdens. Some people unload a problem WANTING a solution, but that most (she included) don’t want someone to fix them or the situation.  They just want a safe place to explore their thoughts with leisure.

Although I was intrigued then, I never attempted to change my ways, to adapt to this possible distinction regarding counsel.  I saw it as intriguing, rather than something I should implement.

I’m so glad my friend had the courage to confront me. Yes, it hurt, but it intersected with a growing desire in my spirit to BE gentle, mild and humble.

Something she wrote convinced me to WANT to steward my words, listening twice as much as I speak. About herself she shared, ‘The Holy Spirit always corrects me gently, never harshly.’  She’s so right!  Jesus treats me that way, too!

So, here is my plea.  Knowing I will fail again to change my natural thought-less response of ‘How about trying X?’ I pray daily:

“Father, keep conforming me to Christ, no matter how much it hurts.  I want to be gentle with others and listen more. Please help me.  For the blessing of others and for my own good. And to please you!”

The Gift of Humiliation?

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“I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then I must watch my reaction to it.”  Father Richard Rohr

That line bites!  Asking God?  for humiliation?  daily?  How is that wise or even safe?

But what if….

  • my justification for how I act/think needs correcting?
  • I think too highly of myself in some area(s)?
  • the only way God can get my attention is if someone I HAVE to heed points out a mistake, a failing, some negligence in duty, a SIN, a way I’ve hurt him?

The recent painful conversation with my boss three weeks ago certainly has given me much about which to think, pray and discuss with a few friends and family.  And I’ve sought God’s counsel through what He daily reveals in reading and chewing on His Word.

Last Monday, a parent of a former student dropped off some French newspapers she had collected for me in July on her and her daughter’s inaugural trip to Paris.  She had ‘re-discovered them in a corner’ and was just now, in December, bringing them by my classroom.  She included a long, handwritten letter where she detailed all the ways I had supported and counseled and guided her daughter during the 3 years I had her as an advisee and French student.  The timing could not have been better.  I saw that in this very school where I’ve encountered so much painful indirect criticism and chastisement (parent to principal to me)  I AM making a difference in some lives.  Maybe not with the particular student whose parent said I wasn’t supporting to her daughter’s satisfaction, but with others.  Thank you, Father!

Furthermore, my desire to improve how I teach French lives on.

So this morning I thought – What if…this BIG and PAINFUL thing is NOT meant by God as an indication that I should leave my current school but is actually just one of His good gifts of correction, designed to make me more like one of Jesus’ little sisters whom He is molding through many trials?

I’m not the only one suffering through a hardship.  Many brothers and sisters currently or soon will face the challenge of discerning God’s will.  These weighty decisions feel like a foggy business, with no clear step-by-step process to follow.  Some of you are grappling with decisions about business direction, moving house, changing jobs, whether to say something important to a loved one, what to do about aging parents, health treatments or any number of other issues.

I heard or read, and it resonates as so true that:  MORE important than knowing the right decision IS knowing the right person – the One, True God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Christ and giver of His divine Spirit.  This triune God IS the One who continuously shows steadfast love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness because that is who HE is!

So, do I dare pray Richard Rohr’s outrageous request and look for the humiliation vitamin to heal and strengthen me? (and you and I thought to pray for patience was a dangerous business!)  Well, if we believe God’s Word that the more we grow in holiness, the more we see Him and the more joyful we become, then why not?

Let’s look to God for a reassuring word from Deuteronomy 31:8:

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

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