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.

Which one of the 10 servants are you?

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My time!

My rights!

My agenda!

My priorities!

My money!

My day!

My needs!

If I’m honest, this is how I think more often than I’d like to admit.  I know, in my head, that this thinking is not only false but wicked.  After all, I am a Christian. That means I was bought with a price – Jesus’ blood.  The Godhead swapped His life for mine.  He died so that I could live, but not live ‘business as usual’.

I KNOW this, but functionally I still think of these days and years in this body as belonging to me.

But the Father is gentle and continues to press His Truth into me through daily Bible reading.  As He did yesterday with Luke’s account of the ten servants and the money entrusted to them.  Here’s the first part of Jesus’ parable:

Luke 19: 11-15 The Parable of the Ten Minas

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

**

As the parable continues, the newly crowned king returned and immediately called for an accounting of resources entrusted to each of the ten servants in his absence.  Three men’s interviews are described.  Servants 1 & 2 had put the king’s resource to good use and turned a profit for him.  They received commendation and were invited to take on new jobs under the recently crowned king, each one with proportionally greater responsibility.  Clearly, they had proven their dependency and faithfulness. The third guy rather foolishly expressed his unfavorable and distorted view of the king as mean, hard, and demanding.  Out of fear, this steward had held on to the king’s money and had not put it to good use as instructed.

The king announces severe consequences and this man is carted off.

What got me thinking was the absence of any mention of the other seven servants.  What about them?  Did they simply squander the king’s money?  Did they abscond with it, fleeing from the kingdom?  I know that parables usually have one main teaching point. We should not, therefore, read too much into them.  But the actions of these seven unmentioned stewards have stimulated my imagination.

But more helpful than finding out how the story might have ended is reflecting on how to apply Jesus’ principles to me.

I want to be one of the two trusted servants.

I want to receive Jesus’ commendation and to know that I did what He wanted and that I pleased Him.

If that is my heart’s desire, then the first step is the sobering fact that this is NOT my life.

The parable simply put is about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and departure to be crowned King.  The majority of the stewards, the Jewish people, did NOT want Jesus as their king.

If we take the numbers as an indication for today, then 20 % of those who know about Jesus believe Him and serve Him with gladness and faithfulness.  And they will be rewarded when He returns with newer, more challenging and fulfilling work in the new Kingdom.

Is it too far-fetched to consider THIS ENTIRE life on earth as a training ground in being a faithful servant in the Kingdom of God?  A life-long course in stewardship?  And if that is so, then nothing my hands touch is mine.  It all belongs to Him.  So what kind of questions should guide my daily, hourly thinking about the things He has entrusted to me?

For starters, something like: How best do I use this extra money?  How best shall I use the ‘free time’ I see in today’s schedule?  How best can I perform the job with which God has entrusted me this day?

May I be found faithful not only when the King returns but this very hour.

A Rule of Life

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I feel blah, relishing nothing in the future.  It’s a Friday night, on the cusp of summer and 9 weeks off from school.  My mind thinks about upcoming trips.  I should be excited.  I’ll be with family; there’s even a 5-day cruise in my future.  But nothing stirs.

I finish dinner.  It tasted good! But it’s over.  I briefly ponder the merits of having some chocolate with me tea.  Maybe that’ll make my unhappiness and blah-ness go away.

But I don’t indulge and the next morning I’m glad.  The dessert would not have made me content in the long run.

I go to bed before too long, for even my book doesn’t satisfy.  My husband checks in with me a couple of times, ‘You okay?’  He cares, but I rather not go into it then.  After all, he has his ‘Ecclesiastes Moments’ too, when, as penned by Solomon, nothing under the sun satisfies any more.

The next morning, Saturday, I start my morning with a John Piper archived sermon.  He’s preaching from Isaiah 58: 8-11 about how a certain kind of fasting brightens your day.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawnand your healing shall spring up speedily; if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

That’s the kind of light and satisfaction I yearn for!

There’s time for one more sermon as I exercise and I listen to John Piper in a current commencement address at Boyce college talk about ‘Sacred Schizophrenia.  Truth marinates as I finish up my exercise routine.  I settle in with a cup of hot coffee and open up God’s Word to read today’s assigned chapters according to the Chronological Reading Plan Mike and I follow.   

One foray into Scripture leads to another and I come upon Jesus’ harsh words to Peter that seem to reinforce Piper’s call to deal harshly with the unholy self (one of the two selves living in a kind of schizo struggle).  He corrects his outspoken disciple, Peter, admonishing him to move his mind OFF of man-centered priorities and onto what matters to God.  Matthew records what follows like this: 

Then Jesus told his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matt 16: 24-25

I’ve always shied away from the idea of denying myself.  After all, I’m an arch hoarder of time, of energy.

But I’m feeling empty….maybe that’s where fencing off daily time and space for myself has gotten me. Bankrupt and unsatisfied.

Turning 60 this year has stimulated a lot of this kind of self-reflection.  In my 20s, 30s and early 40s, I was busy with children and work.  And then our sons left home for college, work and marriage and I had time to think.  A lot.  Mike has gone through this soul reflection as well.  The kind of wondering ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’.  Looking at others rushing to and fro and asking: ‘What is any of this for, any way?’

But this morning, I see a glimmer.  Piper says that once we have been born again, we have a new self.  But the facts are like this:  our old man is continually at war with our new man until the day we die.  This old man is a liar, as are Satan and the world.  But God doesn’t leave us clueless and alone.  Thankfully, He points us to what will TRULY satisfy, every time.  Speaking through the prophet Isaiah and then in Jesus’ words to His disciples, He instructs:

Only by putting to death the desires prompted by the old man and giving to those who are hungry and oppressed and naked will we find a life, daily, which satisfies.

So what does that look like, practically, when I’m on the cruise this summer, at my mother-in-law’s for a week, at home this summer, in my classroom?

Solomon has the last word and I find the peace that I need from Eccl 2: 24-26

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,

From Matthew and Isaiah I have already seen what pleases God:  

  • when someone hungry crosses my path, I can offer food in the form of a listening, sympathetic ear, some of God’s Word and a prayer right then and there when appropriate

But it starts with a daily re-commitment to suffer with Christ as necessary, to deny my old worldly self that hoards time and energy and a willingness to travel this day WITH Jesus, depending on Him to guide and supply and protect me.

And that’s not all.  God intends for me to also enjoy the simple pleasures of every day life, eating, drinking and working.  These are, indeed, gifts from God TO me.  When I do them acknowledging His goodness, I bring glory to God.

Later on during the day while we hike, I share with Mike what He has revealed. Already light has dawned.  I HAVE a mandate of how to live, a new rule of life.  I know what to do at each stage, whether now, almost 60 or at age 93 and in assisted living!  The burden and gloom have lifted. I revel in the beauty of the day and how good it feels to move my body and be with the man whom I love.

How God is changing my will

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Philippians 2:13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Lots of unholy churn and inward griping have colored my past 3 3/4 years teaching French to middle-schoolers.  I have prayed for God to open the door to other jobs that pay as much but

  • don’t include a commute of at least 1 hour 40 minutes on a traffic-free day
  • don’t place me in a sometimes hostile anti-Christian environment (secular school)
  • don’t require me to face the burdensome daily challenge of teaching French well and creatively to middle-schoolers

And in His good and wise providence, God has kept me in that job!  So I have prayed, very reluctantly, for Him to change my will, my desires.  Do you ever pray like this, a kind of ‘please God, but I’m not sure if I want you to‘ type request?  This is how I’ve been praying:

  • Father, if I have to continue to work THERE, then at least change my heart so that I more light-heartedly teach/work/serve at that school.  But, Father, I’m actually hesitant to ASK You to change my heart.  I don’t think I WANT to want that, to work contentedly there.  I just want OUT!

But God HAS changed my heart through a shift in my thinking that could ONLY have come about this way.

It was a combination of a Charles Spurgeon selection from his book Morning and Evening, a John Piper devotional one night, some scripture in a prayer I was praying through that my app Prayermate had fed me and a John Piper archived sermon the next morning.  All within about 11 hours.

One of my whiny refrains I kept replaying in my mind leading up to those 12 hours was, “My heart is just not in teaching French to middle-schoolers any more!  I’m tired of the burden. And besides, I’ll be 60 in a few months, maybe I don’t have what it takes to relate to them!”  I can get REAL good at excuse making.

By means of 3 verses, He had shifted my thoughts toward the end of the 11 hours (an evening, night and early morning), which gently but abruptly changed my desire:

  • Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
  • Ephesians 6:7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
  • Colossians 3:23 Whatever you are doing, let your hearts be in your work, as a thing done for the Lord and not for men.

And just like that, with the gentle Holy Spirit memory prompting, He brought those living facts and commands into my heart and mind and something occurred instantly.

In a flash, I saw how sinful AND LAME my whininess had been.  I pictured those sins as adding to the crushing weight of sin that Jesus willingly took on for me.

The next thought was:

  •  If I can’t teach whole-heartedly for THEM, those kids, I CAN do so for God.  By His power.
  •  In fact Maria, your Father created those works at this school right now for you to do as a new creation.  He has equipped and fitted you to do just that.  And that is why He has kept you there in that job.  It has been His intention all along.  He has purposes for you to serve Him in that environment.

That was a Wednesday.  I lived with new freedom and awareness throughout the day, actually enjoying myself.

Cautiously I embraced Thursday.  Same thought-altering feelings prevailed. And Friday as well.

It’s Spring Break this week.  The days are flying and soon Monday will come.  But I’m not dreading it.  With His help, I CAN do what He has willed for me, what He commands me to do.

Here’s the truth:  what God commands, He equips us to do and we have no reasonable defense to resist.  Thanks be to God!

Enough of the churn!

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Up until last Friday, I lived with churn. You know that confused, lingering, heavy problem for which no solution is evident? The one that weighs you down and dominates your thoughts?  Yeah, that kind of burden.

churn-1

It takes a lot of energy to keep switching sides, changing one’s mind.  I did that for a number of years with the dilemma – DO I invest time and energy into weighing myself every day, working to maintain a certain weight? or DO I trust God about how He wants my body to be and choose NOT to have my weight be such an identity issue?  Come 5 December 2017, I will celebrate one year of FREEDOM from that enslaving idol.

That particular ‘giving it up/over to God’ final act came after a lot of churn.  Looking back, the churn and my wishy-washiness contributed to much of my pain.  I have felt so much freer since that once and for all decision 11 months ago.

But the back and forth of making and breaking my word to myself has made me gun-shy. I am leery of the sticking power of any decision I make.  The question is – will I truly leave the issue with God or will I take it back into my hands?

I teach French in a school that is 50 minutes away from our house in Western North Carolina.  The days are long and during the school year, I have very reduced personal time. I also find it daunting most days to challenge and teach middle-schoolers with creativity in a way that best makes a way for them to acquire facility with the language.

Yes, my lazy self would love a job that is closer to home and easier AND paid as much as this teaching job.  But as they say in French, ‘ça n’existe pas’ – that doesn’t exist. Apparently.

Why apparently?  Because I have sought other positions over the past 3+ years, AND God has firmly kept all other doors closed AND maintained the financial limits on us that make it necessary for me to earn what I do.

Finally, last week, after knocking on one more door, I gave up.  I’m tired of ‘kicking against the goads’ as Paul worded it in his account of his conversion en route to Damascus. The New Living Translation renders it this way:

We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will. Acts 26:14

I have a hunch, that when and if God wants me to work in a different setting, He will facilitate the move in a way that clearly is of Him and without churn. When Mike and I prayerfully decided to leave suburban Tidewater, Virginia in June 2013, God opened the doors. He sold our Virginia house, found us an affordable house here that is set in the stunning Smoky Mountains and secured a French-teaching job for me.  There was plenty of prayer, but no churn.

I’m a slow learner but I think this lesson (one that the Holy Spirit repeats creatively in different ways) might be sinking in!  Time will tell, but please pray for me to leave this matter in God’s hands and not invest any more mental and emotional energy into it.

 

 

The Gospel according to the Preacher

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78 - my blue hydrangeas with lots of blooms

Fear God and keep his commandments….eat and drink and find satisfaction in (your) work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?….Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love….Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. Ecclesiastes 12: 13b; 2: 24-25; 9: 9a, 10a

Having pursued projects and pleasures, the Preacher’s life principle emerges, germinates and blooms. And I inhale:

Treasure and fear God. Then obey Him, enjoying every good gift He gives, namely the ‘dailies’. The accompanying joy will cleave to me as I work with my heart at what He assigns me.

The perfect job – it exists!

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Perfect job

I don’t know what you fantasize about, but sometimes I imagine the feeling of just having landed THE ultimate job.  In my daydream, I can FEEL the excitement, the open-ended sense of possibility, the overwhelming gratitude and joy of actually being able both to be challenged in a healthy way AND to get to do every day what makes me happiest.  (Speaking French is the number one component)  Included in my daydream is the notion of having been PICKED or selected with all sorts of concomitant and guaranteed learning opportunities and training that will enrich my life.  I’ll be among happy fellow enthusiasts and what we do will make a difference.

Maybe pipe dreams of the ideal job aren’t the ingredients that fuel your fantasy.  Maybe it’s that longing for the ultimate family or skill experience/achievement (winning an Olympic gold in your event) or a different pinnacle of your own choosing.  But for me, it’s always been a longing for THAT job.

And as I approach 60, I’m beginning to realize, not with too many regrets, that there are milestones and goals that I probably won’t realize while I’m alive in this body.

Far be THAT, however, to lead to depression.  For as a Christian, the Bible teaches that the BEST is yet to come!

In fact, if you think about it, since we are immortal and will be given new bodies at Jesus’ 2nd coming, bodies with more and better capacities, the idea of longing for the perfect job while here on earth is both short-sided and bound to disappoint.

But if we view our time on earth as training for the future, (the internship I wrote about earlier – Last week’s blog on a Theology of Work), then we can wait patiently, knowing that God doesn’t waste ANY of our experiences.

So in my imagining the work we will do in Heaven, I bet that:

  • It will be something we each feel perfectly suited for, given our ‘bents’ and our ‘experiences’ here on earth
  • It will be among happy colleagues who lovingly support and encourage one another
  • Our leader, Christ, will be the perfect ‘boss’
  • We will do work that is meaningful and satisfying.

So until then, I pray and trust God for patience and gratitude for both my future destination and the preparation He gives me each day in the meantime.

Colossians 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

PS:  I think the inheritance will be the invitation to come take an active productive role with the Triune God in the Kingdom!

Keep Calm - Job

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