humility through struggle

The joy we find in the broken, the backward and less-than-successful things

I need a show of hands. How many of you out there are deeply entrenched in something that’s quite less-than-successful?

Is your church struggling with leadership, finances, or sharing the gospel with the world?

Does your marriage feel like long-running drudgery, full of low-grade despair or outright hostility?

Is your parenting a loosely cobbled together collection of decisions, aimed at hopefully producing a decent adult one day?

How about your career, your health, or your finances? If one or all of them are a wreck, then you’re reading the right blog post.

I’m right there with you.

It’s becoming more and more apparent to me that I’ve been called to some things that may never be shiny, fancy, or awe-inspiring.

I have recently counted up an offering at church and been somewhat dumbfounded at the low deposit total I saw on the spreadsheet.

Our small group, once a large, bustling, thriving evening each week, suddenly evaporated this month. This place of ministry was near and dear to my heart but, abruptly, it ended.

When friends share stories of churches they attend with special offerings of tens of thousands of dollars, or dozens of baptisms in one night, or the thriving ministries of the church, I get really anxious and teeter on the brink of despair.

What are we doing wrong? Are we not faithful enough for God’s blessing?

I’ve recently had some parenting struggles that I shall keep private, due to the fact that my children are no longer babies and don’t appreciate their junk being spewed all over the internet, but suffice it to say that I had to wonder if I’ve done anything worthwhile with my offspring the last fourteen years. It feels entirely possible that I’m just the tall woman with access to the checking account in the house, and they’re counting down the days until my rule of tyranny is over in their lives.

What am I doing wrong? Have I not prayed enough? Been strict enough? Been too strict?

And even though I’m on the very cusp of releasing my third book, a privilege other writers would eat a sock to experience, my writing career is so less-than-spectacular that I struggle monthly with whether to continue.

Other writers sell more books, get more blog stats, and gain more social media followers in the next twenty minutes than I’ve done in the last eight years.

Am I hearing God wrong? Should I focus on my spectacular career as an administrative assistant and let the writing go?

I tell you all these things not because I’m seeking your pity. I offer them simply to be real, and because I firmly believe that honesty opens up room for others to be honest as well. It’s not all going well. I’ve worked really, really hard for many years, only to realize many of my efforts can basically can basically be filed under “F” for “Failure.”

And maybe you feel the same way?

Here’s some hope for us all. I’ve been reading an old, old book I found in the church library. Forgotten for years, this copy of Humility by Andrew Murray* is now covered in coffee stains and my grubby fingerprints. Sometimes those old writers really have a way of cutting through the popular culture’s madness to really get at the heart of the matter. If something was important and true more than a hundred years ago, maybe we should still be paying attention.

(Just to be clear, the copy I have is a reprint from about fifteen years ago. I’m not spilling coffee on a hundred year old book.)

Murray’s point is simple: Humility is the path to holiness, and directly to God’s heart. Yet we often resist the very things that allow that humility to grow in our hearts. He writes:

Many Christians fear and flee and seek deliverance from all that would humble them. At times they may pray for humility, but in their heart of hearts they pray even more to be kept from the things that would bring them to that place. They have not reached the level of seeing humility as a manifestation of the beauty of the Lamb of God (pg. 91).

We want our churches to be shiny and popular and flush with cash. We want our marriages to be healthy and our parenting to inspire awe in our community. When our efforts are unsuccessful, we either double down with more effort or give up in despair.

But what if there was another way to look at it?

Could we take that lackluster career, that long-running battle in our marriage, or our pathetic book sales and realize that when we bring those things directly to God, we’re growing in humility?

No one’s going to look at our efforts and then be awed by our abilities. But maybe those struggles are making us into kinder, gentler individuals. Maybe we’ll show more grace to others because of this experience. Perhaps our ministries will grow deeper and more heartfelt, with more of the Holy Spirit’s power to show to others.

After all, Jesus was born to inconsequential people (in a stable!), never took the throne in Rome, and then died next to criminals. His best friends were a ragtag group of fishermen, tax collectors, and women. If our Lord chose the simple, humble things, who are we to expect some sort of shiny, glorious life?

I can’t see all the areas you’re struggling today, so maybe none of this helps your exact situation. But I have a feeling that maybe it does. Reframing our humiliations as experiences that bring us closer to Jesus might be the most helpful thing we learn as we mature in our walk with God.

I believe there’s joy to be found in growing more gentle, kind, and reliant on the Holy Spirit. And if it takes twenty failures a day to get me to that place, then I guess I’m all in.

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Because Murray has been dead a loooong time, the book is off copyright and can be read on the internet. Here’s the link if you’re interested– it’s well worth the read! Link to Humility.

*The Amazon link is an affiliate link, and I’ll earn a tiny stipend off sales. The link to the online, off-copyright is not an affiliate link.

When you write a book on stress, God may just let you live through some extra stress

Well, things around here are getting interesting. My stress levels are soaring and my mental health is deteriorating, as evidenced by the following recent text message to my friend Jen:

I wasn’t jiving, either. I was so wound up that a run/jog/stomping gallop sounded like a legitimate stress reduction option, and this is so completely out of my normal response to things that I was afraid of myself.

I scared myself. Some of you may remember a post from earlier this year¬†about how I jogged for a few minutes and thought the Lord himself was going to have to arrive on a white horse to carry my carcass away– that’s how running usually goes for me.

Here’s the thing. We’re deep into this moving situation, a situation I basically created for myself. No one else in this family can take the credit for stalking houses online for years. No one else was determined to create more financial margin. Nobody cared one whit about these things, so I only have myself to blame.

Photo by Xavier Massa on Unsplash

But somehow in my moving fantasies I forgot about moving realities. I conveniently disremembered things like dealing with mortgage paperwork and making sure we’re communicating everything clearly and honestly with a buyer (through two separate real estate agents, mind you. It’s not like I can call this guy and chat for hours.)

Now I’m having panic attacks about all sorts of things and then I remember that I have literally written a book about stress and I wheeze, “God, you are super funny with all your ironic life situations,” and I try to take a full breath.

Tonight I came across a powerful section in Control Girl, by Shannon Popkin. She was relating a story about a time when she had been on her way to speak to a group of women when she became convicted that she was sinning in the exact area she was about to teach on. She repented through tears, right there in the car, and this is what she writes:

I would far rather approach a group of ladies with patched makeup and a contrite spirit than with a false sense that the lesson is not for me. It’s always for me (p. 176).

This is why her book speaks so deeply to me– I know she has lived the struggle and she continues to live the struggle. I could list other favorite authors right now (Emily P. Freeman, Leanna Tankersley, Myquillin Smith, Amber Haines, Sophie Hudson) and all of them have this one thing in common– they’ve lived the struggle and they keep living it.

It keeps them humble. It makes their teaching accessible. God works through their brokenness, and we benefit from a kinder, gentler, humbler version of each of them.

Part of me wants to push this away. If I’ve written a book on stress, then most likely I should have conquered stress, right? What right do I have to speak on a topic when it’s still a daily struggle?

Paul’s words ring true for me:

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NLT).

This continual battle with stress and anxiety is driving me to God in prayer. I’m seeking him on a hourly basis as I recognize my frail humanity over and over again, all day long.

Writing a book on stress hasn’t made me some sort of expert who floats above the mortal world– it’s dragged me right through the thick of it. I pray you, my beloved reader, will benefit.

But even more, I pray that you’ll be encouraged about your own weaknesses. Do you feel like they’re keeping you from ministry? Do you feel like you’ll have something to give or teach only after you get your life together?

Perish the thought, my friend. Join us right here in the mess of life. We need your determination to seek God in all things far more than we need your perfection.

Also, I think perfect people tend to run a lot, and we all know how I feel about running…