humility

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.

Vanity: Killing Lawns Everywhere

Here, let me show you a dead spot on my lawn.

Sinking to new lows, the blog now has photos of dead grass. (This is time you will never get back.) ((I'm so sorry.))
Sinking to new lows, the blog now has photos of dead grass. (This is time you will never get back.) ((I’m so sorry.))

Here’s another.

The excitement continues...
The excitement continues…

Giant brown dead spots, courtesy of my pride and vanity. A few weeks ago a lawn company representative stopped by and gently pointed out that my lawn looks… oh… awful. It doesn’t help that the neighbors on both sides of us paid for gorgeous sod and sprinkling systems so their lawns look like golf courses.

Except for one couple across the street who care even less about their lawn than we do, we’re the black sheep of the grass community on this street. But listen, I have other things to do. I don’t have time to be obsessing over the lawn.

But the lawn company guy made me really look at my neglect, and then in a fit of vanity I went out and bought a bag of lawn fertilizer and applied it to the grass.

I did not read the directions. Not all the way, at least.

Because who reads the directions on a bag of nitrogen? It’s basically chicken poop in an easily carried container. I read this much: “Apply to dry grass…blah, blah, blah…lasts for three months.”

Two days later I mentioned the fertilizer to our friend and neighbor Josh, who lives on the next street up and has a lawn that makes golf courses look slovenly. Josh’s lawn is lush and a freakish shade of green, like angels come and tend to it at night. He looked at me and said, “You know you need to water that, right? It’ll burn your lawn.”

Luckily we were on a bus at the moment, bouncing our way down I-94 with a herd of 4th graders headed to a field trip. We were shouting at each other over the open windows and the hyper children, so I didn’t actually have to come up with a coherent answer.

Of course I didn’t know that, because I didn’t read that part of the directions.

And now my lawn looks worse than before.

I don’t know if this is a lesson in humility or reading the directions, but take your pick. Apply whatever lesson you need to learn.

And if the lawn guy comes knocking, just plug your ears and refuse him an audience.

Here, let me leave you with a better photo. If anyone knows what kind of flower this is, I'd dearly love to be reminded of what I planted.
Here, let me leave you with a better photo. If anyone knows what kind of flower this is, I’d dearly love to be reminded of what I planted.