Sunday, June 1, 2014

8. What is "Being Humble"?

(This is a series that was adapted from my life-story, Child of Mine, which is at  On this blog, it starts at the bottom of the June posts with “Like a Child.”)

            The first life-changing prayer in my room (the “Uncovering Fears” post) was when I began to really learn that complete honesty with Him is okay.  Not just okay, but necessary.  I was learning that nothing I say in honesty can separate me from His love and forgiveness.  That transparency, especially about the painful things, brings me closer to His healing love.  I didn’t have to bear the weight on my own, to keep a stiff upper-lip or be ashamed of the doubts and fears inside.  I just had to admit them to Him and seek His comfort and truth.
            And the second life-changing prayer (the “Falling into His Arms” post) showed me that I could fall on Him.  When I had nowhere else to go and nothing else to rely on, He wanted to be the one I ran to!  He wanted me to come to Him just as messy and broken as I was.  And even if I was facing an extended time of His silence, He would still catch me if I fell into His embrace.  He would hold me close when the world was throwing at me more than I could handle. 
            Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 
            These were very big, very unnatural steps for me.  But there was such relief and freedom and healing in them.  He wouldn’t blast me with a lightning bolt when I admitted that I was afraid that He might blast me with a lightning bolt.  He wouldn’t bail on me when I admitted that I was weak and couldn’t do it on my own anymore.  He wouldn’t abandon me when I admitted that I was terrified of being abandoned or when I felt “not good enough.”  He just wanted my honesty.  He just wanted me!  And as long as it was honest, it brought me closer to Him! 
            He can handle the honesty!  What He can’t bear is the distance we create and maintain by our walls of fear, by our efforts to earn His favor, to earn His attention, and to “do it ourselves.”  He wants closeness!  He died for closeness!  He wanted a close relationship with us so much that He died a death He didn’t deserve to bridge the gap between us and Him. 
            But it’s our choice to cross that bridge or not, to let Him near or hold Him back.  And for years, I had repaid His sacrifice with inauthenticity and self-sufficiency because I was too afraid and hurt to be vulnerable.  But I was learning.  And as I was learning to stop living out of my fears, I was becoming free to live in His love.  A mark of a true child!
            But just as I was beginning to enjoy the kind of relationship with Him that a child should have, just as I was learning to rest in His arms, I learned that there was another level to it.  He had challenged me to go from being a good, adult step-child to being His child.  And now, quickly after that, He was challenging me to go to the next level . . . His humbled child. 
            “He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’“ (Matthew 18:2-4). 
            First thing I notice is that these verses show us that we are called to be like little children or we will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.  As a little child has faith in his or her parents, we must have faith that God is and that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  This is what is required to get into the kingdom of Heaven. 
            “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  (Romans 10:9)  It takes faith to believe in a God we can’t see - an accepting, childlike faith that says, “I can’t see it with my eyes, but I choose to believe in You.”  (Although, I have to say that I think it takes a greater, irrational faith to believe in the sheer improbability of evolution or that all of this was just chance.  That, to me, takes a much “greater” faith than believing in a Creator.)
.           I think, though, that Matthew 18:4 has a deeper, secondary teaching as well.  If you don’t want to just enter the kingdom of Heaven, but want to be great in the kingdom of Heaven, there is a second requirement.  If you want to be great in the kingdom, you need to be humble like a child.  You enter because of childlike faith, but you are great because of childlike humbleness.   
            This is not the kind of greatness that glorifies us or makes us look good, but the kind that shines brightest for Him and brings Him the most glory possible.  I think that there are many ways that we try to be great so that we can get some of the glory.  And I tried many of these ways: as a leader in youth group and in school and on the mission trip, and in all my efforts to succeed, to be self-sufficient, and to shine brighter than others. 
            But the only way to truly be great in God’s kingdom is to be humble like a child.  Many may enter, but how many will be great because they seek to be humbled like a child?  And it’s not something that happens to you as much as something you have to pursue.  Read the verse again, “whoever humbles himself. . .”    
            Humble like a child!  Humble like a child?  Hmm?  What does that mean?  Of course, all believers are called His children.  But I don’t think we can really enjoy the fullness of a relationship with Him, as He means it to be, until we humble ourselves like children.  Over twenty years of being a Christian and I had no idea how to do this.  I was just beginning to learn how to be a child because being “the adult” became too exhausting!  And now I was supposed to figure out what being humble like a child meant? 
            Children are needy and helpless and dependent.  I didn’t like being those things.  For a first-born, prideful, overachiever like me, admitting that I wasn’t in control and that I didn’t have the answers was a really scary thing.  Crying out to the Lord for His help because I couldn’t do it on my own would mean throwing myself at His grace and mercy.  As I said, I didn’t like completely relying on anyone else.  To need Him, to really need Him, meant that I had to risk getting hurt and being let down.  (Not that He really would hurt me or let me down.  But when you’re used to protecting yourself and relying on yourself, it feels like a risk.)
            In our society, being needy is considered a bad thing.  And I think that there are generally two responses we have to being in need.  The first is denial.  And there are two ways to be in denial.  One is to ignore our neediness and to act like everything is okay, like we are making it on our own just fine.  And the other way is to fight against our neediness by puffing up our chests and saying, “I won’t break under the pressure.  I can do this myself one way or another.  I’ll make it happen.”  We do “more” and “better” to prove that we need nothing from nobody.  That’s being self-sufficient and stubborn.  That was me!
            The second response to neediness is to admit the fact that we are needy.  And there are two ways to do this.  One way is to admit it with shame and to feel bad about ourselves, as though being in need means that we are “less-than, good-for-nothing burdens.”  We handle this by trying even harder to polish ourselves up, to make ourselves look better in any and every area we can so that we can preserve some tiny bit of our dignity, of our independence.  We try to show that we are as self-sufficient and adult-like as possible - that the temporary neediness was just an anomaly, a little unexpected hiccup.  We try harder to impress and be good enough.  That was me, too.  (Or some just give up in despair and wallow in it, too shameful to try to present a different front.)      
            Yes, God does require us to be responsible and adult-like in many things: to work and provide for ourselves and our families, to live with integrity and “do the right thing” when everyone else is following their flesh, to exercise self-control and wisdom, and to grow up in our spiritual walk instead of remaining spiritually immature.  It’s one thing to be adult-like in our responsibilities, but it’s another to be adult-like in our relationship with Him.  It’s in our relationship with Him that we are supposed to be “humble like children” . . . if we want to live greatly for Him and experience the closest relationship possible. 
            So what does it really mean then?  Being “humble like a child?”  When I was younger, in some church lesson or other, I was taught that it meant that you had faith like a child; that you trusted God without question or doubt, no matter what comes up, just as children trust their parents whole-heartedly and without any doubt or fear.
            Really?  Have you ever stood in the water and asked your child to jump off the platform, assuring them that you’ll be there to catch them?  Looks like doubt and fear to me.  You’d think that I had asked them to jump into a vat of boiling oil.  “Trust me, it’ll be okay.  I’ll be here to catch you.  I’m your mom, would I let you fall?”  It took my kids a lot of psyching up just to get them to the point where they could run to the end of the platform, then sit down on it and slide into the water.  We’re working on it.
            Or how about all that healthy food that I serve to them because it’s good for them?  In our house, a plate that contains green beans or peas is not met with thankfulness and willingness and “Gee, Mom.  I know you’re doing this because you love me and because it’s best for me.  You’re great.  I love you and I’ll eat it with a smile because I trust your judgment.” 
            A plate with green beans usually gets, “Why are you doing this to me?  You know that I hate long beans!  I’ll take peas!”  And a plate with peas gets, “Why are you doing this to me?  You know I hate peas!”  (This is usually Ryder.  To whom I usually answer, in jest, “Because I’m trying to torture you.  It’s a parent’s job and great delight to torture their children.  It’s why we had you.”  I also use this answer when they whine about why they have to go to the boring stores with us.  It doesn’t help, but it makes it more fun for me!)       
            I don’t think being humble like a child means lack of doubt and fear.  Like I said earlier, as God’s children, we are supposed to bring these doubts and fears to Him.  Yes, ideally, it would be great if we could all just have faith in Him without any fear or doubt.  But too many of us have been too hurt or let down by others to “just trust” anyone. 
            And consequently, we have too many questions, doubts, and fears about God to have this unconditional faith.  Trust and faith don’t come easily for us.  So how can we best understand and live that verse if it doesn’t mean “naive, unbridled faith and acceptance, never doubting, never questioning?”  How can I be humble like a child when I’m a wounded, skeptical, self-sufficient adult?