Thursday, March 6, 2008

Humble, Needy Hearts

I knew it would happen sooner or later, but I was really hoping this might be the first winter in recent memory that it didn't happen. I think it's been about seven or eight years now (maybe longer) that the whole family made it through a fall/winter season without anyone getting a nasty virus, and then it spreading all through the family. This winter, we almost made it.

By God's mercy, we've all been spared this season of any serious bugs. A few of us have had sniffles or sore throats, but nothing major and nothing that lasted for more than a couple of days. That was until Monday morning, when Rachel woke up with a headache, and tummy ache, and a fever. As the day progressed, she degenerated and was armed with a pillow, a blanket and a big bucket - just in case. Not getting any worse, but not getting any better either, by yesterday morning Ruth had it too, and by last night so did Samuel. Just a little while ago, Jordan told me she got sick, and her head hurt. Yep, we almost made it, with the official first day of spring barely two weeks away, and the 'spring ahead' time change coming this weekend.

One of the most difficult things to deal with as a parent, is when your child is not well. If it's a cut, or a skinned knee, you can clean that up & give them a popsicle and they're on their way. But with a virus that drains the very essence of who they are, and leaves them sprawled on the couch, droopy eyelids, flushed cheeks, no appetite and just miserable from head to toe, it's a different story. Sure you can treat the symptoms, and yes indeed you pray for them and pray with them, and you change sheets, fluff pillows, make them special lunches, buy popsicles and do all those things and more. But, the one thing you can't do as much as you wish you could, is take the illness from them.

Yesterday, the heartbreak of this part of motherhood was summed up in the words of my baby girl Ruth. Feverish and having just vomitted, standing in the middle of the room looking completely lost, with tears rolling down her little four year old cheeks she said "I just want someone to hug me and make me feel better". I can't even type that without tears welling up in my eyes again, and wanting to go hug her. She's sleeping now though, so I don't dare disturb her.

The profoundness of her words yesterday stuck with me through the day. While not exactly the same dynamic, I couldn't help but think about how we must be that broken, and that open with God to be molded, shaped and guided by Him. When my daughter stood there helpless, and in need, there was no question in her little mind and little heart that she couldn't make herself better - she knew she was in need, and desperately cried out for it.

There's a lot of talk lately in various Christian circles about humility. In fact, and your mileage certainly may and likely will vary, I've read it so much in the last year or two, that it's almost begun to sound like a platitude/cliche'/buzzword to me. You know, those reliable old standby things you say when you can't think of anything else to say - or because you feel like it's expected of you? Now I don't mean to imply that everyone who's written or spoken about humility in the last couple of years is just blowing smoke, it's just that this word is tossed around so much these days it's quickly headed for that category like the word "evangelical". Part of the danger there is that once a word gets overused, it also begins to take on a new definition; which may or may not be Biblical and accurate. What I witnessed in my four year old yesterday (while not spiritual, per se) was a form of genuine humility, a deep sense of her own smallness, and need. Not one shred of pride or arrogance in her voice, or in her expression or body language.

When I think of genuine humility, what that looks like lived out, I have a picture of a servant's heart, coupled with a determination to serve because it's the Biblical way to be. I think of that moment just prior to confessing Christ as Lord of your life, when your spiritual eyes have been opened and you see yourself in such desperate need of God's grace. I also think of this:

"Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." Luke 22:42-44

We have no higher example of genuine humility, than the Lord himself, in the flesh. How He lived, how He interacted with others (believers and unbelievers), the way He spoke, and the things He taught us. When I think of humility, I think of someone who is not afraid of the reaction of mere men when they stand to speak the truth, but that does so with grace and truth, integrity and sincerity. I think of someone who doesn't seek the applause of men at all, but seeks first and foremost to honor God in all they say and do.

When I think of what real humility looks like and lives like, I think I fall quite seriously short of that goal. I know it's a goal I'm aiming for, but in my own 14 years of being a Christian, I don't feel like I'm even close to where I wish I were, in that area. So then, when I see the "humility" adjective being tossed around so freely, and so many Christians being defined as "oh he's so humble" I often have to do a double take, and think "huh??" Now, I would agree that there are true and genuine examples we all know that display a humble spirit about them. But if you really and honestly think about all the Christians you know, how many of them really show forth a consistantly humble spirit? I really want to be careful when I say this and not offend, but I have to say that if we're all honest we'd agree that most of the Christians we know don't necessarily display humility on a regular basis (certainly not enough to match the level of frequency that this word is used these days). It's not because they don't want to, I'm sure, but it's because of the way the Lord works out Philippians 1:6 in each believer's life. Each of us are at a different maturity level in that area, so if you put 50 Christians into one room, you're going to have some that are more mature and more seasoned in their sanctification, some that are definitely headed into "seasoned", some new believers that are babes in Christ, and all kinds of folks inbetween. I can't believe for a moment that you'd think "humble" (maybe passionate, or zealous, or studious, or generous) of the majority of those believers when asked to come up with one word that defines their character the best - and at the same time admit that we are all at different areas in our sanctification. The two are just inconsistant. I believe genuine Biblical humility comes with the maturity of the believer, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit day after day, month after month, year after year.

The only explaination that makes sense to me, is that the word itself has been redefined for a new generation of Christians, to be far more inclusive. I'm not even sure I can properly define it, but it does seem like humility has taken on a new meaning that includes being soft on sin, unwilling to take a firm stand, and eagerly affirming in an almost ecumenical sort of way. It seems like, all this unpacking and re-imagining and re-defining business has even infected rational thinking people and swayed them into all these "new" ideas of timeless Biblical truths so that we can find good things and nice things to say without hurting anyone's feelings, being "divisive" or confrontational.

Well, we certainly shouldn't go running around looking to hurt people's feelings or stir up controversy, but sometimes we need to hear the thing we didn't really want to hear. Sometimes we need to be confronted and sometimes that will result in divisiveness but in a good way. It doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't affirm the good, but it does mean that we can and should be willing to be the kind of brother or sister that tells one another the truth when they clearly need to hear it. Cotton candy doesn't sharpen iron, and while cotton candy is sweet and tempting, in the end it's not doing us any good.

Even though it broke my own heart to hear my four year old cry out in desperate need, and even though if I had my way I'd never have to see her like that again, I'm glad it happened in front of me. Her doing that was an excellent picture for me, to desire to be more like that in my own spiritual life.