Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Prayer, Religion, Sermon, Spirituality
Nebraskans are simple folk. When I was young the state motto was the serene sounding, “The Good Life.” It was a place of rolling plains filled with rows of corn, wheat, sorghum populated by friendly people who always raised their finger in acknowledgement on dirt country roads. Growing up in this sparsely populated state there was very little which passed as entertainment for a high school student. On weekends we listened to a Husker football game, attended movies, church youth group activities, hung out at the arcade in the mall or cruised in our car on ‘O’ Street downtown. Those were pretty much the limit of our weekly entertainment.
There were four high schools in town with unassuming names like Lincoln High, Southeast, East and the school that I attended, the Northeast Rockets. Northeast was in a quiet working class neighborhood whose most prominent employer was the Goodyear tire plant. Many of the student’s parents worked in factories, with the railroad, were truckers, waitresses and mechanics. Most of the children were expected to follow their parents into these professions and trades.
There was certain times of year that had my entire school buzzing with anticipation. This was during the state’s basketball tournament. My school had been the state champion and during my senior year we had a good chance to go all the way. As the team maneuvered through the Class A brackets each opponent was summarily dismissed and we found ourselves in the championship game against Norfolk High School. A small town that up to that point was best known as Johnny Carson’s hometown team was the huge underdog against our much more seasoned talent. In other words we were quite confident in our team.
The game went quite as planned in the first half. We were really doing well and I was confident that my team was going to win the championship. So, I went out to hang out with some of my friends underneath the bleachers. There was one who shared my first name whom I was particularly interested in impressing. I thought he was just too cool. We joked around and acted like fools. Until one of us said, “we ought to do something crazy!”
Hyped up on sugar from the concession stand we started sizing up our opponents. Neither one of us had ever met anyone from Norfolk. We peered across the arena at them mockingly. Now, these adolescent moments are the one’s in which everyone knows we cannot be held accountable for our actions. Adrenaline was pumping when I said, “I’ll bet those yokels wouldn’t even know that I was from the opposing team. I bet you I could dance with their mascot and no one would know the difference.”
“You wouldn’t, that would be crazy,” he said laughing and my fate was sealed.
What is humility? Well soon I was to know something about humiliation.
Yes, I did danced with someone in a panther suit, but had neglected to notice that the game had tightened considerably. When I returned to our student section my friend was the only person who thought what I had done was funny. A Norfolk’s guard pulled up for a twenty-foot jumper hitting nothing but net at the buzzer and my team was defeated.
Immediately I felt something other than disappointment. It was a sinking feeling of horror that screamed, “what were you thinking?” Fortunately, I didn’t have to think it for long because so many of my classmates began to ask the same question, some quite forcefully.
“Brian, why were you dancing with the opponent’s mascot?” a cheerleader friend asked in a very disappointed voice before discontinuing communications with me for the rest of the semester.
Soon I fell into the definition of someone soul searching. How could I have been so stupid? Everyone must hate me. I felt so sorry! You should have heard the prayers that I was making during those desperate high school days. I knew that I had done something stupid, and I was humbled through my humiliation. It is an experience that I have never forgotten. Being a person that talks often in public I am now much more aware of the things that I say and do. Plus, I am always willing to ask forgiveness when I have inadvertently given offense to someone else when I speak. I would like to think that I have more patience with others when they make gaffs or stupid mistakes in public forums. If I was not broken I could not understand what it means to be broken.
Christ presents us with two examples of the spiritual life for those of us who believe that we have it all together. First there are those that are confident about their position before God. There prayers are thankfulness that their life has been unscathed by scandal or poor manners. Then there are the rejects and outcasts by upstanding citizens of a self-righteous congregation. Those who live with the real presence of humiliations sneered and gossiped by others. They are people who are unwilling to ignore their own sin and limitations. Instead they lay them nakedly in front of God in prayer. Because of their raw honesty about themselves in front of God Jesus calls them humble.
The Ex priest and spiritual writer Brennan Manning sums it up succinctly when he reminds us:
“The school of humiliation is a great learning experience, there is no other like it. When the gift of a humble heart is granted, we are more accepting of ourselves and less critical of others. Self-knowledge brings a humble and realistic awareness of our limitations. It leads us to be patient and compassionate with others, whereas before we were demanding, insensitive, and stuck-up. Gone are the complacency and narrow-mindedness that made God superfluous. For the humble person there is a constant awareness of his or her won weakness, insufficiency, and desperate need for God.”
Christ’s message is truly a radical message of brokenness. We are called to be suffering servants to one another for Christ. If, like me, you have suffered weakness, desperation, humiliation and abandonment then you are just the one that Christ is looking for. We come to God with these shortcomings and find that we are accepted. My suspicion is that everyone who eventually becomes self-aware could be found in this category. Jesus does say that those who think themselves exalted will be humbled. So, it is only a matter of time until you will join us in this ragged band of believers who beg, cajole and harass God in our prayers.
Do not regard others with arrogance and contempt that are weak before God. Pray that they find humility and that in their broken situations they might grow into a greater knowledge of themselves and patience for others. If you find yourself humbled remember that your greatest strength lies in weakness.
Photo by Lex Ryder
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