Sunday, August 22, 2010


Sunday Reflection: Being humbled

Last week I wrote about the difference between pain and despair, a distinction that has become clearer as I have struggled through a move with the use of only one foot (which is admittedly a very small hardship).

Today I was in line behind a woman who fell into conversation with the woman in front of her. It turned out that they were both pastor's wives, and were comparing notes. The first woman described the growth of their ministry from a storefront into a burgeoning church with thousands of members. "It's very humbling," she said.

Really? Having thousands of people flock to your church is affirming, not humbling. I would think the opposite-- going from a church of thousands to a storefront with a handful of parishioners-- that would be humbling.

I have to admit that I have used the same term in the same way in the past. People would congratulate me on something that had gone well and, not sure how to respond, I would say "it's very humbling." But, really, it wasn't. After what happened to me in my own driveway last week, I won't use that phrase again in that way.

I'm not that good on crutches. It requires a certain sense of balance I haven't quite mastered, and I am often alone when I am trying to get around, which adds to my vulnerability. Getting in and out of the car is a special challenge when you can't put weight on your lead leg stepping out, and it is a challenge I have failed. Last week, I drove up to my house in a rainstorm. Because the garage was full of boxes, I parked on the steeply sloping driveway. Getting out of the car, I propped one crutch under my left arm, put my good right foot on the ground, and pushed off. I pushed too hard, though, and lost my balance going the other way, landing hard on my left side. With nothing to grab onto, I wasn't able to get up.

So there I was, lying in the dark, in the rain, in my own driveway, helpless. It is not a position I am used to. I called out for help, but no one heard. A few cars passed, splashing water up from the puddles in the street. I crawled back toward the car, but turned my broken ankle in a bad way and stopped in pain, and for a bit just lay there and felt the rain falling on me. I cried. It was only a few moments, but that... that was humbling.

I would never intend to put myself in that position, and it embarrasses me to describe it here. I have spent the past day or so debating whether or not to lay naked that helpless moment.

But... God did the same to Christ. Jesus was not "humbled" by great achievements. He was humbled by what would be truly humbling to any of us-- he was born in great poverty among animals, he was insulted by the pharisees, he was sent out by Herod wearing a purple robe and crown of thorns to mock him, and he died naked on a cross as people watched his agony. My tiny bit of humiliation was nothing, nothing, compared to what God put on his own son, or so many of his other children around me.

If one of you ever come up to me to mention something I have done that worked out well, I will look you in the eye and say "thank you for saying that." I may give credit to those others who often do most of the work. But I will not, ever again, say that I am humbled by an accomplishment.

What amazes me about Christ is that He went through His humiliation willingly. He chose the poverty, insults, beating, thorns, suffering, and cross so He would know how to succor us during our humbling times.

This is a beautiful reflection, Prof. I hope your ankle heals quickly and that you get more agile on your crutches.
Strong stuff, Mark. Life humbles us regularly ... it is usually accompanied by a sense of helplessness. We all like to deceive ourselves that we're masters of our own fate, captains of our own ship. A drunk driver, a very sick child in the middle of the night, a random act of violence -- and we're immediately helpless again. Sometimes we're too proud to ask for help. Sometimes we're in a position where no one CAN help us. The end result is the same. Once the crisis has passed and I've had time to reflect, there is usually a tinge of gratitude (believe it or not), because it reminds me once again that I'm not in control. I never was. And the sooner I realize (and acknowledge) Who IS in control, the better off I'll be.
"and the mistakes I’ve made – because you actually learn more from your failures than you do from your successes."-

Your post speaks to all of us from the perspective of feeling at our lowest point, and finding the will from within to pull ourselves up.

It's a very humbling moment to find that all of the people we have surrounded ourselves with at some point will not be there, regardless of our ability, stature, knowledge, or nature.

True kindness comes after this point, when you help people even though you know at some point you will be alone again.

I agree with Craig.
Humble, shmumble - next time keep your cell phone in your pocket!!!! Many knee and ankle surgeries have taught me that one the hard way.

Great philosophical musings are fine - when you are dry and indoors. Prevention and preparation will out score Uriah Heep and other fictional characters every time.

Unless, of course, you prefer suffering and musing to being safe and dry! (or being flogged, humiliated, etc. to simply turning them all into toads for being stupid.)

Dependency or helplessness is such a difficult thing for us to confess. Our success based, capitalist, rugged individualist, pull yourself up by your bootstraps culture shames us whenever we feel even the slightest sense of not being in control. Of course, the truth is, that ultimately, we are not in control. We are born, live, and die. It seems to me that living as well as we can, which is a fine goal (ahh, success based language again), demands that we come to terms with our vulnerabilities.

God is ultimately vulnerable in the birth in the stable and on the Cross, and in God's ultimate vulnerability, God meets our deepest fears, shame, and sorrows (i.e. our vulnerabilities). There is no pain too great, no shame too deep that God cannot touch and transform through divine love.

Love is not love without humility and humility is nothing but sacrifice. Our culture knows not love and sees little humility because it discarded sacrifice long ago for a false vision of success.

"And now charity, hope, and faith, abide these three, but the greatest of these is charity."
Mark , this is not humbling nor is it affirming , however it's one hell of a business deal ! i shall give you one fine deal on a barely used 2004 foot that i have to sell... it's the latest , really it is and if that's not appealing i have a spring loaded ankle... reasonably priced as well.... life is just full of new revealations ... as i told ya sat. , we really miss ya ... hope you feel better . the crutches take a little while to master ..... beware of wet surfaces anywhere ! Lyndon
oops "revelations"
Thank you for sharing this, Mark. It is very troubling to think of a friend alone, hurt, with no one to hear his cry. That is "strong stuff" indeed.

I don't know if I can agree that success cannot also be humbling in its way. To humble or be humbled, is to (often painfully or embarrassingly) be reminded of one's place in the universe.

When I succeed at something great, I know it was not my work (never wholly) and that is humbling. To have God bless your church with many followers, that should be humbling. I know that the opposite is also true.

I guess I am saying humility need not come alongside pain, embarrassment, or despair, but perhaps we remember it best when it does.
Not going to say much, but that was a great post, Mark.
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