Day 21

The practice of knowing one’s limitations

If we think humility is a feeling of unworthiness, we are  mistaken.  Have you ever known anyone who is always denigrating themselves?  Do you have a friend who demands that you always lift them up and encourage them?  You know the type, right?  I had this friend who was always telling me what a terrible parent she was.  I mean, not the usual kind of parental shame and guilt – this was repetitive, constant self-berating.  And for a long time, I would try to encourage her by saying things like, “No way!  You’re a great mom!”  I even provided pertinent examples – to no avail.  Finally, I tried a different tact.

“I am an awful parent.  Honestly, I’m the worst.”  She hung her head and sipped her latte in apparent misery.

“You know, I kind of agree with you on that one.  Just last week I was in our kids’ classroom helping with a project and when snack time came, your poor kid didn’t have a snack at all!  Who forgets to give their kid a snack?”  (Now, hold on and let me explain.  I forgot stuff like this all the time back in the day when my kids were young.  My homemade lunches were infamous.  Once Meredith got three sandwiches, Scott got three bags of chips, and Michael got three desserts.  I am TERRIBLE at many things related to parenting, but I’m going for effect here, so hang with me.)

“What?”  She looked puzzled.

“Yeah, that’s terrible, but that’s not all.”  She looked horrified.  “Last week I rode by your  bus stop and it was raining and your kid was wearing a lightweight jacket with no water proof protection. Who does that?”  (Well, in fact I had.  I drove by the bus stop because  I couldn’t find Michael’s rain gear so I just threw him in the car and drove him to school.)

She pitched a total fit in the coffee shop, daring me to a fight to the finish, accusing me of not being supportive of her and listing ten things she did that were far better parenting than I ever managed.  I took notes.  When she finally ran out of both caffeine and steam, I gently handed over her list of accomplishments and said, “If you ever pull this ‘poor me’ stunt again, I’m going to whip this list out.  Because it’s not nice how you make me carry your self-esteem around with me when you obviously have the information that you are a decent mom.  And as you’ve pointed out, I have enough parenting issues of my own, I don’t have the energy to carry your self-worth for you.”  As far as I can recall, she stopped this nonsense with me immediately.  She THOUGHT she was being humble, but what she really was doing was begging for affirmation.  Humility is not unworthiness, it is a recognition of limitations – which we all have.

Did her comments about my parenting hurt my feelings?  No way!  She was right on target.  I KNOW THAT I KNOW THAT I KNOW THAT I HAVE PARENTING LIMITS.  See the difference?

How have you perhaps confused unworthiness with humility?  Knowing our own limits helps us have compassion for the limits of others!  Feelings of unworthiness are important ways that we discover that we have some limitations with regards to our  sense of self and give us a clue that we have more work to do as it relates to self and God awareness.

Pride comes before a disaster, but humility comes before respect. Proverbs 18:12 CEB

Day 20

Pride comes before a disaster, but humility comes before respect. Proverbs 18:12 CEB

The past few days, mom has spoken of different practices and the ways in which they can bring about hope.  The most recent of these is humility.  While I don’t know that many people would classify me as being particularly humble, I would say that when I see humility on display in someone else’s life, I very much appreciate and admire it.  Perhaps I admire it because I don’t have enough of it.

I see this on display in a few different areas of people’s lives.  One of these is in the ability to know one’s limitations.  (Think of Dirty Harry saying, “A man has got to know his limitations.”)  Occasionally I see people who are willing to acknowledge that a particular area is not their strength and pass that thing off to someone else to either oversee it or to do it.  That is an amazing attribute.  We can’t all be good at everything, why isn’t it easier to acknowledge that?

This makes me think of the image of the Body of Christ.  Each person contributes to the wholeness of the body in some form or fashion and the body isn’t complete without its individual parts.  There’s no need to walk on an arm, that’s what legs are for.

I am jealous of people who know their limitations, acknowledge them, and are humble enough to submit to someone who can better handle their limitation than they can.  That is some serious humility.

What are your limitations?  Who do you know that is strong in those areas?

Day 19

The practice of humility

I can’t help but notice stuff in large part because I’m so nosey.  I love to watch and observe people’s actions.  I observe how most people at my gym clean up after themselves…but some do not.  There’s  one elliptical that I never hop on because SOMEONE  stuck a piece of  chewed  gum in the  cell phone holder…ewwwww.

I appreciate observing how certain people empty the trash on Saturday nights after service and others go around and collect the bulletins left behind.  I watch a kid snack on our Saturday night food table, taking bites off of various food items and returning the food to the tray half-eaten.  Then, I notice  when one of the women in our community walks quietly behind  him and  removes the slobbery leftovers before someone else accidentally chose them for their own plate.  And then, amazingly enough, when Junior goes back for his second round of nibbling, this same awesome woman is right there by his side with a clean plate and some much-needed coaching.

This completely fills me with hope.

No need to tattle, retell the story to the oblivious parental units, or tease.  There was no end zone celebration about how she had kept the rest of the community from being exposed to a four year old’s germs.

I love this because it is so darn biblical.

Twice in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus teaches that humility is rewarded  with exaltation.  That sounds pretty exciting if you are prone to wanting to celebrate self.  But further reading has convinced me that “exaltation” means something different in the kingdom of God than it does in the NFL.

Can you find ways today that allow for others to “go first”?  Can you  find something simple to do for another person – expecting absolutely nothing in return?  Let’s see how that kind of humility  moves us toward hope….

Pride comes before a disaster, but humility comes before respect. Proverbs 18:12 CEB

Day 18

8 From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. 9 Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:8-9, CEB

As we continue to discuss hope and community and how these things work together, verse 9 in this passage starts to stand out in new ways.  Paul encourages his readers to practice the things that they have seen on display in other people’s lives.  He doesn’t tell them just to keep reading his letter and commit it to memory (though, of course, that would be a good practice too in its own way), but instead to take ownership over living life the way it’s been modeled by people who have been on the journey longer than they (the readers) have.

That’s essentially how this faith stuff works, isn’t it?  We continue to learn from each other as we focus on the same things and pursue those things.  It’s not just a matter of how long we’ve been at it or how much we know (or think we know).  It’s about a day-in, day-out commitment to practicing faithful living.  We look to each other for help in this.  We’re not always going to be able to solve our problems on our own.  We may need to reach out.  And, our community won’t always have answers either.  But there’s something special in knowing that we’re wrestling through these issues together, even when there isn’t a perfect answer to a given question.  Sometimes we won’t get clarity and things won’t just “feel right” (I’ve often been told the Godly answer is the one that feels right.  If this was true, the Godly answer would always be:  more M&M’s.)  But we don’t always need clarity.  We need people to keep modeling for us and to help us keep modeling as we deal with life’s ambiguities.

Do you have those people in your life?  

Day 17

The practice of humility

The practice of humility is always fashionable in the kingdom of God, but it’s a hard sell  in today’s culture.

I have the “opportunity” to watch a lot of sporting events.  The  player celebrations drive me nuts.  My husband yells at the television things like, “You dumbo, how could you let that guy get past you?”  or “Why did you throw that pass right at the defender?”  or “Oh Tony, how could you?”

But I yell things like, “Jeez, guys, act like you’ve been there before!”  See, to me, if you are a tackle, you shouldn’t do a celebration dance when you actually tackle a guy – especially if you’re down 21- 0.  Just tackle the guy already and get back in the huddle.  If you catch a pass in the end zone, give a nice modest wave to the crowd in appreciation of their cheers and unfettered adoration – no need to go all crazy with the celebrating.  (My personal theory is that a lot  of these players are secretly injured during rowdy celebrations and just PRETEND the injury happened on the next play.)

Pride comes before a disaster, but humility comes before respect. Proverbs 18:12 CEB

The universe has a way of evening the score, so I really need to stop ranting on and on about this lack of humility!  A career ending injury can happen in a millisecond.  A kicker’s 100% through the uprights streak can end with a miss in the final seconds of a game  with an errant kick that costs the team a place in the playoffs.  It’s tough to be a professional athlete – hero one minute, goat the next.

This doesn’t just happen in sports!  Who hasn’t experienced the shame inflaming effects of humiliation?  Argggghhhhh.  My face gets hot just thinking about all my experiences with shame and humiliation.  I am filled with hope when I realize that even the most devastating humiliation (real or  imagined) can become an opportunity for humility.

I’ve become a big fan of Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher.  I love her research, but what I adore is her willingness to practice what she preaches.  Whether you listen to one of her Youtube videos, Ted Talks or read her books – Brene always manages to tell a story about herself that has the potential to be humiliating or an exercise in vulnerability.  Time and again she chooses vulnerability.

What’s the difference?  Well, humiliation hides, blames, excuses, or self-pities.  Vulnerability tells the same story but chooses to do so within a bigger framework.  It doesn’t hide, blame, excuse or pity.  Vulnerability tells the truth, the whole truth, and not just that tiny piece of the truth that involves us acting in a way that  triggers shame.  I love her stories because she teaches me how to share my own stories with more humility and less shame.  There are no sideline celebrations when you tell a story about something you did that was really ridiculous.  But I think what’s even better than those self-congratulatory shuffles is the hope and encouragement that we all receive from learning that we all make mistakes.  It’s ok.  Life can go on and we can receive support as we learn hard lessons.  Maybe this even helps other people share their own secret sorrows.

Today, see if you can cheer someone on when they express vulnerability, or pick someone  who has proven that they are safe and share your own story.  See what happens.  But know this – humility  garners more respect than choreographed dance parties for one in the end zone.


Day 16

8 From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. 9 Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:8-9, CEB

What do we do with our hopes that are specific?

We’ve talked about hope in rather general terms so far this month.  We’ve talked about hope as being a confident trust that God’s plans are slowly unfolding.  This doesn’t mean that every situation or circumstance is a domino that falls into a bunch of other dominos that lead us to a certain, specific end of history, but it does mean God is present in our lives, in the world, and in history.  We believe He has an endgame in mind and that He knows when He’s going to make that all happen.

Okay, fine.  God has the end planned out.  What about now?  What hope do we have for sick children, sick parents, mental illness, starvation, war, and whatever else is going on in the world or our lives?  What happens when we hope and pray for someone to live and they die?  What happens when we pray for the end of fighting and there’s only more fighting?  What happens when we pray for a disease, addiction, affliction, or something else to go away and it’s still there?  Do we give up?  What do we do these hopes?  Are they so wrong?

It’s certainly not wrong to have those hopes.  And I have no good answers for the other questions.  At some point, we just don’t know what the heck is going on in the world, in our lives, or with God for that matter.  I really hope you don’t give up.  If you’re in a hopeless place, I pray you don’t give up.

I think the only thing we can do with these kinds of hopes and struggles is to voice them and be honest about them.  Voice your displeasure with God to God.  If you don’t know how, or you’re afraid to, flip through the Psalms.  If it’s in the Bible, then it’s safe.  Simple as that.  Voice the difficulty and the unmet expectations to the people in your community, in your hut.  It helps.  I promise, it helps.  It doesn’t seem like it would, but it does.  Ask people for what you need.  If you need someone to pray with you, ask for it.  If you need someone to listen to you, ask for it.  If you need someone to distract you and take you to a dumb movie, ask for that.  And, if you’re the person being asked, please, by all means, if you can, say yes.

We can find hope in these simple small things when we’re hopeless.  We’re not always going to be able to find understanding.  But we can find a little bit of hope.  Even if it’s only a little bit.  We just need enough hope for today.  We can worry about tomorrow when it gets here.  

Day 15

The practice of humility

Songwriter Linda K. Williams wrote, “When Jesus said, ‘love your enemies,’ I think he probably meant don’t kill them” (Williams “On Earth Peace”, 2002. Available at

Hope is daring to believe that someone we really dislike has the right to live, and we must do all that we can to help them thrive.  (Again, I am not talking about enabling behaviors.)

“Pride comes before disaster; and arrogance before a fall.”  Proverbs 16:18 NEB

Wendell Berry wrote a series of books about a town barber named Jayber Crow.  One of my favorite scenes takes place in the barber shop one morning when one of the customers (Troy) is talking about the people he hates who are protesting the Vietnam War.  Jayber responds to his vitriolic spouting with the quote from scriptures, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”

The complainer asks, “Where did you get that crap?” Jayber says, “Jesus Christ.”

None of that is my favorite part; none of it brings me hope.  That’s just two guys arguing, with one guy whipping out his ultimate trump card, Jesus.

But then there is this, as reported by Jayber himself, “It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.”

Oh Jayber, how I love thee.

For if Jayber Crow can admit his own weakness, how can I not admit my own?

What about you?  Is there anything you need to get off your chest?

Hope sometimes is most beautifully expressed through the act of humility.


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