A couple of days ago I was reading an article by Peter W. Marty, publisher of the Christian Century. He was writing about humility and how he feels that society, by in large, gets the concept of humility wrong.
For the author, humility is not something we can gain by winning an award or achieving greatness. He spoke out against the misuse of the concept of humility by celebrities and politicians when they have found success. In contrast, he argued that humility is something only we can do for ourselves.
“In sports, being humbled regularly gets confused with losing. When the New York Mets suffered their worst defeat in franchise history last summer in a 25-4 loss to the Washington Nationals, Mets players spoke of being “humbled.” But they weren’t humbled at all; they were humiliated. Crushed. Shut down. No one can humble another team much less another person. I am the only one who can humble me. You are the only person who can humble you. Not even God can humble us. Each of us holds the key for unlocking that otherwise invulnerable vault better known as our ego.”Being Humbled?, Peter W. Marty. Christian Century.
For Marty, humility is a personal act. We must desire from deep within us to loosen the reins we hold tightly on our pride, enough to humble ourselves. Real humility, states Marty, requires interior work. Though I believe that God can and does humble us, the interior work is indeed ours alone to do.
Robert Byron Hudson wrote a song I used to sing in rounds with other youth group members back in the 90s. “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord. And He shall lift you up. Higher and higher.”
The lyrics to this song come from James 4:10. We are called not to make ourselves higher, but to be brave enough to take ourselves lower. It is God and God alone who raises us up.
Peter Marty’s words have caused me to reflect on my own journey as I ride into Holy Week with Jesus. To enter into Jerusalem, Jesus had to come down from the Mount of Olives. He had to go low, to come back up again. After his arrest, he went low into a jailers tomb, only to be brought out and made to walk up another mount to his death. Yet the ultimate decent and ascent was yet to come.
Many times in our faith journey we will rise and we will fall. We will succeed and we will fail. We will be lofted up and we will be brought low. We may feel as if we are being humbled by the kindness of others or the vile nature of others. We may blame circumstances and people for our rock bottom moments. We may only claim for ourselves the credit for our mountaintop achievements.
Humility is something we must desire from the core of who we are. Not for accolades or prestige, but for the very opposite. He who could have chosen any other path, did not, but rather humbled himself to the point of being willing to take the cross for us.
How many times have I been willing to be brought low, or to lower myself, or to humble myself enough to suffer for the sake of someone else? And when we do something for another, do we do our good deeds in secret or do we want a parade for our sacrifices? Our humanity and our culture has taught us to desire fame and fortune, pity and sympathy for our sacrifices made on behalf of others. Jesus taught us a very different lesson. He taught us to count it all as joy.
Jesus knew Judas would betray him and he loved him ANYWAY. Jesus knew Peter would deny him but he loved him ANYWAY. Jesus knew we would sin and fall short of the glory of God, but he loves us ANYWAY. Jesus knew we could never repay him for the salvation he’d give the world, but he died for us ANYWAY.
This life comes to us not without suffering. In this life we will suffer and hurt and fail and despair. The gift we have in Christ is that we do not do these things alone or without mercy. Mercy is the gift we offer ourselves, as Christ offered it to us, to Hallelujah Anyway, even when we are beat up and broken down.
What does it mean to Hallelujah Anyway when your church structure, like the several black churches that have been intentionally destroyed by fire, and the Notre Dame Cathedral burns?
What does it mean to Hallelujah Anyway when your chronic illness flares, when your medicine runs out, when the procedure doesn’t work?
What does it mean to Hallelujah Anyway when your bills aren’t paid and your fridge is empty?
What does it mean to Hallelujah Anyway when you’ve made a mess of your relationships and you sit alone?
What does it mean to Hallelujah Anyway when the humbling begins and it hurts all over?
Author Anne Lamott’s recent book Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, tackles this very conversation. Lamott states that though we often focus on the unpleasantness of the earth and what we face, this life also offers us “love, singing, nature, laughing, mercy.”
“Pope Francis says the name of God is mercy. Our name was mercy, too, until we put it away to become more productive, more admired and less vulnerable. We tend to forget it’s still there. It’s our unclaimed selves, in the Lost and Found drawer, access to another frequency, like a tuning fork.”Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway
“Images of tiny things, babies, yeast, and mustard seeds can guide us,” Lamott writes. “Things that grow are what change everything.”
If we want to change, to be better humans, family members, friends, spouses, children, then we must grow. If we want to be better followers of Christ we must grow. And the only way to grow is to recognize we need to, to humble ourselves, and then do what we must to grow in Christ. We must lower ourselves to recognize the beauty of the soil.
This Holy Week, no matter the struggle you face, ask God to help you Hallelujah Anyway. When you feel defeated and depleted, don’t forget that God is with you. When all you see or hear or even feel is negative, remember that God gives us the ability to turn the prism.
Humility is recognizing our humanity, our limitedness, and choosing to rejoice in God’s goodness. This is to hallelujah anyway. I am weak but God is strong. Hallelujah. I am a sinner in need of God’s grace. God’s grace is sufficient for me. Hallelujah. Though I may suffer and face trials in this life, I am not limited to this life alone. Hallelujah. Though my body and mind may fail me, I am not defined by their limitations. Hallelujah. Though I have really messed up, missed the mark, walked way from God, hurt others, I am not a lost and abandoned sheep. God sought me. God fought for me. And so I hallelujah anyway.
Nothing that happens on Easter morning will be the result of anything we’ve done. His resurrection was for us, not by us. We cannot save ourselves. We can, however, choose to recognize the wonder and mystery of the one who was and is able to save us.
On Good Friday, we remember he died. And through our tears we cry our hallelujah’s. On Easter morning, we remember he lives. And through our tears we cry our hallelujah’s.