Humility & Gratitude

At least 16 or so of you know about my moving trials and tribulations that began around Thanksgiving and came to an end on December 21st.  I wrote about how even the most positive change – moving into this community – was a good illustration of the challenges of change. I learned some other important things from the experience; namely humility and gratitude and the relationship between the two.

I am by nature and life experiences a very independent and self-reliant person.  I know that one of the important characteristics of the Christian life is that we recognize that we are the opposite: inter-dependent. Our life is supposed to be a life together, a shared experience that including bearing one another’s burdens. Understanding that we are children of God and part of God’s family is supposed to help us embrace and celebrate that we do not have to be self-reliant; that we are God-reliant. Christ’s teaching that we are to love God and neighbor is itself a statement about relationships: our relationship with God shapes our relationship with others; our relationship with others testifies to our relationship with God.

Wow! Did I ever learn that I had to walk that walk and not just talk it.

When first faced with what had to be done in the move, I thought I would just have to “suck it up” as they say, and do it.  There were some persistent voices – and I mean that literally – who kept telling me that I needed help and that there was plenty of it. I have to laugh at how difficult it was for me to accept that help initially, and to realize that I had to grow in humility to receive it.

Why? In this world, we are taught that there has to be reciprocity.  We have to balance the ledger regarding what we give and receive.  If we can give back as good as we get, we are comfortable.  If we cannot repay the debt, we are uncomfortable.  We have been taught that this is what self-respect is made of: pride based on the illusion of self-sufficiency.

I know that to be a true follower of Christ that we have to live “on the vine” connected to one another through Christ.  Dr. Philip P. Kenneson’s book, “Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit” taught me a lot about this. We are to nurture one another. Being able to “pay back” isn’t the point. Most everyone who has done a mission project knows something about this.  We go to the MidWest Food Bank or to Honduras to help other people and find that we are the ones that come back blessed. The trick is to realize that this same principal applies to the folks we know right here at North Fayette UMC; not only for people who are “out there.”

I have often chided others to not take away another person’s blessing by refusing their help.  It was convicting (to say the least) that I was not practicing what I preached! I had my own pride getting in the way of admitting that I really did need help and accepting the help with joy.  I had to learn that humility is one of the first blessings of being a Christ follower.

Humility is not confirmation that you are less but rather that you are worthy, that you are loved; and that being blessed by others is part of being a blessing to others.  Humility allows us to recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, children of God. It opens our hearts to receive, but also to give … not to balance the scales but to open the way to abundance for ourselves and others. It puts us in our place, so to speak, in a good way … where we belong, together with each other and God, Our Father.

I have learned that humility makes gratitude not only possible, but amplifies the blessings for ourselves and others.  We are able to receive and rejoice in the love and grace received because we are freed from the chains the world puts on our hearts because it teaches us to shun our better, God-given nature to live in community, in relationship. We are able to give freely because we are not constrained by the idea that there is only so much to go around, that we must be careful not to be “beholden” or endebted; but rather that there is abundance in the family of God. We are all indebted and beholden to God, and since we cannot repay God, we give to each other.

Which gives me the opportunity to provide a mini Bible study interlude to help us understand that Jesus was preaching a message of community and relationship that was intended from the beginning …

In Genesis 2:18 the Lord God says, “It is not good for man to be alone” and begins by forming wild beasts and birds as possible helpers. The Hebrew word adam does not mean a male person, but rather a human being.  Specifically, a human being made out of dust. Many English translations put the article “the” in front of man in this verse, but the original Hebrew does not.

Looking at Genesis 1:27, we read, “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” The him in this sentence does not mean that the created man was a male as the following phrase clarifies by saying “male and female He created them.”  In this creation story, both male and female genders were created at the same time and they were human beings (adam). It is confusing to many English speakers because English common nouns do not have a gender as they do in Hebrew, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish among other languages.

For example, the Hebrew word for book (sefer) is feminine and the Hebrew word for door (delet) is masculine.  That means that articles such as “the” are different: a feminine article is used before sefer and masculine before delet.  Also, if a pronoun is used it is feminine (she, her, hers) or masculine (he, him, his), respectively.  The common noun adam using masculine articles and pronouns does not mean it is a man.

So, from the beginning human beings were not meant to be alone.  We were to be in relationship: mutual relationship.  We are to be helpers. Our fall was not about simple disobedience alone because we know that God has other ways of dealing with disobedience. This was disobedience that led to the breaking of relationships: between God and humans, between human and human, and between humans and the rest of creation. As followers of Christ, our commandment to love God and neighbor as self was a guide to fulfill of what God created us to be: in relationship with God and each other.

We can’t be self-reliant … as in, not needing anything or anybody … and be in relationship.

We can’t really love our neighbor as ourselves until we see our neighbor as ourself …which means being in relationship.

That we need each other, and that is a very good thing.

I am grateful for every loving heart that gave so freely to me. I am grateful that my independent, self-reliance did not deprive me or anyone else of the abundance that our life together gives us.

Thanks be to God for you!

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