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18 Aug '09

Suffering and Humility

Posted by T.J. Addington in humility, spiritual formation, suffering, The heart
Suffering helps to free us from the pride that enslaves us and grows a humility like nothing else can.

Pride is both a mask of pretence and a spirit of the heart. As a mask, it is pretending that we are something we are not, know more than we do, are more competent than we are.

As a spirit of the heart it is believing that we are self sufficient in ourselves and are better than we are. Both the mask and the heart posture are sinful. And they hold us hostage because we must keep up a pretence and don’t allow us to see ourselves for who we really are.

Suffering has a wonderful way of stripping away pride. When life comes undone we can’t pretend we are sufficient anymore. We are forced to acknowledge our need for God and for others. Our weakness becomes our strength.

The Apostle Paul also had to learn humility the hard way.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassing great revelations, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

We are strong when we humbly rely on God for his grace and power. We are weak when we rely on ourselves. Suffering frees us from self reliance and makes us strong through Christ. No longer do we need to pretend we are sufficient. No longer do we have to pretend we are something we are not. We can just be who we are in our strengths and weaknesses, humbly relying on God.

Having had two long bouts in the ICU I can say with candor that if you were not humble on the way in, one certainly is on the way out! There is no dignity in being sick, in having tubes sticking into your body, in having no control over bodily functions, or the dubious gowns that one tries to keep oneself covered with and in being totally out of control and at the mercy of others. Illness reveals the fragility of our bodies – as does old age, when our bodies slowly betray us and the “clay pots” the Apostle Paul calls our earthly bodies cracks and crumbles.

It was humbling to go to Physical Therapy after my first long hospital stay and to learn how to walk and balance again after 36 days in bed. Or Occupational Therapy where they wanted me to count money and take timed tests of motor function – I failed miserably. Or Speech Therapy where they tested my cognitive skills and memory (flunked there as well). I still have days of “brain fog” where the neurons don’t seem to connect very well.

I have a saying that means much to me: Nothing to prove, nothing to lose. That is how I want to live life. God made me who I am, he wired me the way He did, He has given me a special work to do for Him. I don’t have to prove that I am anything other than who He made me to be and if I have nothing to prove, I have nothing to lose when I fail or don’t live up to someone’s expectations.

That is freedom! Ironically, when I started to wake up from my coma at United Hospital, I kept saying “Nothing to prove, nothing to lose.” It was if I knew that if there was ever a time to practice that mantra it was then, when I was at my weakest.

This is the route to personal authenticity – a commodity in short supply in today’s world, even among Christ-followers. Pretence is a lie. It is also hard to keep up. Authenticity is honesty about who we are and what we struggle with and the challenges we face. Others are drawn to authenticity because it is real and many people are not very real. Authenticity also leads to a new way of thinking about who we need to please.