At the beginning of the year, I started reading Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson. A good friend recommended it at the very end of last year. A lady at my church in St. Louis started a group to read it together at the beginning of this year. I went for a few weeks until school got overwhelming. I kept reading it in tiny chunks, journaling along, and finally finished it in July. I recently went through my journal entries and typed up the highlights. Going through those now to process a bit more and see what comes. Also, keep in mind that almost everything I’m writing comes directly from Hannah Anderson’s mind…not mine. And it’s not a short post, but it’s easy.
This book ended up having a larger impact than I expected. (As if I can really predict the way I’ll learn and grow.) I’m prone to reading books that are supposed to speak to the soul as if they can be processed at the rate of consumption. I’ve been learning a lot lately…processing…but not necessarily reflecting and incorporating. I live a tense-hearted life. God meets me in his own time, at my right time, usually slowly because I am stubborn and he is kind. My walk with Jesus involves a lot of breaks…or times where I stop and sit down on a bench for a little bit. But that doesn’t mean that God is taking a break.
This book spoke to (so much, but starting with) the interpersonal comparison that everyone does and the insecurity it brings.
(1) I don’t really care whether people like my personality or lifestyle choices or way I operate or that I like what I like.
(2) I want to be loved in friendship so badly. I haven’t grown up with one best friend. I’ve been so fortunate to have different friends in different places, and I love all of them. But it’s hard not to have that one person that will always know you and has always known you – the good and bad. I have a friend who knows me well and who asks after my heart…and she has lost that one person who was that person in her life. I wonder if she feels this a little, though we are close.
I am married, and in one sense it’s true that he is my best friend. But there is something so sweet and so missed about deep and sweet female friendship. I went to see a movie (the documentary “Whose Streets” – definitely recommend getting this perspective on the events in Ferguson) with a friend from St. Louis, and went back to her house briefly afterward, where her roommates were talking about life and we joined in for a moment. I miss those moments passing in the dining room where you can hear all those voices speaking into your life and love on each other.
I compare myself to other women constantly, which is why I feel insecure in every friendship I’ve ever had. I need the humility to recognize that it doesn’t matter – that the criteria I’m using to define myself and them means nothing. It has become the basis of how I relate, and it usually comes out with them on top, me admiring and mostly feeling inferior. [I feel like the queen of third-wheeling friendships. I’m the third friend tagging along with the two best friends. I expect that it’s going to be a tricycle, but when I get there it’s actually just a bicycle and an extra wheel. Nice to have that extra wheel, but ultimatly unnecessary. This has been a theme pretty much all my life, and I see hints of it as I’m starting to make friends here. It’s hard not to go ahead and fortify the walls. For me, it’s not about trying not to put up walls – it’s about trying to tear down the ones that go up automatically in new places…when I want to strengthen them. I think I try to hang on hard to friends that maybe want to let me go? How does one become content with being the odd friend out? Then I realize this is all completely selfish and I don’t deserve to have friends in the first place, so gratitude should be the only thing I’m feeling.]
When it comes to improvement and growth, I tend to impose regulations or sweeping statements intended to make myself better. But am I actually changing on the inside? I need the humility to seek holiness, not just better qualities or habits. I need Jesus, not self-help. How would humility change me?
“Humility is not feeling a certain way about yourself, not feeling small or low or embarrassed or even humiliated. Theologically speaking, humility is a proper understanding of who God is and who we are as a result.” (103)
The morality of our culture is that if something feels good, it must be good: “But today, being true to yourself doesn’t mean making an honest evaluation of yourself; it means embracing your emotional experience of the world as truth.” (103) I can get obsessed with how other people feel about me and how I feel about myself. How I feel about myself/the world/others isn’t reality…it’s corrupted. This statement really spoke to my heart: “Instead of responding to the pain of being misunderstood, I can rest in the fact that God understands me even better than I understand myself.” (106) I need to hear that every day for life.
Humility should free us from self-condemnation. I’m not God – I can’t condemn, not even myself. My assuming unnecessary guilt (or shame) keeps me at the center of my mind and life. Honest anxiety leads to usurping God’s position of authority. We should adore God -> be humble -> have confidence. Anderson includes this Hildebrand (philosopher) quote: “The question whether I feel worthy to be called is beside the point; that God has called is the one thing that matters.”
I feel like it has become increasingly popular or socially acceptable to be openly judgmental. I’m sitting in a coffee shop where the wi-fi is being slightly fickle but mostly working fine (for me at least), and the girl at the table next to me has been trying to figure out the network/password. Loudly, she said, “I’m never coming here again.” I’m listening to music through my headphones, and I heard her. I’m sure the baristas just across the way could hear her. Her friend said, “I’m fine with that. The coffee is…*makes a face*” I mean, wow. I guess taking a couple minutes to figure out the Internet is a deal breaker, and it’s all right to complain about the coffee in front of the people who made it. That’s a minor example…
People talking about others who are difficult to love or be around – who have awkward or problematic tendencies — really just want to get away from them. They talk in a belittling and irritated manner. When Christians operate this way, I want to shove a copy of Life Together into their hands. I know not every difficult person is also a part of God’s family, but I think that acknowledging the image of God in everyone means that we can’t openly shame others. (But the Internet, for instance, says we MUST shame anyone who says anything remotely wrong.) I think doing so reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the sin and inconsistencies inherent in our own hearts. When we are gratified by pointing out others’ deficiencies, we probably don’t see our own clearly enough. I usually don’t want to hear you gossip about someone else if you don’t have a hopeful bent – if you’re not interested in engaging with the person and doing life with them.
Nick is so good at engaging with people that others would disregard. I’m constantly challenged by this. He gives rides to strangers – has done this multiple times since we’ve been married. He talks to the Jehovah’s Witnesses sitting on the park bench (which generally means he listens to their speeches for ten minutes without interrupting or looking for his out). He listens to the man playing music on the street and tries to learn what he’s about. And he does not complain about this. He loves it. He loves people. His heart is open. What if we all operated this way?
Humility can redeem the inner life. We can bring our emotions to God and feel them deeply. God is not emotionally manipulative. “So…when humility frees us from the oppression of our emotions, when we finally learn that ‘God is greater than our heart,’ it also frees us to enjoy the depth and variety of our inner life. We are free to enter into our emotions, letting them do what God intends for them to do: draw us back to Himself.” (114)
Remember, we always have something to learn. I can very easily assume the posture of knowing what everyone is talking about all the time. Usually I am just trying to assume a listening posture, but sometimes it can also lead people to think that I’m already in the know. I don’t speak up when I don’t get a reference, but it happens all the time. The book I’m reading now describes this well in reference to a particular character. Indulge me and read this paragraph…
“It was therefore with a very well-concealed ignorance that Moody played interlocutor to Gascoigne, and Clinch, and Mannering, and Pritchard, and all the others, when they spoke of Anna Wetherell, and the esteem in which they held her, as a whore. Moody’s well-timed murmurs of ‘naturally’ and ‘of course’ and ‘exactly so,’ combined with a general rigidity of posture whenever Anna’s name was mentioned, implied to these men merely that Moody was made uncomfortable by the more candid truths of human nature, and that he preferred, like most men of exalted social rank, to keep his earthly business to himself. We observe that one of the great attributes of discretion is that it can mask ignorance of all the most common and lowly varieties, and Walter Moody was nothing if not excessively discreet. The truth was that he had never spoken two words together to a woman of Anna Wetherell’s profession or experience, and would hardly know how to address her – or upon what subject – should the chance arise.” (The Luminaries, page 397)
Ignorance can be masked by reserve, and I don’t have the humility to admit the ignorance most of the time. That’s my point.
Humility also applies to the limits of human reason. God’s ways are so far beyond our own. We should not be concerned with being right for the sake of being right. We shouldn’t be self-righteous about our knowledge or wisdom. Anderson describes this using someone else’s term: epistemological humility. I think people in my theological/faith/denominational circles need to hear this. We must have faith in the truth of revelation, not faith in our own knowledge or understanding. We need to be able to acknowledge when we are wrong (and see that we will always be fallible…and sinful). We will never ever know everything, so get used to it, and start acknowledging limits more. It will put others at ease. When I’m around people who seem to have tons to say or seem super secure in their own understanding, I’m either intimidated, or I don’t have much desire to talk to them, because it’s already clear what they think and that they might not be great at listening to the opinions or perspectives of others. Yet, I do this. Nick will feel shut down in conversations when I feel strongly or have a lot of thoughts about a subject. I have to shut myself up. (I interrupt with occasional smothered noises now, rather than with fully-formed sentences. 🙂
“Not only does humility teach us that knowledge comes from outside us, it also reminds us that we cannot perfectly categorize and process the knowledge that we do have.” (123)
We all have resources at our disposal. I learned this well when I first went to Sunshine Gospel Ministries in Chicago. They teach college groups (which tend to be made up of kids from at least semi-privileged backgrounds, and in our case very clearly privileged) about communities of poverty – how they are constructed, what their struggles are, and how injustice contributes to the cycle of poverty. I learned that it’s very unlikely that I’ll end up homeless. I have a savings account. I have a family that could support me financially or house me for a time. They would have compassion. I actually have multiple arms of family that could do this. I am white and have a college degree, so I can easily get different kinds of jobs. I have the technology to engage with current trends and to fit into society. There are people against whom systems are biased. There are people who get subpar education based on where they live and how much money their community has. People who live in unsafe environments because they have no choice and are more prone to danger, drugs, or sickness and who grow up with incredible trauma. People who have to struggle to gain stable employment, let alone higher education, and whose families are in the same situation. People who are targeted and charged with minor crimes and fines, who can’t afford to get out from under that burden. The cycle can start in so many places, and I am not vulnerable to its sinkhole. I didn’t do anything to DESERVE this invulnerability. Anderson gets to this briefly in a footnote: “In failing to recognize how much previous generations have shaped our own success, we can also fail to see how much generations of poverty and oppression will shape other people as well. While we may inherit blessing, other people inherit hardship.” (142)
So, Anderson writes about having resources of all kinds. We can honor them, and we can engage them with humility. Everything we have, we’ve been given (material and relational and everything). We don’t deserve to have things a certain way, and we haven’t earned a particular lifestyle. I complain from a position in which God has given me more than I need. Humble thankfulness is not based on comparison (I have more than others, so I should be grateful). It is “a gratitude rooted in having anything at all.” (143)
I need to make sure I’m not putting myself at the center of dealing with privilege. This is very difficult, because the first and easiest way we try to understand the world is through our own eyes. I’m thinking about the parable of the talents. Do I steward (plant) my resources, or do I bury them? (Bury them. or get paralyzed. or don’t realize I have them.) Am I using my freedom well? (Hm) Do I accept gifts without guilt, without trying to earn them? (Either so guilty or so entitled. depends.) Do I let God lead me in using them? (Mostly I do not.) We have responsibilities because of the gifts we have been given. Asking whether we deserve them is not productive. Asking what we are responsible to do can lead to action and growth. God is at the center. Everything has a purpose.
“We know that we don’t deserve more than another person, but we also know that we have more than another person. And so in an attempt to deal with this guilt, we can pursue a form of asceticism, all while keeping ourselves at the center of the conversation.” (HR, 146)
I am one of those people who often feel that planning and wishing seem presumptuous because we don’t know God’s step-by-step plan. I needed to hear that it is right to have desires and hopes (and even…plans !) and that we should speak them, so that God can redeem and shape and reform them. This was a huge learning moment for me.
It’s actually not virtuous to refuse to make a plan before we know what’s to come. It’s arrogant. It’s reaching for knowledge that is beyond us, that only God knows. We will never have a perfect map, but we do have the most gracious guide. A verse that kept coming to mind was Proverbs 16:3, which says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” I think I’ve always been incredulous at the thought that the Bible says the Lord will establish *your* plans. My plans, really? I thought it was all about God’s plan though… Something I realized as I meditated on this idea and continued to read Humble Roots is that because of this incredulity and focus on God’s unknowable plan, I don’t actually commit my hopes, my work, or my plans to the Lord. So the focus shouldn’t be on God establishing my plans, but on committing everything I do to Him.
Three distilled conclusions from Hannah:
“I will not overlook my privilege.”
“I will not feel guilty about what God has put in my hands or attempt to earn it.”
“I will allow God to lead me in cultivating these gifts for His glory and the good of those around me.”
“Just as God is the source of your life and gifting, God is also the source of your desires… In this sense, the greater presumption is not found in speaking your desires but failing to acknowledge their existence in the first place.” (159)
“Surprisingly enough, humility teaches us to embrace desire as a means of learning to submit to God. It is precisely through the process of wanting certain things that we also learn to trust God to fulfill those desires or to trust Him when he changes them. It is precisely through the process of learning to plan that we learn to depend on a God who makes our plans happen.” (159)
We are kept dependent on God when we don’t know everything. This has altered the way I think: “As much as you cannot make yourself or orchestrate the events of your life or shape your unique personality, you can no more create the desires of your heart.” (161) Desires feel completely selfish. I want this or that – I want to do this or that – it’s all about me. But, DUH, we have nothing we haven’t been given, including our lives and bodies and minds and desires. To acknowledge them is to own them, and that is a risk. To tell God about them is a risk. But it also means, “agreeing with God about who He has made you to be.” (162) We have to learn to ultimately desire the one thing we will never be denied, which is God himself. But we also need to trust Him with our plans, and submit to the idea that they will be fulfilled in ways that we can’t imagine. The possibility of failure is no excuse. We still work.
“When we limit ourselves to working when the time is right, we reveal that we are still clinging to the notion that success is dependent on our choices and our ability to control outcomes.” (168) I have a real strong control issue. That probably gives you the picture of what this feels like for me. 🙂
The world is broken. We can respond to this brokenness with humility. In Luke 8/Matthew 13, Jesus talked about the different kinds of ground upon which the seed of the truth is sown. The seeds that fall on thorny ground are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. We try to replace the giver with the gifts. Sloth…that’s not often how I think about this defeated way of living. God can make our efforts fruitful in the midst of the broken world. “Rooted in pride, sloth factors God out of the equation entirely. If God is not present or powerful here, there is no guarantee that your work or time will be rewarded. So why even try?” (181) We get defeated and more defeated as we stop trying.
Jesus trusts God and accepts the crown of thorns and defeats evil. “What better way to diminish the King of the universe than to crown Him with the very curse that hangs over His creation? What better way to triumph over Him than for evil to adorn his head? What could be more humiliating than to have our brokenness rest on Him?” (184) He trusted God – “Humility trusts God.” (185)
Do I believe the truth about God even when the situation suggests he’s someone doing something I can’t trust? I can’t be ruled by anything other than His word. I can confess my brokenness and rest by telling God and others that I need help. Surrender and stop thinking I can be enough – there is hope.
The most humbling experience of all is death. “All our life, humility is working to this end: Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” (195) We experience the deaths of others until one day we are dying. We have no control. Jesus commits his spirit to the father – the destroyer of death, which destroys us now. Those who humble themselves will be the ones exalted. “…when the creature is finally and fully humbled, the world rights itself. When Jesus humbled Himself and submitted to death, He unleashed a power greater than death.” (196) It’s an upside down kingdom.
The struggle to sleep is another picture of the struggle to give up control and trust God. Put down the day. It’s a small way to practice letting go every day because we literally can’t live without it. “In many ways, the act of sleep itself is a spiritual act, an act of humility.” (204) I have to trick myself into sleeping most nights (if I’m not just exhausted) by leaving a light on or reading a book. God offers rest at the end of every day and at the end of every week. He welcomes us to rest, and he will restore us and sustain us.
The whole exercise of writing has had no place to fit in my life lately. I’m interested in politics/keeping up with current events. I’m interested in being a part of my community (though school and work mean that so much of my time is occupied). I’m interested in writing and reading fiction – I love it so much. I’m interested in too many things? I’m not sure what realm I’ll end up working toward when it comes to career time. I’m in seminary slash grad school. My program is focused on the connection of social justice to theology. I’ve been able to learn the outworking of that in terms of bringing justice+gospel to bear in different aspects of work in the city, whether that means working with refugees, working in community development, working in medicine, housing, etc. I’m interested in building relationships, but also in connecting people to the resources they need. How does someone get from the exit door of the prison to the front door of an employment agency (willing to talk to them) that has connections to employers (willing to give them a chance)? I’m interested in the broad and the sweeping…one of my strengths (according to Gallup) is “Connectedness”. Another is “Restorative”. I’m interested in restorative justice and the connection of the gospel to all of life – and its call on our lives to be righteous, which has huge implications for how we engage the poor and marginalized. I’ve written a little about that here before.
This was also very long, and if you made it this far then consider yourself part of my blog’s VIP club.
“Autumn” – a BRAND NEW album by Nick Dahlquist!!! I know him!
“Whose Country ‘Tis of Thee?” – Latino USA podcast episode
“All Things Work Together” – new Lecrae Album! SO GOOD.