I wasn’t prepared to write about humility today, but this morning I was gently humbled, and shown my pride.
Last fall I took on a job as a writing tutor for Pearson, Inc. I was a bit anxious, after completing my MFA, to get working, gain experience, and bring in an income. We are in a blessed position that E doesn’t need my income to balance our monthly finances. We’ve lived off his income the entire 16 years we’ve been married, even when I was working, before the kids, before I became a housewife.
Living off one salary allows me to continue homeschooling the kids, be fully available for E and the kids, and have some creative freedom with my time. It also means that we make a number of financial sacrifices, but It’s the life we’ve chosen to live, and thus far, we are mostly content.
In this job there is tedious, tedious work. It isn’t like the other academic tutoring I’ve done, where I’ve sat face-to-face with a student, giving and receiving information, teaching one-on-one. This work requires all of my teaching to be done virtually, through writing, and it is timed work. There are specific, very strict and specific, guidelines of what in a student’s work I can respond to, along with guidelines of how much I can respond, and how quickly I must do it. The great thing is I’ve become much more sensitive to punctuation, how thesis/arguments are presented, and the common mistakes beginning composition students make. You’d be surprise at the repeated occurrence of the same comma splices, or misuses of the semicolon, or how often students begin essays without proper thesis statements. Or even, how hard it is for most students to organize their thoughts. As a natural writer I get and don’t get it. Writing is tough work. It is hard, and though writing, communicating has always come natural to me, in fact, maybe too natural (I am known as a ‘talker' despite being very introverted), I respect that it isn’t easy for all people. It truly makes me happy to help others find their words, their voice, and to put story, poem to paper. I'd go so far as to say I come alive, when talking about the beauty of poetry, the power of storytelling, or the life essayists, and playwrights present.
Put that aside, for now, because what I’m trying to get at is it's a draining job. I worked for five hours, four days a week, and those hours were straight, without break. Essay, after essay, after essay, repeat. When my shift ended, I was often mentally exhausted. I didn’t want to write, or even touch my computer, and I surely didn’t want to look at a word document.
With the drain, the burnout, I began to complain. Not entirely, but in a nit picky way.
“The pay is an insult,” I’d tell E.
“The work is stressful.”
(Read an 8+ page essay rife with errors, identify grammatical and global issues, write a 2 page response in 9 point, embed more pointed, teachable comments in the essay—all in 30 minutes.)
The mistakes are repetitive, and sometimes the students’ disregard for their own work was disheartening. Each week I had no time for me. For creative work. For writing. For poeming. For reading. For dreaming. For gardening.
I nitpicked. I fussed. I stressed. I worked hard. I complained. And in between all that negative energy, I found some amount of gratitude. I was, after all, bringing in money. I was working, and I was truly grateful, despite the language I allowed to seep out of my mouth.
Sunday night, as we prepared to begin 2016 (not the dry-run days of the holiday weekend, where we were still in vacation mode, but the real work of the year that begins the Monday after New Years), I begun to talk to E about our goals, our plans, what we’d pray for, together, for our family. I’d spent the past two weeks thinking of my goals for the new year, assessing my achievements and shortcomings in 2015. I’d even spent hours creating a work, goal-orientated planner, where I goal-mapped, and set measurable goals with steps.
As we were talking I went and did something I never do. Something I’ve never, in the 17 years E and me have been we done—I called him prideful. Well, maybe not directly, but I suggested that E was prideful. You see, E has this thing, this belief (and I’ve believed it, too) that we shouldn’t pray or ask God to intercede on our behalf for financial, or material things. Something about it, I believe, feels kind of icky to him. And I bet, to most people. Me, included.
Who are we, I’d think, if we pray for financial gain? What are we becoming, if we pray for material possessions? How mature are we, if in the face of all the suffering in the world, in light of all we’ve been blessed with, we spent time praying for “selfish things.”
(I thought wealth and nice things were a bit selfish. And if I am being truly honest, I’m still struggling with changing this idea.)
But, last year, as we were going through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class, my thoughts and perception of money changed. What if it isn’t icky or wrong to ask God to provide for us? What if money is amoral, a tool? What if asking God to help us financially was akin to asking for his help for good health, or for patience, or to run a marathon. What if praying for financial peace was the one thing we needed to do to gain it.
It took me some time, but I eventually settled on the belief that it is the right thing to do (even if it is still hard). In fact, it occurred to me that it is what we are supposed to do. Prayer acknowledges God’s sovereignty and our humanity. It is us saying, “Lord, this right here, I give it to you. This is where I need help. Please help me.” Prayer is our way of setting our pride, our conceits aside, and acknowledging that we need help outside of ourselves. Even now, as I type that out, I'm even more stricken by the error in the idea that we shouldn't, need not, or best not pray for whatever we need.
Last year one of my biggest spiritual lessons came in learning that I am never good enough, perfect enough, smart enough to do it all on my own. I learned that in giving things over to God, I allow him to be uplifted, not myself. I learned to make it about what he can and will do, and not what I am strong enough, smart enough, creative enough to do on my own. In this shift, I’ve learned to be obedient, patient, faithful, and dependent on God—not Ki.
So, I am that wife, who tells her genuinely humble, graceful husband that perhaps he is prideful. That if he thinks God can’t or won’t change our finances we’ll never achieve financial peace.
I know. I know. At least I was kind in my tone. I mean, I did admit that I had some pride, too. Just a little, though. I was, after all, the one saying we needed to turn this part over of our lives to God.
E kindly, gracefully even, told me that he didn’t avoid praying because he felt God couldn’t, or wouldn’t, but that he always believed he didn’t need to pray because God created him as he did, an accountant with great budgeting skills and experience, with an even and easy-going temperament, without the love or need for money/material things, just so he could steward us as a family. That God has blessed him with the skill to handle all things, through him, as he created him.
“Why pray,” he asked, “if I continually praised him for how he created me to handle things?”
I shut up talking. What could I say? I was quiet because E served me—gracefully, and I was standing alone in my prideful party. E was so very nice in saying I did make him think about prayer and praying for us, our family in a different way, but he also told me, “I always focused on being grateful for how God made me, because I know that he made me for us, for our family. That was enough for me.”
I tell you, I fall in love with this man over and over and over again. He’s some kind of wonderful. I truly pray to grow up and be like him. (Please don't tell him; I'll never live it down.)
But that isn’t the point of this post, though it gets me closer to it. This morning I woke up to no work. Because of my anxiousness to go on Holiday, I failed to check my schedule, which would have told me I don’t start work until 2/1. And, that Spring semester means less hours. As in half the work.
Pouf! Just like that, the very thing I lamented, I’m seeing as a blessing. Everyday of vacation I dreaded getting one day closer to work. I even told E before falling asleep last night that I didn’t want to work. I talked to him about time freedom, and how it is more important to me than financial freedom. I told him of my goals and dreams for 2016, and how I needed time, so much time, day in and day out, to write.
And now, without the sure income, that I’m not too prideful to admit we need, I have time freedom, without financial freedom. Today, I’m forced to revisit our plan, what E and I decided to pray for financially last night, and ask myself if I am really faithful. I thought it was E, but all along it was me.
That’s the thing, the noose around our necks. We are often so blinded by what we believe we see in others, that we fail to see it in ourselves. We often go picking the eyes of those we love, while our own eyes are cloudy with our own special kind of shortcomings. I sort of wish I would have held my tongue, just a bit, been a bit more self-reflective, but I know me and I know, I would have missed the lesson, the boat. I would have waded there, alone, soggy and bogged down to my ankles with pride.
There is some light in the day, in fact, much light in the lesson. A year ago, I would have been sick with anxiety and worry about the unexpected change in income. Even if we don’t need it to pay our mortgage, or feed our family, I still would have lamented the downshift in income. Surely, I would have called Mama tearful, because I cry like its a sport. And E and my phone lunch date, it would have been the first cryfest of 2016. (I love a good cry.)
Not today. This morning I laughed at my own fool self, released what I could of the noose, and spent all of my free time re-reading Philippians, praying, and learning about humility. I went back into my planner, erased those days I penciled in WORK, those Fridays I scribbled PAY DAY, and adjusted them. I wrote out a verse to commit to memory, and I took detailed notes on Humility.
E and I lunch dated as usually, talking about all the things and none of things with our thirty minutes. He shrugged the income shift off, assured me with a smirk I could hear through my earbuds, that he isn't concerned.
"Now you'll have more time," he said.
"But what about the loss in income?"
"My budget isn't affected, and if it is, I'll figure it out; I always do."
I don’t know how we’ll get to the large number we agreed to pray for. I don’t know at all. I do know that God does. I know that he has plans for us, and though he has a funny way of showing me he is listening to me, I know that he is. He may well decide that number isn’t for us, and that is okay, too. But, I do know that he has made good on my prayer asking him to guide me, lead me. I’ve been praying for his no, as well as his yes. Praying that whatever path he has set for me, for us, that he’d give me no choice but to follow. That he’d make clear how I’m to spend my time.
So this afternoon, I’m gratefully sharing my notes, my lessons, and some special verses on humility. I am peacefully laughing at what is, and gratefully, in full humility, being obedient, patient, and attentive to God’s will.
What: A personal quality of dependence on God and respect for others.
How: God-given virtue of holiness; unnatural human instinct, which is to be self-preserving, and selfish.
Who: Jesus was the perfect model of humility
- Became human despite holiness
- Was without sin
- Humble Savior, served others
- Humbled himself to God’s will
Why: Jesus urged us to become humble, to serve others and become less self-centered. God praises, honors humility.
Key take away: Humility is God given, and cultivated. It doesn’t come natural to any of us, but it is well worth our desire and aim. When we are blessed with humility, we react with praise, and in that praise God is exalted.
My Personal Memory Verse for January:
There is so much more to dig into. I read Philippians a few months back in my read through of the Bible, but was reminded of this verse in last week’s service. Our church is focusing on prayer for 2016, and Pastor Daniel opened up our church wide focus with a sermon entitled, Take Heart and Pray. We focused on Philippians 4:4-9 and Psalm 27 (which we’ll focus on for the rest of the month).
My heart is ripe for this topic, and I am deeply grateful in how I’ve already begun to understand prayer deeper, along with being shown my own pride. I’ll surely be praying for more humility.
Wishing you a blessed 2016. May your heart be humble, faithful, and full of joy. And always, all my best wishes for you and yours!