How to Eat Humble Pie

At church we talked about humility as part of the Rule of Benedict in chapter 7 (and humility, of course, comes from the Bible in many parts of Scripture). I used to think I was pretty good at being humble (which is the first sign that I'm not really humble). I don't tend to think of myself as better than others; sometimes I can revel in my lowly status (second sign of not being humble).

One of my pet peeves is self-centered drivers. You know the ones: they zoom down the side of the road to get up to the front of the line when everyone else is patiently merging for the construction zone, they'll speed around you on the street only to turn at the next corner, they won't use their blinker or stop fully at stop signs or even stop at all on a red light. I get irritated by people who are clearly only thinking of themselves when they are on the road.

Of course, I've realized, I'm only irritated because those people often inconvenience me.

And as I get older, I realize that most all of the problems I create in life I do so because I'm being selfish. I'm focused on myself and my own desires rather than thinking about others or who my actions might impact.

The final twelfth step of the downward-climbing ladder of humility according to St. Benedict is "reached when a [person] shows humility in his heart and in his appearance and actions" (RB 7.145).

One might think that humility, like meekness, is weak--that it means letting people walk all over you. This is untrue. Christ calls us to love others as we love ourselves. We can't love others unless we're taking care of our own needs.

For example, I'm learning to be better about disciplining students at school. My tendency has always been to let some things slide. I'll crack down when it's serious, but I tend to turn a blind eye before that point because I don't want students to think of me as one of those "mean" staff people. Of course by not disciplining--by not correcting improper actions--I'm only thinking of myself. I don't want them not to like me. But the action that is helpful for everyone--including the misbehaving student--is to address the issues that are occurring. Humility means knowing my place. And when I'm a parent or working at school, that means I have the responsibility to correct students' misbehavior. When someone else in authority addresses me, it is my place to listen to them.

My ego gets in the way of God's will. I still turn to it way too often, but it does me no good. So, like most things, I've got a way to go. Maybe knowing that is one of the first steps to humility. (Though Benedict would say that the first step is "taken when a man obeys all of God’s commandments–never ignoring them, and fearing God in his heart" (RB 7.131).)


Letting Go

There is an old story (sometimes thought to be from Aesop, but at least coming from 1st century Greek philosopher Epictetus) about a boy who puts his hand in a pitcher of figs and filberts, grabbing so many that he cannot pull his hand out. We all know the moral of the story--that he has to let go in order to free his hand.

Jesus talks about something similar a few decades earlier when He encountered a man with much wealth. The man falls at Jesus feet, wanting to inherit (or get) eternal life. He has kept all the commandments. Clearly, he is a good person, has done the right things, and can humbly come before Jesus. Jesus, with much love for the man the text tells us, tells him the other thing he must do to inherit eternal life is to give away all his possessions. The man leaves, dejected.

Hearing it in church, made me thing that today the story might go like this:

A wealthy business CEO (like Tony Stark--someone who does good things, is smart, and inherited the company fortune from his father) comes before Jesus. "Jesus, I'd like to gain eternal life. What can I do to get that?"

"Remember all those things your parents and Sunday school teachers told you to do? Do them."

"I have. I've run my business honestly. I've been faithful to my spouse. I've never hurt anyone. Trust me, Jesus, I'm a good person. I'd be a great fit for Heaven."

"Alright then," Jesus replies, "then you only need to get rid of all your possessions and wealth so that you can help those who have none."

"Oh, but I give to charity already."

"I mean get rid of it all. You're holding on to it too tightly." The man leaves, glumly.

Then Jesus turns to the middle-class house wife next to Him.

"How about you? Do you desire eternal life as well?"

"Yes, of course. And don't worry about me...I don't have many possessions. We have little in our bank account. We still manage to tithe ever Sunday."

"Good. Then you just need to let go of your judgmentalism, your envy, your emotional insecurity, and your desires for your children's future." She walks away, sullen.

Then He turns to me.

"And you...you need to let go of your fears, your hurt, your pride, your isolation, your intellectualism, your compulsions, your..."

Pastor Jan noted in tonight's sermon that we have to release in order to gain. We dispossess to possess.

We don't "inherit eternal life" or "get into Heaven." We can't do anything to merit it. And, in many ways, it's not the goal. We follow Jesus. We enter into a relationship with God. The Kingdom of Heaven is here...and not yet. But it isn't for those who are holding onto things. We have to come with empty hands to Jesus...or at least bring those things we need to give to Him. I don't necessarily like this idea. I find much comfort in some of the things I hang onto, but I can only call Jesus "Lord" if I have let go of those things and let Him have all of me.


The Swing of Things

We're trying to get into the swing of things at our house--developing our new schedule this fall. This is the first time since having children that both my wife and I are working outside the home full-time. She's doing research and classes on her way to getting a doctorate; I'm working at the boys' school as a classroom assistant. I worked last year, but mostly substitute teaching. I could take a day off work each week to fit in appointments, run errands, and do things around the house.  That can't happen now.

It's an adjustment. I get up, get the boys ready, and the three of us head out the door together (most days...Beth is sometimes gone by then, sometimes not, and sometimes she gets them on the bus so I can get in an early appointment if necessary). I work at school all day, and then bring the boys home where it's time to figure out something for supper. There's usually laundry to do, dishes to wash, floors to vacuum, etc., as well as spending time with the boys in a more meaningful way than just driving them to school. Then there's getting in the time to work on some personal things, time to build our marriage relationship, time to do something relaxing and enjoyable for myself...

I know I'm experiencing nothing that most people haven't already experienced. Can we just take a moment to acknowledge how tiring it is to have two working spouses in the home? Because it's quite tiring. Being a full-time parent is tiring. Raising children and maintaining a household on top of working outside the home all day just compounds it.

And frankly, I don't want to spend every part of my weekend getting caught up around the house. I want to have some enjoyable time with the family. I want to get out and enjoy the fresh air. I want to participate in community events or spend time with friends. And then have time to just Sabbath like God desires for us.

The first day of school (for the 5-year old--the 8-year old and I started the day before)
So I fully acknowledge that some sacrifices will have to be made. I won't be able to fit in all my plans or desires for the sake of keeping the household happy and sane. And maybe there are days when chores just get ignored for the sake of keeping all of us happy and sane.

We're still figuring it all out. But I'm already learning little of it matters if I get too busy to remember that God is present throughout it. Otherwise, I'm just letting faith become religion where I try and meet God on Sundays and during occasional prayer times.

His desire is for a relationship with me. He's present throughout the day. I'm working on grasping that fact in the midst of having five students ask for help at the same time or trying to a child on the autism spectrum back from his "emotional time" or figuring out what to make for supper while putting laundry in the wash. I'll get there...I know God's not going anywhere, and if He desires for a relationship with me, and I desire the same, I'm certain things will come together.


Fall Family Time

Yesterday morning we packed up the car, met up with friends, and drove up to Wild River State Park to enjoy the weekend. It was beautiful weather--we never put the rain fly on (though we were tempted to for keeping in the heat in the tent over night, but we all stayed warm enough, I think). After getting the last two non-electric sites available (I really hate how camping has become a reservation-needed system), we set up camp, and the we headed to the Franconia Sculpture Garden. I appreciate that the artist create interactive works--and many that the kids can climb on.

Due to taking a relaxed pace with the afternoon, we ran out of time to climb on the rocks at Glacier Gardens in nearby Interstate Park (which the boys were wanting to do) or enjoy a hearty hike back at Wild River (which I would have enjoyed). But we made supper and then partook in a naturalist's talk on owls. Of course there was some marshmallow-roasting at our campfire that night along with a little star gazing.

Today we went the the Amador Apple Festival in the small town of Almelund, Minnesota (where we recently had the serendipitous discovery of a street named Wenell Lane). It was a nice small-town, community-oriented festival: food vendors (Swedish sausage on a stick, tacos in a bag, etc.), hand-made crafts, produce, and an assortment of apple-based products for sale. They were several historical buildings on site with displays as well as hands-on opportunities to live the past (making butter from cream, twisting twin into rope, harvesting prairie seeds). Old silent movies flickered on a wall in the barn; you could wait in line for a ride in a Model T as well. The boy got to try their first carmel apples (somehow they'd missed out on those--we've had apples with carmel dip, but not carmel apples).

It wouldn't have much mattered what we did. We had planned to have the weekend together as a family. It's beautiful fall weather, and while the trees haven't started turning much, we wanted to be outside for most of it. For us that means camping--or at least I personally like it when it means camping. It is good for our boys to be outside, to be active, to be with family and friends, and to be in God's presence. He is everywhere, but for me at least, He is much more noticeable outside. And I admit that I don't always take the time to note His presence, but I know that He and His creation leave their mark on my soul when I have been their presence. I hope that happens with my children as well.


The Power of Humility

God created the world out of nothing, and as long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.
     - Martin Luther


For Eyes to See

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.
     -Ralph Waldo Emerson


A Day Trip

 With all of us back to school in one capacity or another last week, we didn't get our lives planned enough to go camping, which would be how I'd like to spend a three-day weekend at the end of summer. So we planned for a day trip instead. And all-in-all, it was a wonderful day.

It was later morning by the time we got all the food together and some things done around the house. Our destination was Wild River State Park--just over an hour'd drive northeast on the St. Croix River. On our way we made a brief stop in the tiny little town of Almelund where we chanced to see a street that shared our last name (so we stopped to take a picture of course). They was a quaint little mercantile store that advertised Scandinavian pottery, so we stopped so my wife could peruse. It was mainly an antique store with a lot of Scandinavian items, along with a cafe nook, and a small grocery section. The owners we quite friendly and proud of their little town and its events.

After we arrived just down the road at the state park, we got out our cooler and had a picnic lunch. There were a number of programs going on at the park that day. We thought we'd try one on wild mushrooms. Unfortunately the presenter didn't have the right adapters to get her presentation to run on the park's computer and projector, and I think she got a bit flustered after that. She rambled quite a bit, and while she had some decent information in there, it wasn't enough to hold us captive (plus, we expected we'd be hiking and actually finding mushrooms). So we snuck out early and went for a hike. The hike was our main objective for the day--hoping to acclimate the boys to doing more hiking, hoping we could eventually do some backpacking. It wasn't overly long (just over 2 miles total) or strenuous; we enjoyed a walk along the St. Croix River. We stopped at a sandy beach near the end of the first trail for a snack, and the boys played in the river.

After we returned to our vehicle we headed down the road to Taylors Falls to find some supper. We ended up at an old-fashioned drive-in. The kids' meals included a coupon for 2-for-1 at the adjacent mini golf course, so the boys played a round. It took them a little while to get into the swing of things, but they enjoyed it, and each ended up with a hole-in-one (which they were quite thrilled about).

It was getting a little late in the day by that point, but we had thought about stopping at the Franconia Sculpture Park on our way home, but on our way out of Taylors Falls we saw a sign for a Glacial Garden, which we didn't remember seeing on our previous trips through town, so we drove in that direction to check it out. It was a part of Interstate Park right before the bridge to Wisconsin. The boys loved it--it was a trail through a rocky area with glacial potholes and other formations carved out from an ancient river bed. They kept asking today if we could go back so they could do some more climbing. While we won't be making that drive this weekend, we do hope to head back again soon for some fall camping in that area. 

On our way home we stopped so my wife could get a picture of the bright orange, nearly-full moon that was rising on the horizon. Our main--make that only--expense of the day (other than gas) was supper and mini-golf. An inexpensive day, but a great way to spend a Saturday in September--and I think a few memories were made along the way.