Lessons in Humbling   6 comments

For five years I have worked in Lynchburg College Library as a circulation supervisor at night (8 pm to 2 am).  It has been a vital part of my emotional survival because it is low stress, but I get furloughed at Christmas for a month and 3 months for summer, so it has put a strain on us financially.  Last fall I finally landed a second part-time job, selling fridges at Home Depot for $9.25 an hour.  My career has been a slow but inexorable descent by demotion.  From respected missionary to struggling pastor to harried social worker, and finally out of ministry of any sort into secular, unskilled labor.  From minister’s collar to blue-collar… to no-collar.  From meaningful work to trivial, from salaried to part-time poverty wages, from insured to Obamacare.  And as long as I’m confessing my low-status, I also have a job as substitute janitor in junior high school: even on the toilet-swabbing team I’m a bench-warmer.

As a 54-year-old with two Master’s degrees, I felt humiliated with my entry level job for teenagers, and it took me two months to work through the shame enough to admit it to my fellow librarians.  It is quite possible that some student I have supervised in the library will be the junior high teacher next fall who is spitting his gum into the trash can as I pick it up to empty.  I’ve acclimated enough to my new roles that I think I could handle it without chagrin… or maybe I’m kidding myself.  Like coming out of the closet, any closet, the initial shock of exposure is the hard part, and after that it is just a matter of learning a new level of humility and the grace to remember that my worth has no connection with my occupation.  It is freedom and growth through downward mobility.

It’d be a lot easier to wash dirty feet if I could take up the towel of my free will instead of being handed the towel and told to wipe down.  A leader who volunteers for menial labor can earn high praise for his humility, augment rather than diminish his reputation, and so ironically can undermine his growth in grace.  Being humble contrasts with being humiliated precisely because the latter is out of our control, like being nailed to a cross.  It is a rich person choosing to wear rags in contrast to a person who only has rags to wear.  In my experience, actual poverty, though it is more scary and painful, has more power than voluntary poverty to open me to grace.  Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


Posted April 28, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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6 responses to “Lessons in Humbling

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  1. I’ve experienced some of this myself. Since leaving a long-time job, my self-worth has diminished along with my bank account. Unintentional self induced mayhem is something I must live with, but trying to see the big picture. Surely there are lessons to glean.

    • Thanks for sharing. I find that grace, though it is given freely, must be embraced through compassionate reflection on our own inadequacies in order to be a source of sustenance. That is where the struggle is for me, though I’m slowly learning to find peace in humble places.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Kent. Taking a break from seminary 3 years ago and working for 2 years as a delivery driver for a pastry company. They closed the doors to the company a year ago and apart from the financial challenges, it has been very challenging for me to not believe the lie, “what good are you, you cannot even keep an entry level position paying $13.50 an hour”. I am still growing to understand what being a true servant looks like. I always thought it was someone who volunteered their time to help others and the church, in the midst of a plethora of other responsibilities. But I’ve seen how much less willing I am to be a servant if I am treated like one.
    Also, my mother just passed away after a 2 1/2 year fight with cancer and I had all these grandiose thoughts when she got sick of her seeing to fruition many of the things she’s always wanted for me. Good job, marriage, possibly kids, etc…none of which happened. Its been a huge reminder for me of how bitter and unfulfilling this life often is. All that to say, thanks for reminding me and many others that this world is not our home and much to our dismay, we were never promised it would be easy.

    Also, as I have mentioned to you before, the book about your parents, has deeply ministered to my mom and dad over the years, especially my dad over the past several months. While he still wrestling with much bitterness and anger for taking his wife of 46 years home, which far too soon from our perspective, he is receiving enough grace for each day and is courageously choosing to keep going even though, many days he just wants to give up. Just wanted to share that with you man. Bless you brother and thank for the encouragement to not give up

    • Thanks for reading and responding, Brett. I’m so sorry about your mother. It sounds like you have really been struggling a lot personally around so many things. I hope you have someone close with whom you can share your struggles–sharing our pain in a compassionate context can be so healing for our troubled souls. For many of us life has ended up so very differently than we had hoped and expected, but I feel sure that it has been to our benefit. I know I would have been a deeply intolerant, arrogant, controlling person but for my brokenness. Love you, bro.

  3. “it is just a matter of learning a new level of humility and the grace to remember that my worth has no connection with my occupation. It is freedom and growth through downward mobility.”
    It is so true. Thank you for this word. As a child you imagine life to just work out and success would follow. When failures and disappointment and plan A, B and C don’t work out I have often found myself wondering “where did I go wrong? where did I disobey God in all these life decisions?” Downward mobility is so much more “sexy” when it is our choice- but I think you are right on when you say when it is not our choice it has more power to open us up to His grace. Currently going through a season now of learning performance vs. grace– righteousness from Jesus alone. Thank you for sharing your “low status” as it is so encouraging to us who join you in that rank.

    • Amy, thank you for reading and responding. It is comforting to hear from those who struggle like I do with a sense of failure and inadequacy. It seems there are always new levels of grace-learning to discover and embrace, and it usually is a painful process. May you find hope, encouragement, compassion, and understanding from those closest to you.

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