Talking on the phone and learning to be needy

My friend called me this week and when I first saw her name on the caller ID, I admit my first thought was that she was calling with bad news. She lives out of town and we rarely talk, like with our voices, so for her to call, while welcome, was also disconcerting.

It wasn’t bad news but rather the best sort of happy news and we chatted and laughed and talked, like with our voices, for quite some time. It was great.

I once talked on the phone all the time. Way back when my babies were just that, I had friends with whom I would talk on the phone about everything and anything. For instance, I had one particular friend that either she or I would call the other right at 9 am nearly and we would proceed to talk for an hour, sometimes more. Every day.

This is crazy, particularly in comparison to my current phone talking habits which are nearly nonexistent. I’m not (exactly) a hermit; I do converse with people but with the more narrow medium of text messaging.

And I love it. Text messaging, as I’ve asserted often, is an introvert’s dream. Short, direct conversations which can be easily avoided or abandoned, what’s not to love?

Years ago I was on the phone with a friend, conversing like with our voices, me bemoaning the general state of my life. I can’t remember my specific circumstances but I do know that the laundry wasn’t done and the dishes were piled in the sink and I sighed and whined and complained about both and probably a wealth of other things besides.

About fifteen minutes after I hung up with my friend, my doorbell rang. It was my friend and she walked straight through my front door to my kitchen sink and began to wash the dishes. THE NERVE. Not only that but she refused to leave without taking a few loads of laundry with her to wash. I allowed her the boys’ laundry and some towels but not my or my husband’s dirties. My dignity, what was left of it, compelled me to draw the line somewhere.

I was mortified. And embarrassed. And utterly humiliated.

Evidently I reserved the right to complain but not the right to accept help. And there was no quid pro quo here. Her kids were grown and out of the house and she had all the time in the world for a friend’s need as well as her dishes and laundry. In the end I could only receive her help and I hated it.

In Sunday School I am teaching through the book Side By Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love. Author Ed Welch asserts that in any healthy community, the members both give and receive help. This process of walking with another begins with each of us realizing we are needy.

I am needy and that truth rankles, as was so obvious when my friend administered very real, very practical help to me all those years ago. I don’t think I’m alone in my dislike of my helplessness. We all would rather appear strong and like we have “it” all together, whatever “it” may be.

Admitting our need feels risky. We conceal our neediness, or we revel in it, like some kind of weird misery contest, but in reality, we are embarrassed by our weakness, we are afraid of what others may think, and we fight to appear competent.

Welch states the obvious: in order to receive help I must admit my neediness. But there’s a less obvious dynamic at work: in order to effectively give help, I must also admit my neediness. In fact, my honest admission of my weakness, according to Welch, is one of the greatest gifts I can give the church. Wait. What?

Honestly assessing who I am and living in that honesty make me a better helper. Self sufficiency, on the other hand, may really be arrogance. Our community will grow together in love and humility as we each of us understand our weakness and our need for each other. This is the grace of the gospel, is it not, that I am so weak and flawed I needed rescuing and the Lord did just that. It is humbling and humiliating to be so weak and so needy but it is also beautiful.

Help is given and I only receive. I cannot earn it and I cannot repay it. My friend taught me as much all those years ago and I am grateful for her example of friendship and of gospel grace.

More words, more vanity

This morning I was thinking to myself that I might actually pop open the laptop and attempt to resurrect the blog, at least briefly. Most of y’all have been around long enough to know that any signs of life around here are generally short-lived.

What I had in mind was publishing one of the several posts I have in draft that I tweak and edit whenever the writing urge strikes. Despite evidence to the contrary, I really do (occasionally) get spurts of creative energy! I did not consider I would be writing the stream of consciousness sort of post that you’re seeing here.

Lucky you.

With the thought of perhaps publishing something today lodged firmly in the back of my mind, I commenced reading my Bible out on the porch as I generally do on a given morning. My reading today took me through the first few chapters of Ecclesiastes. I chuckled as I read Ecclesiastes 6:11, “The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man?” I couldn’t help but think immediately of the words of this blog, and vanity, and wherein is the advantage?

I will say the context of the verse isn’t exactly words written by me or anyone else. Rather the passage is speaking of the sovereignty of “one stronger” and the folly of disputing the authority of the Lord God who reigns and who determines all things.

But the loose, out-of-context application made me laugh regardless.

I once wrote a post where I made the statement I had little vanity. By that I meant that I don’t really struggle with appearance; I probably worry far more about whether or not I should be worrying about my appearance. The post actually went on to describe an attempt at purchasing swimsuit so, yeah, hello vanity and insecurity and heaps of both.

One cannot engage in a hobby like this one, writing something and sending it out to the world wide web for whosoever will to read, and not admit some degree of vanity in the process. In fact, the Preacher’s next question in Eccesliastes 6:11 hits my vanity square on the head, at least in terms of writing and ministry: what is the profit?

We have lots of ways we measure the success of something, usually by its popularity. We follow the numbers game. We look for assurance and affirmation in our perceived like-ability. See how many people read your post? How many links it received? Or, we talk in terms of how many attend your church, how many likes your Instagram photo received, how many retweets and shares your status update boasts. Or maybe we look to the advancement of our agenda, or the assertion of our “rights,” or our measure against any number of chosen standards, from our children’s academic success to the cleanliness of our baseboards compared to our friends’.

Oh. Wait. Maybe we’re not talking just about “more words” and correspondingly more vanity. Truly our vanity, my vanity, manifests itself in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Bitterness, unforgiveness, unwillingness to give others the benefit of the doubt, self-consciousness, lack of love, defensiveness—all these and more find their root in vanity and pride.

I’m reading The Fruitful Life: The Overflow of God’s Love Through You by Jerry Bridges as part of my preparation to teach on the fruit of the Spirit in Sunday School. Interestingly, he begins his discussion with humility. Last I checked, humility wasn’t on the list of fruit the Spirit bears in the believer’s life. But Bridges asserts we must begin here, with a proper view of the holiness and majesty of God and a correct assessment of who we are before Him. Otherwise, we cannot grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, all of which are starved and strangled by the pervasive evil of vanity. In fact, Paul follows his list of the fruit of the Spirit with the command to not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

In other words, lose the vanity. Repent of your pride. Humble yourself before the Lord.

And what is the profit? What is the advantage to man? Consider Isaiah 57:15 for just one example of the beautiful promises the Lord makes to the woman who will humble herself before Him:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

Consider that! The Lord will dwell with the lowly! We also see in the Bible that Jesus is our example; He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross! (Phil. 2:8). Because of His life and death and resurrection, we have His Spirit within us willing and working for His good pleasure. He is our guarantee and He has promised that he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14, emphasis mine).

“More words,” indeed. It’s a long post, stream of consciousness or not. “More vanity,” please Lord, I hope not. The profit? May it be for the Lord’s glory and His alone.

Humility, humiliation, and the meek who will inherit the earth

You can ask any one of my boys and they will tell you that I love to be right. In fact, if ever they state the obvious truth, however unwillingly, I will usually ask them to repeat those glorious words “You’re right, Mama.” We laugh that it’s my love language.

Prepare yourself to be shocked but here’s a true confession: I’m not always right (gasp!). I’ve been known to be wrong, quite wrong, humiliatingly and famously wrong. I don’t like it but there it is. Sometimes when my error is discovered I laugh it off. Sometimes I can deflect to someone else’s fault. Sometimes I attempt a cover up. Sometimes, though, I have to swallow my pride (my insidious, prevalent pride!) and admit the ugly truth: I am wrong.

Such humiliation is difficult for somebody like me, someone who dearly loves being right, someone who takes great comfort in correct thought, correct conduct, correct attire. When I am wrong I feel foolish. I feel silly. I feel embarrassed. I am ashamed.

And, if truth be told, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to look foolish and to feel embarrassed. I am well acquainted with humiliation and its humbling effects. One of my most embarrassing and humbling moments ever involved me having to openly admit my foolish and wrong behavior to someone who already thought little of me. Picking up the phone to call that individual was one of the hardest and most humiliating experiences of my life.

I think I told you I’m working through a bible study on the Sermon on the Mount. For the past week or so I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ promise of blessedness to the meek. Blessed are the meek, He says, for they shall inherit the earth. We know that meekness is an attribute our culture views with disdain if not outright censure. Of course the world feels that way; could anything be more countercultural than meekness?

As I see the pride of my life in my own love of being right–and being viewed as right–I think meekness is something we believers don’t exactly strive after either. I’ve watched enough exchanges on blogs and Twitter, exchanges between believers mind you, that convince me that not only do we not seek an attitude of meekness in our social media relationships but that often we prize snarky ridicule and sharp retort over humility and gentleness.

What does it mean to be meek? Certainly there is inherent in the meekness a humility before the Lord and others. What happens when we are confronted with events and circumstances that cause us to want to advance our agenda or assert our rights, or when we feel our pride threatened? Me being wrong, for example, or utterly humiliated before my “enemy.” How often, how quickly, I react in hurt and acrimony. But the meek have no need for anger or blame because they trust the Lord who works all things out according to His will.

Humiliation is painful to my inherent pride and sense of self esteem. I told you, I love being right. Nothing wrong with the fact of being right except I’m not always right (newsflash) and it’s my wrongness that will prove my spiritual poverty when it reacts with embarrassment and indignation upon exposure.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus says, and blessed are those who see their poverty of spirit and mourn their destitute and desperate state before the Lord. As citizens of His kingdom, they will know His comfort and because they’ve been humbled before the undeserved bounty that is theirs in Christ, they will joyfully and eagerly serve the Lord and others with meekness and gentleness.