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Posts Tagged ‘humility’

Jo 12I am tempted to write a book one day about the many interesting experiences I have had during my journey of speaking at all sorts of venues as a published author or promoting my books. It could also include those occasional moments in every-day life when someone discovers I am a writer—at which point the ensuing conversation usually has to do with what sort of books I write or what their titles are. But occasionally these interesting exchanges take a little more challenging turn, as happened recently.

‘So … you’re a writer. Um … should I know you? Are you famous? What books have you written that I might have come across?’

Fortunately, I managed to laugh and answer in a light-hearted enough way. After all, I could understand the person’s confusion. Is she really a writer? … I don’t recognise her—but maybe I should. I’m sure I haven’t heard her name before though. … I wonder what she writes? Probably nothing I’ve read anyway. Mostly, they are simply blurting out the first thing that comes to mind—although sometimes I do wonder if such questions are actually an attempt to shut me up or put me in my place! But whatever the motive, I never quite know how to respond. What would you say in such a situation?

In the end, I opted for what was probably a rather lame response.

‘Well … it depends what sort of books you read! I’ve written six novels and two non-fiction books—but no, I can’t say I’m famous. Here, I’ll give you my card—then you can look up my books on my website.’

I am so thankful for those business cards I carry around. Many times, they have extricated me from similar situations where I am at a loss to know what to say about my books. If the person asking the questions is really interested, they can look me up. If not, then they are at liberty to throw my card into the nearest bin!

No, I am not famous by any means—and I’m fine with that. You see, I have done my best in both writing and promoting my books for some years now. And I have tried in each one to write the things God put on my heart to write about—the love of God, the grace of God, forgiveness, holding onto our faith in God, using our God-given gifts, encouraging others in their journey with God. Now, as I attempt to write my seventh novel, I find I still have so much to learn in an ever-changing market. However well or otherwise I have written in the past, I can hopefully improve. Besides, God is still God—and as I write, I plan to listen to that gentle whisper of the Spirit, inspiring me and urging me on. This writing journey of mine has never been my idea alone—to me, the whole thing has been an amazing gift from God. And that, above all else, should keep me humble, don’t you think?

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12

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Jo 17Is there some particular virtue or positive personality trait you truly admire and wish you could demonstrate more often? Perhaps you’ve noticed it in others and felt ashamed you had so little of it. It could be kindness. Or generosity. Or patience. Or loyalty. Or, as in my case … um … a good, healthy dose of humility!

I am in the right profession, I believe, to acquire more of this commodity. After all, it doesn’t take long as a writer to discover not everyone is going to like one’s books. This is quite understandable—especially given I myself am choosy about what books I read. Yet, being a published author can also add to one’s sense of consequence at times. I admit there is something nice about seeing my name on a book cover. And it is always gratifying to hear how readers have enjoyed or been moved by my books. This is fine, I guess—providing I don’t allow myself to become puffed up with pride and providing I remember God is the source of any gifts or abilities I might have.

At a recent training day, I noticed how some wise Christian leaders I have known for years conducted themselves with great humility. They did not seek any real acknowledgement. Instead, they seemed sincerely interested in everyone around them and spoke to them with gentleness and grace. Add this to several examples I have noticed lately in Scripture and—well, I get the message!

In Mark 5, I read how Jesus healed the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. Heedless of his own reputation, Jesus cared enough about this ostracised woman to speak gracious, affirming words to her and heal her. He then raised up the synagogue ruler’s daughter, even after those present laughed at him when he maintained she was only asleep. As we read on, we see how Jesus, after sending the people away and allowing only the child’s parents and his disciples into the room, ‘gave strict orders not to let anyone know’ what had happened (5:43). Did those who laughed ever discover what actually unfolded or honour Jesus at all for this miracle?

Next, I read John 2, where Jesus changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. To me, this seemed to be done quietly and with minimum fuss, since only the servants knew where that wine had come from. Yes, we are told ‘his disciples put their faith in him’ as a result (2:11), but did that master of the banquet or the bridegroom ever discover who was responsible for such an amazing miracle, let alone believe in Jesus?

Then I read in Luke 17:11-19 how ten lepers received healing, after Jesus spoke to them and sent them to the priests. Yet only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank him and to praise God. Did those other nine ever acknowledge what Jesus had done for them? Yet Jesus’ only concern seems to be that they did not see the need to return and give praise to God (17:18) for their healing.

Yes, such humility is a huge challenge to me—but oh so appealing and important, don’t you think?

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5

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Jo 17I wonder what the most appealing personality trait is for you. What virtue do you most admire in others and perhaps wish you could cultivate a little more in yourself?

Mine has been the same for years now—and that is humility. Recently, I came across the following statement:

Find humility or it will find you.

I could not help but agree. And these words set me thinking about my quest for more of that rather elusive commodity in my own life.

I grew up feeling quite proud of certain things I could do, particularly in the academic area. That led to my looking down on others who did not do so well at school. Never mind that they left me for dead on the sporting field and in other ways. And it seems to me such thinking can lead to a kind of self-protection, where we feel safer and better about ourselves by judging others to be inferior in some way.

We often come to hate some trait in another person that we ourselves have, don’t you think? We may be unable to acknowledge or even recognise it in ourselves—but we can see it clearly in someone else. It’s for this reason, I believe, that I came to hate pride and arrogance in others. And perhaps it’s for this reason that I longed to be much more like those who had achieved great things in their lives yet seemed so humble about it all. I remember several amazing people I have met, some only fleetingly, whose humility both amazed and challenged me. And I am grateful for others who have shown me over longer periods in my life what it is truly like to walk that humble road.

But it has been through my writing journey that God has taught me the most about humility. I believe God has a great sense of humour. Not long after I started writing, I suspect I heard God say to me, in a loving but slightly rueful tone: ‘You want to be more humble, Jo-Anne? Right—then writing’s a sure fire way to reach your goal!’ There is nothing quite as daunting and confronting, I have discovered, than putting one’s creative efforts out there for all the world to see, to like or dislike, to criticise or to praise, to tear apart or to truly ‘get’ and appreciate. One of the most unnerving experiences I have ever had was to see a man whose opinion I respected reading one of my early novels. Was he enjoying it—or did he think it was rubbish? I could not tell. I looked the other way. I did not want to find out.

In 1 Peter 5:5-7, we read:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

I would much rather that God extend grace to me than oppose me, wouldn’t you? And that’s one reason I plan to keep going in my quest for that elusive commodity of humility until the day when God’s hand, and not my own, lifts me up.

Is humility something you long for more of in your life too—or has it found you already?

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Jo 23‘Savour the moment,’ the little, old nun told me during a time when I was experiencing some deep sadness, ‘because you might not pass this way again.’

I did not know her—our paths crossed for only one session at a conference. Yet, the more I thought about her words, the more I realised what a gift they were to me. In essence, she had encouraged me not to miss out on what God had to teach me right in the midst of that difficult time. I had been given a unique opportunity to experience more of God’s love and grace, to grow in my relationship with God and to learn some important lessons about myself too—and I needed to grasp it fully.

‘That’s not humility—that’s self-protection!’ an insightful pastor friend told me once.

I was a little shocked. Yet I trusted him and knew he was challenging me in love. I had just refused to take up a new role in our church that he felt was so right for me. I thought I was being humble by pointing out how hopeless I would be at it. Yet, in reality, I panicked and wanted to protect myself from any humiliating failure rather than allow God to help me grow and to use me in a different way to bless others. I needed to think again—and respond to the challenge before me.

‘They might not be able to have you,’ my dear spiritual mentor told me gently, as I questioned whether I was truly wanted at the place where I was then employed.

Again, I was shocked. In fact, I found her words quite amusing. Imagine thinking something like that! The privilege of having such a position was all mine, wasn’t it? Surely I had no right to choose to go elsewhere or do something different? Yet I respected my friend and tucked her comment away in my mind to consider at a later date. And when that date arrived, I realised what little sense of self-worth and self-respect I had had for so long and how blind I was to the work of God’s grace and love in my life.

This week, I came across one of the littlest parables Jesus ever told:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches. Matt 13:31-32

So many times, God has given me precious mustard seed moments when one small comment has ended up changing the course of my life in some significant way. With each one, God has shown me a better way to respond to my circumstances or a healthier and more courageous way to live. These brief words have enlarged my heart, leaving more room for God and providing a place of shelter and strengthening. Some have impacted others as well as I have shared them both personally and via my writing. God has been at work, building the kingdom in me and in others, little by little, word by word.

Let’s not downplay those tiny mustard seeds. In God’s hands, the possibilities are infinite.

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One of the handiest qualities any aspiring writer needs to have, in my opinion, is a good dose of humility. In the very uncertain book publishing world, an author may well have to survive endless assessments and editing of his or her precious manuscript, not to mention possible multiple rejections from potential publishers. Then comes the reader feedback, encouraging or otherwise, along with favourable or unfavourable reviews. And of course there are the times when others’ books are released while yours is still waiting for that publishing contract or when friends’ books win awards and yours doesn’t or when your books do not sell nearly as well as someone else’s.

In my writing journey thus far, I have experienced all of the above at one point or another. I think I have learnt a little more humility in the process—although perhaps that could be too proud a claim to make! And I hope I have sincerely rejoiced with those who rejoice when their books have been released and when they have achieved some sort of success. But I must admit my abilities in this area have been tried a little of late.

Recently, the publishers who earlier this year accepted my sixth and latest novel for publication let me know they had changed their minds! In contrast, three of my friends were enjoying varying degrees of publishing success. For one, her first book was launched after a long wait and many edits—a wonderful achievement. For another, a secular publisher has shown interest in her manuscript—an encouragement for both of us, since I have had some input into this her first work. I hope and pray it is published—my friend deserves it and has written a great, true story. Then another friend I have tried to encourage on her writing journey succeeded in having a story included in a very professional compilation released by a big publishing house. I was genuinely excited for them all. But … what about my own writing journey? Where is it heading?

Then I read John 13—the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet—and things began to fall into perspective again. I love verses 3-4 where John writes:

 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist.

Jesus knew who he was. He knew he had all power and authority. He knew where he came from and where he was going. And on the strength of that knowledge and out of his great love for his disciples, Jesus proceeds to wash their feet.

Now I don’t have all power and authority—especially when it comes to publishers! But I do know I am a child of God. And I do know where I came from and where I am going. So I can choose to walk my writing journey with humility and in the strength of God’s Spirit, whatever is happening or not happening. And out of love for my friends, I can choose to support them well in their writing journeys and sincerely celebrate their successes.

How about you? Is humility a challenge for you too?

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Recently, I discovered that my fourth novel Jenna has been shortlisted in a competition for Christian authors. Now I’m very happy about that, of course. Even if I don’t make the finals list, at least I’ve succeeded in getting this far. Yet as I read the names of the other authors whose novels are on the shortlist, I began to have second thoughts about the whole idea. You see, I discovered I know some of the other authors personally – and that raises some issues for me. I expect each of them entered this competition in the hope they would at least be shortlisted. And I also expect that they, like me, are now waiting rather nervously to see if they have made that finals list. But if my novel makes it and theirs doesn’t, how will I feel then? I’m not sure I want to be involved in bringing such disappointment and perhaps even discouragement to a fellow author.

On the other hand, however, no one forced me to be part of the competition in the first place. Rightly or wrongly, I was the one who filled out that form and sent my books off. Perhaps I should have put more thought into it then and emulated a good friend of mine who does not even like to play board games because of their competitive nature. She became quite distressed on the one occasion I suggested we play a game of Scrabble together and simply could not find it within herself to try to trounce me – something I suspect she could easily have done. Perhaps her strong dislike of such competition is rooted in the heated arguments she and her siblings had over such games in the past, but whatever the cause, she finds it very hard to think of gaining any satisfaction from winning over someone else.

There were several reasons I decided to enter this competition. I believe in my novels – I feel they contain good stories, interesting characters many people can relate to and also clear messages about God and faith and related matters. I would not spend a large part of my time writing them if I did not feel they were worthwhile. Secondly, there is the publicity aspect to be considered, as mentioned. And last but not least, like any Christian author I know, I would be very grateful for any monetary prize this competition offers!

So what’s to be done? Perhaps the best way forward in it all is to trust God with the results, whoever makes that finals list and ultimately wins, and leave it at that. But also, I suspect this might be a good opportunity for me to take on board a little more of that humility Jesus showed in making himself nothing, coming to this earth for our sake and giving his very life for us that Paul writes about in Philippians 2. Come to think of it, Paul’s earlier instructions wouldn’t go astray either:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

So however competitive or non-competitive we might be in life, let’s make sure we have the heart attitude God would want us to have. Let’s be glad when others succeed and gracious in defeat. And above all, win or lose, let’s learn to be completely humble, just as Jesus was.

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I’m very privileged. Every week, I get to play quite a few games with our granddaughter – always an interesting experience. First off this week it was an old card game called ‘Donkey’. In fact, our particular pack has my maiden name on it in my mother’s handwriting – my sister and I used to play with this very same pack as children. The cards themselves are quite thick and worn around the edges. Some have dirty fingerprints on them – and one in particular is quite creased. Yes, you guessed it – it’s the card with the donkey on it!

Now my granddaughter might be only four years old, but she isn’t silly. She has worked out that firstly, if only two of us are playing and she herself doesn’t have the donkey, then chances are her nanna does! Secondly, she’s beginning to know the back of that donkey card and now studiously avoids plucking that particular one out of my hand. So needless to say, I am often left with it at the end, much to Olivia’s delight! This week, she proudly told her father: ‘Nanna’s always the donkey!’

Sometimes, however, Nanna has to put a bit of creative effort into achieving this result. Just as Olivia is good at avoiding the donkey card, I am equally skilled at doing the opposite! I have become adept at groaning in mock horror when I see what card I have chosen, while Olivia grins and looks very pleased with herself! I don’t always ‘let’ her win games – but with this particular one, I figure she enjoys it so much I can afford to pretend to be a little sillier than I really am. It doesn’t matter – I think my ego can handle it.

Yet on other occasions, I cringe at the possibility of making a fool of myself. After all, the stakes are so much higher in real life. What if no one likes my latest novel? What if it dies a lingering death on the bookstore shelves – or more likely on the bargain ‘throw-out’ table? What if when I present that writing workshop, someone there knows so much more than I do and challenges my assertions? What if I speak somewhere and misquote Scripture or just don’t hit the mark?

Well, I am slowly learning it’s not going to kill me to walk the humble road, to be the ‘donkey’ and say or write something that may well be laughed at. God knows my heart, after all. And then I remember how Jesus endured so much more scorn and derision than I ever will, even to the point of death – and all for our sake. Matthew 27 describes how he was ‘set up’ by a whole company of soldiers, stripped, dressed up as a king, complete with crown of thorns, then mockingly ‘worshipped’. Worse still, they spat on him, took the staff they had given him and hit him with it, time and time again. This shameful saga ends with one simple, chilling sentence: Then they led him away to crucify him. (Matt 27:31b)

I want to learn to live my life with that sort of humility. I want to get rid of my pride and not be so concerned about what people think. So perhaps ending up with the donkey as I play with my granddaughter is all part of preparing me for the bigger challenges of life, of showing me that in the end, nothing really matters except what God says about me.

What do you think? Could God speak through old card games?

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