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Posts Tagged ‘self-protection’

Jo 23As a small child, I hated being told off. If my mother ever scolded me, I would assert, in no uncertain terms and with many tears, ‘I’m not a naughty girl!’ My pride was injured beyond repair—and besides, I could not bear the thought that I had disappointed her.

All through my growing-up years—and well beyond—I continued to dislike being corrected or rebuked. My fragile self-esteem did not handle such things well and I was always ready with a defensive response. After all, I had to keep that pride of mine intact.

On one occasion around twenty years ago, however, I learnt a valuable lesson in this regard. A minister at our church invited me to take on a task he felt I would do well. At first, I told him I might not be good enough and suggested others who could do a far better job. But, instead of reassuring me, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘That’s not humility, Jo—that’s self-protection!’

Hmm!

Because I respected this minister, I went away and thought about his words—and eventually concluded he was right. I did what he had asked and thoroughly enjoyed it. Through this experience, I learnt to take such correction, given in love and for my ultimate benefit, on board much better than I previously had.

Recently, I was reminded of this lesson when a friend and I visited a dear, mutual friend who is suffering from some degree of dementia. At one point, our friend seemed a bit confused and told us she had once stolen a white hat, so I tried to help her out.

‘Oh, did you? Where did you take it from?’ I asked her gently.

I could hardly believe her quick, clever response.

‘I’m trying to resist correcting you,’ she said with some spirit and a touch of hauteur. ‘It should be “From where did you take it!”’

After a stunned moment, I burst out laughing. With inhibitions gone, our dear friend had simply blurted out her true thoughts—yet I was not offended at all. You see, I know this beautiful, older woman of God. I respect her even now, in her declining years, just as I respected my minister friend who told me the truth all those years ago. And I know her heart of love for me.

This amusing exchange soon set me thinking about my response to God’s corrections and challenges, whether through Scripture, through the words of others or through the Spirit’s whisper deep in my heart. How often do I still bristle a little, become defensive, perhaps pretend I don’t hear anything and decide I can easily justify my words or actions—even to God?

Yes, that old pride of mine still rears its ugly head at times. Yet why do I let this happen? After all, I know God loves and accepts me. I know God is good and kind. I know God has my best interests at heart. And I know God does not make mistakes.

So … next time I hear God’s loving correction, I hope I remember past lessons, swallow my pride—and respond with both alacrity and humility.

He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray. Proverbs 10:17

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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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