the difference between “i suck” and a truly humble heart

kathyescobar identity, spiritual formation 21 Comments

it’s been quite a month for me; i finished my initial training to be a very part-time university of phoenix online instructor (it was kind of intense and very good!).  jose and i squeezed in a last-minute-crazy-free trip to mexico and the next weekend i went to portland for convergence and got to hang out with some of my fabulous bridge-homepdx-portland friends who remind me that our crazy refuge dream is so worth it.  we launched voca femina, a creative site for women to use their voice.  during the month of february i posted 8 interviews with some of my friends who for one reason or another are on the margins.  i really loved the beautiful things that were shared and how many connections got made through their stories in wild little ways.

and now, here we are, in march!  between now and easter things are slowing down & i am going to focus in on some reflections related to lent.  i have been reading christine sine’s lenten guide, a journey into wholeness, and it has some seriously great stuff in it.  on the whole, i have never really honored lent.    i did not specifically give up anything this year to participate; we had a lovely conversation at our last house of refuge loosely connected with ash wednesday that gave some great focus to the upcoming weeks.  and what i am hoping to do is to use the next 40 or so days a bit more intently on the journey toward Christ’s resurrection.  and as usual, i am always about a week behind.  so while everyone else is on week two, i am just starting week one!  week one in the guide was  “a journey into the brokenness of our inner selves.” i love what christine says here about why this journey inward is so important at the beginning of lent:  “i am reminded of thomas keating’s suggestion that lent is a period for ‘confrontation with the false self.’ there are many places in which i struggle with my ‘false self’, that self which is disconnected from God and which behaves and responds in ways that are inconsistent with God’s kingdom values.”

this is a topic near and dear to my heart, the importance of a radical awareness of our need for God, of our humanness, of our tendency toward selfishness & fear.  and for some reason as i was reflecting on the material and this beautiful prayer i had this thought:  there is a big difference between “i suck” and a truly humble heart . you see, i am good at the “i suck” part.  it’s actually my first reaction whenever i am in a tough spot in a relationship, a conflict, or pretty much anything where i fall short or mess something up or let someone down.  it’s almost like a reflex-”i suck….i failed again….i can never get it right….i am a loser.”  it all sounds somehow “humble” in that it’s not like i’m trying to blame anyone else other than me.  but, in reality, it is a false humility, a cover, a counterfeit for true repentance and humility.  i think it’s actually got far more pride tangled up in it than i probably want to admit, because all my “i suck” thoughts usually never leads me to a bended knee before God.   they usually  just lead me to a place of continued anger at myself, then anger at other people for contributing to my anger at  myself, and then more anger at myself because i can’t stop being angry at myself.   honestly, “i suck” is completely and utterly self-centered.  it’s consuming.  it’s prideful.  it gets in the way of freedom.  and it is extremely off course from God’s true heart for his me.

true humility is totally different.  it is a radical awareness of our brokenness.  it is psalm 51it is a powerful appreciation of my humanity and a need for God’s spirit to change me. it is new eyes to see the damage i am doing to others, to myself and take responsibility for it (but without all of the peripheral loser-guilt-i-can-never-get-it-right feelings attached to it.)

i recently noticed the difference between “i suck” and true humililty in a small but very tangible way.  a few weeks ago i was in the world’s worst mood. i honestly can’t even remember all the reasons why, but i do know this:  i said some really mean things to jose that really hurt his feelings.  he was so honest.  and i was so mad at myself the only thing i could think of was how much i sucked.  i apologized but honestly it was just perfunctory.  i had no intention of letting myself off the hook so easy.  so i spent the rest of the night and through the morning in my own little shame party.  and then i can’t really explain it–i attribute it fully to the weird things the Holy Spirit can do-but i saw so clearly that i was so wrapped up in myself and all of my mistakes that i couldn’t even see how much i had actually harmed and hurt him.  in that moment, the entire table turned and i didn’t see what a loser i was, instead, i saw what harm i had done to someone i cared deeply about.  i felt a strong sense of sadness that made it easy to call him and apologize for my terrible behavior.  in fact, i felt an urgency to not wait another minute to make things right with him.

i think the same thing can be true with God. when we are stuck in a vicious cycle of self-loathing for one reason or another, it usually isn’t about anything except for ourselves.   we think who we are in our worst moments is who we really are.  i love the distinction the apostle paul makes in romans 7 about the difference between us and our sin.  he says “it’s not me, but it’s the sin that lives in me.” i think “i suck” is somehow refusing to bear the image of Christ in us.   it’s some kind of false pride that says we somehow know better than God.  it’s a false premise that our sin defines us,  not his resurrection. true humility is the beautiful and mysterious sweeping in of God’s truth & a recognition of our humanity and need for God’s healing and a powerful sweeping out of the ugly things that rob of us of joy and life and peace and free relationship with God and others.

the journey into the brokenness of our inner selves requires coming face to face with our pride, our ego, our fears, our insecurities and all the ways these things mess up our relationship with ourselves, with God, and with others. i want more true humility in my life; this will mean i must tune into a more present awareness of my selfishness and separation from God’s spirit and refuse to mask it with self-depracating thoughts about how much i suck.

one of the exercises in the lenten guide was to write on a mirror with dry erase marker and then wipe it clean in response to psalm 51 and “create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.” the picture is what i am going to keep up this week on my bathroom mirror.  it’s something i think i need to remember this week.

thank you Jesus, that you are an ever-faithful companion on the journey and a patient sweeper-out of what needs sweeping.