April 27, 2015

Humility and the Hard Road

It is the day after "D-Day." Yes, in teacher lingo, it is the day after the semester has ended, and all student work is required to be submitted through the online learning system. It never fails to amaze me, but every single semester, I have students that will not submit their final paper. They will not do it, and as a result, they will fail my course. They will show up to class every session, participate, and turn in all the other assignments -- but -- for some reason, they will fail to do the final paper. Moreover, I have students who will have completed their paper, but will not turn it into me. They will email me and tell me why they were late, why they didn't make the 11:59 p.m. time deadline. They will have an "excuse" for why it is late, why they need "grace," but they know that this is impossible because I have told them since the mid-point of the semester, that there is NO GRACE at the end of the year. It is policy, and it is something I cannot override. Yet, it happens, it always happens this way. Sigh.

I know my students are stressed. I know that they have many assignments due at the same time. I know the feeling of being pressed, pushed, and panicked right at the end of the semester. I have just come through the same process, and I know the feeling. I know exactly how it feels to be steamrollered and how the workload bears down on you, heavy and hard, right at the every end of the class.

I just received my paper back from one of my professors at Regent. I hate the moments leading up to the grade, and I hate the tension of waiting for the grade to be posted. It is a challenge for me to rest, to let go, and to accept the grade. I know why I do it, I know why I stress over it. I know that the 'grade' is my valuation, it is my worth, as far as my doctoral studies go. It says to me "you are ok, you are approved, you are good." I hate the fact that I rely so much on grades, and that I am wound so tightly when it comes to grades each semester. I panic over my work, the quality of my work, and I stress over my performance. I know it stems from my childhood, and from the years where I was told "you are not smart, you are not good enough, and you will not succeed." I had very little self-esteem growing up. I was always being told that I wasn't something or another. I wasn't as smart as my brother, funny, dramatic, well-liked, etc. I wasn't quiet. I didn't focus. I simply wasn't a good student, and as a result, I was treated as though I didn't matter. I can remember those feelings as if they were yesterday, and it seems whenever grades are due to  be posted, I begin to revert back to that little child waiting for a nod of approval, but in the end, who only gets a red mark and an "F."

Yes, this is the way it is and even though I try really hard to do my best, I still feel less than worthy. I still feel as though I am missing the mark. I know my identity is formed in Christ Jesus, and I know that I am valued because of the valuation God places on my life. I know all of this, but I still feel ashamed, panicked, and like a scared little child whenever I have to turn in my work to be graded.

So my paper came back with a modest score. I had hope to receive a better grade, but it is what it is, and there is no going back on it. My professor is grueling and a very hard task master. I know I should be pleased with my score because it means that I did very well in her class. She is known for being ruthless in her grading, and for maintaining very high expectations. I did my best, and in the end, the grade I received was a good grade. Will it keep my GPA up, I don't know at this point. My prayer is that the final grade for the course will be based on everything and not just the points accumulated for the assignments.

I am humbled because I worked really, really hard on that paper. I spent about 30 hours writing it, and frankly, for the work I did, I think it was a solid paper. However, from the beginning I knew that I wouldn't like the assignment. I don't want to write for publication, and yet this assignment had that requirement attached to it. I had to write for a journal, and I did my best, but in truth, I had no desire to do it. I think I wrote a good solid paper, but it certainly wasn't journal worthy. My professor thinks with edits it could be better. I have to edit my paper and resubmit it by Friday. I will do as she asks because it is part of the assignment (resubmitting). Still, the sting of grade hurt because I really did pour myself out and give my best. My best, however, wasn't good enough, and because of that truth, the little girl in me wants to weep.

The Word in Matthew 23:12 says "But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." I am humbled today by my desire to be approved by human standards and expectations. There is only One who exalts and it is the Lord. I am reminded of Paul's words to the Philippians,

Philippians 2:3-4 - “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

and again in 1 Peter 5,

1 Peter 5:5-6 - “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”

Lastly, one of the verses I hold very dear to me is Micah 6,

Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Today is a day of humility. I desire to walk humbly with God, but my human flesh desires to be validated and approved by fleshly attainments rather than to be approved by the One who approves us for eternity. My heart and my mind have been so tormented these last days as I waited for my paper to be returned. I have been angry with God, with my family, with myself -- all because I have made my "god" my need for achievement and approval. I have chosen to place my self on the altar rather than to worship the Creator God. Yes, I have behaved badly, and I have made everything be about this one thing -- this one goal. It is my fault, and because of my arrogance and self-confidence, I have felt the hard sting of humility.

Therefore, what does this mean for me today? Well, mostly it is just a reminder that everything I have and everything I achieve is of the Lord. I succeed or I fail based on His assessment of my needs. If He desires for me to get all "As" then He will see to it. If He chooses for me to get mixed grades, then so be it. I am supposed to be seeking and serving the Lord and not my own selfish desires. Today, I learned what that means, what it means to be brought low for His Name Sake. I say here on this blog and in person that I am only seeking the Lord's will for my life, but this is a lie. I am seeking achievement, fulfillment, and prestige in order to make myself feel worthy, valued, and wanted. I am seeking things that are human and not of God, and the Lord knows that whenever we do this, we will suffer the consequence of our pride. I am brought low to remind me that there is only one goal, one measure of attainment, and it is this...

Romans 8:29 - "For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters."

Ephesians 4:13 - "This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ."

There is only one measuring rod, and it is the Lord Jesus Christ. In this world, God is raising up for Himself a people that are full and complete in Christ Jesus. He is not concerned with worldly attainment or with worldly achievement. He is only concerned with His plan and purpose and that is to see that each of His children comes to faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I know that God does use worldly achievement and that He does take advantage of the worldly systems at times -- to His purpose and good effect. However, He does this only when it suits His needs. Otherwise, the worldly systems that say "I have overcome and achieved through my own efforts" are of no concern to Him. I realize that my hard work and effort often is a mixture of my own desire to achieve and the Lord's desire for me to learn what He needs me to learn. I want to learn, to be the best I can be, but often it is IN ADDITION to whatever I do for the Lord. I mean, I want to please the Lord, but I also want to please myself, and here in lies the "rub." The Word says in Matthew 6:24,

"No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

Replace "money" with whatever thing you desire and you have truth. In my case, I cannot serve God and myself, my achievement, my desire for prestige. I have to choose which to serve -- God -- or something else. Now, I have said that I will not place anything on the altar of my heart, but I have done this very thing. I have placed my pride on ash-era poles, altars and in the high places. I have done this thing that the Old Testament clearly says is forbidden. I have placed my desire high, and I have sought to worship it. Now, you may ask "how is this so?" It is simply this way...

While I have not bowed before the god of pride, I have allowed myself to become so undone over a grade, so panicked, so angry, so upset (as in stressed) over a grade that I have elevated it to something above myself. I have said "I am worthy because I got an A" on a paper. In doing so, I have made grades be more valuable to me than the Word of the Lord that says,

Romans 5:8 - "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

We have no worth in and of ourselves, but our worth is bound up in God's grace. Therefore, Paul commends us to walk worthy...

Colossians 1:10 - "So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."

It is a difficult task to understand that our worth comes from the Lord alone. It is so hard to shake off the world's approval. Even the very best Christians struggle with issues of pride. Even the very best people, Godly people, still find value in things other than God. I know because I am one of those people. I am well aware of my desire for achievement, and as a result, I am driven by it. I guess if I have learned anything today, it is simply that I have to be far more careful to not let my flesh gain a foothold when it comes to pride and foolish thinking. I have been brought low by foolish thinking, and I have given into my need to be told "you are good." I realized today that I am not good, never good enough, and never ever will be good enough to merit anything that God desires. No, the world is fickle, and they may love me today and hate me tomorrow. Nothing they world has will ever please me, satisfy me, or soothe my need for valuation and worth. No, the only thing I require is to hear my Lord say to me when I stand before Him,

Matthew 25:21 - "The master was full of praise. 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let's celebrate together!'"

Yes, Lord. May the work I do in your Name produce good results that you alone find worthy of celebration. May they not be the works of my hands, but may they be the result of your work in and through me. I ask this now in Jesus' Name for I humbled and brought low and I know that I am not able to do anything of value outside of what you allow me to do.

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