Sunday, August 28, 2011

Receiving Graciously 101

I don't know about you, but I rather like the ring of the words "self-sufficient." They make me feel strong. Able. Invincible. Untouchable. If I am self-sufficient, I am self-sustaining. Self-reliant. Independent. Respectable.

Sounds a bit like the American Dream, doesn't it? We as a culture praise and esteem such qualities. We are a nation of self-proclaimed "self-made men." We are all about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- which is often interchangeable with self-sufficiency.

Here's the thing, though -- it's an illusion.

Who do you really know who is self-sufficient? Who is able to keep his own heart beating even one blip longer than his creator intends? Who is his own source, his own provider, his own wellspring of wealth? No one that I know. And yet I have aspired to this, and come to expect it from myself in the process.

Enter unforseen circumstances. Enter the crash of the housing market (and the industry that was making me appear so self-sufficient not too long ago). Enter the mysterious will and plan of God, whose ways I still grapple to understand -- and the mirage of my self-sufficiency, my arrogant needlessness, dissolves like salt in water.

I did the math recently; I am now living on $30,000 less annually than I earned four years ago. And I would love to tell you that, because of that, I have achieved a new level of humility and grown marvelously as a person. But the truth is, I remain prideful. And that fact becomes unavoidable when others offer me help.

Enter more unforseen circumstances -- opportunities to face my needs, and to admit I have them --and then, enter (one by one) a procession of God's people, whom He seems to have placed quite intentionally in my path for such a time as this. People offering prayer and support and friendship and assistance of all kinds. People showing up and saying "Remember the time you were there for me? Now it's my turn." Beautiful reciprocity, indeed.

If you are a prideful person steeped in guilt, you know the default response: "Oh, no, no, no. Thanks, but I can't accept this. Or that. Or anything at all. But thanks anyway." False humility. Leaves a bad taste in the mouth, doesn't it?

I'll let you in on what God is teaching me these days; I seem to be enrolled in an accelerated course in Receiving Graciously 101. Lesson One: do not turn away a gift (time, resources, a favor, etc) given in love and obedience to God. Ever try to give someone a present and had them shove it back in your face? Well, me either -- but if I had, I think it would hurt something terrible. I like to give people gifts; I wouldn't want anyone to rob me of that joy. Would you?

I'm learning what true humility looks like. In so many ways, it is not what I thought it was. And it turns out that receiving graciously is a great way to cast down pridefulness -- and, as a dear friend told me just yesterday, receiving graciously will enable us, later, to give graciously. After all, none of us can give what we don't have.

Need a more practical application? 1) Open mouth. 2) Insert pride. 3) Swallow.

Repeat as necessary. I know I will.