Willing Humiliation

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It has to be some kind of Lenten scam: when I sense myself finally submitting to a divine urging to lay down a treasured belief, I suddenly feel righteously proud about myself. I am present in the moment with God, I understand the need to relinquish control over that thing in the corner that has far too much say in my life, and I give it over. I lay it at the feet of God, and step back.

Slow…fading…clap. Drop curtain.

Wait? Am I supposed to feel this good about myself when I deposit my sacrifice before God? A stabbing pain in my gut tells me: “Nope, you’re not.”

Humility seems to slip through my fingers when I grab at sacrifice. I sense my intentions are in the right place; I even agree with the need to lay down whatever it is that I need to lay down. I mean, it’s not like I’ve sacrificed chocolate or caffeine. Those things clearly are self-improvement sacrifices that can begin and end at any time. They have more to do with making myself feel better about myself and little to do with listening to the dire need of a deepening relationship with God.

When I think of sacrifice, I start thinking of all those little things that make my life comfortable but I choose to give them over for the sake of relationship, for community, and for God. I give up time meant for sermon preparation to make a hospital visit; I give up money that I was saving to pay off car debt to help a local student; I graciously give up my voice during interracial discussions because the best thing to do is to pass the mic. I give up those things that hurt me the most.

What’s all this talk about chocolate?

It’s in the painful moment of sacrifice – and it is genuinely painful in the moment – that I see humility bleeding beside my amazing, willing gift that I’ve turned over. Along with my sacrifice has gone much of my perspective in giving it up in the first place. Once laying it all down, I stand up not in a posture of worship but ready and waiting to get pats on the back for my significance and nobility.

It’s been a struggle for my entire adult life: how can I possibly make a sacrifice without losing humility? It seems that the moment I do the right thing, I’ve lost the very heart of what humility was meant to be. Once I realize that, the sacrifice suddenly becomes less meaningful or profound. Who cares if I sacrificed my white privilege if the internal accolades congratulate me for the amazing impact I (might have) had?

When I look at the Way of the Cross – when I look deeply into the Jesus’ sacrifice – I have to be honest: I don’t see just humility. I see humiliation. When Jesus stares me straight in the face, asking if I could drink of the same cup, do I really know what he’s asking?

No. No I do not. I have absolutely no idea.

I’m coming to believe that there is very little genuine sacrifice in this world that doesn’t walk hand in hand with humiliation as well as humility. In fact, I am coming to believe that the humility part comes after I’ve been taken down a notch or two in my sacrifice.

I don’t say this so as to become a humiliation-chaser. When a deep sacrifice is demanded of me, humiliation – private or public – will find me easily enough. It may come as a clear message from the person in the hospital who didn’t really want a visit from me (even though I set aside everything for that person to make the trip); it may come in the form of a person approaching me after those difficult and tense interracial discussions that, while she understood my intent, she didn’t quite understand why I passed the mic. She’ll go on to say that my gesture didn’t really have the impact I meant it to have, and perhaps I could possibly be a little more attentive to both my intentions as well as my desired impacts.

I feel the flush rising in my cheeks; my breathing becomes shallow and tense; my stomach goes cold with fear. I’ve been exposed. I’ve been held to account. I’ve made my sacrifice, but the sacrifice was not made complete until even my deepest intentions were released along with my actions.

People can sniff out falseness in one another from miles away. We are bombarded with false humility, false sacrifice, and false willingness on a daily basis. We are so steeped in a culture of falseness, that it is fair to say that we sometimes don’t know how to recognize truth and authenticity when it’s staring at us in the face.

Regardless, I am tired of laying down big and little sacrifices with the best of intentions but rarely seeing growth and fruit from those sacrifices. Yet when I’m presented with the reality that a dose of humiliation often accompanies sacrifice, I confess I step back. Suddenly I’m not so willing to lay anything down. I don’t want to be exposed to the world as a fraud or as imperfect. It is in this moment that I realize fear and pride have been controlling my sacrifices rather than a gentle Spirit leading me to depth and reconciliation.

I will never bear humiliation well. I don’t think I was meant to. Humiliation, justified or unjustified, serves a deep purpose of making sure authenticity grows tall while pruning away any falseness. The good news is that the gentle Spirit leading me to accept the humiliation inherent in true sacrifice rarely points the finger and laughs. This Spirit comes alongside me as I’m down on the ground, offers a hand, helps me up, dusts me off, and walks me through the jeering and scoffing.

Humiliation might be interwoven with sacrifice, but Love is the character of Spirit. The humiliation will transform my perspective, but will last only through the night. In the morning, the new person will begin all over again the journey of what it really means to lay down her life.

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