The Three Humiliations

An image of the woods

New Hampshire, October 2008

I've been struggling to write this post, not because I don't want to share what it's about but because I'm not really sure how to put all that it contains into words. So please bear with me as I try.

First I'll say that when I use the word "humiliation" in this post, I mean it in a classical sense. Think of it as "a means God used to humble me." I don't mean that I endured an embarrassing, shame-giving moment from God, but rather that God used a series of three very visceral experiences to turn a mirror upon my soul and let me see what's really there.

He humbled me, and he did it for my good.

That being said, the first of the three humiliations happened almost immediately upon my entering the woods, and it had to do with myself in relation to community. Because of the emotional break with the community of my cohort that came from saying yes to God's invitation into the woods, I felt myself on the periphery of the group as we continued learning in our coursework together. I completed the assignments and interacted in the forums as required, but mostly I watched the conversations happen around me rather than feeling myself a part of them. I think that was as it should be, since I had been invited to a measure of solitude by entering the woods with God.

But I noticed something through this experience of emotional distance. My cohort friends taught each other new things. They helped each other along. They encouraged one another. They challenged each other's thinking. They ministered to one another's hearts.

All without me.

And I realized: they didn't need me in order to grow. I have to say, that humbled me. I realized over the course of watching this happen how tightly I cling to the need to be necessary, how much I want to be the one who is wanted and essential, how much I want to be a part of everything major happening in another person's life. It's not pretty to say this, but I was a bit dismayed to see how fluidly the group kept moving along and learning together without me.

So, that was the first humiliation, the first means God used to humble me when I entered the woods.

The second humiliation happened in my most intimate relationship: that of my marriage. One evening, Kirk and I were having a conversation that started out normal enough, only to discover several minutes into it that there was a big chunk of my heart I'd been withholding from him for quite some time. It was a big, confusing mess for both of us to stumble upon together in that moment, and it led to many big conversations and sifting moments over the course of the next several weeks.

Through that process of sifting, I realized some things about myself. I realized how much of this happened because I'd allowed an image of perfection to become more real than we were. In a big way, this all came down to a matter of allowing Kirk and myself to be human to each other, to make mistakes, to let each other down, and for that to happen and everything still be okay. I have been learning through this process that intimacy lives and grows in truth-telling moments, when two people don't have to be perfect for each other but are willing and invited to simply be who they are.

Then, in the midst of all this, a third humiliation came in the context of my work. Besides my regular part-time gig that I do for a local publisher, I have a freelance writing and editing practice that kicked into high gear recently. It's been exciting to see this business of mine grow, and I've enjoyed working on a number of fun projects, but for a span of about three weeks last month, I took on quite a bit more work than was healthy for one solitary individual to complete.

It was so strange to see it happening, but it was as though I was physically unable to say no to each new project that came along. I wanted to do all of them, and so I kept saying yes. And I kept watching myself say yes, even after I realized I needed to start saying no.

This all culminated at the end of a three-week stint with me standing at my kitchen sink bawling my eyes out, raising my hands to the ceiling in a sign of surrender to God. "I give up," I told him. "I can't do it all. I give up. Please help me."

Through the course of these three humiliations, I've spotted a singular thread: my tendency toward the superhuman. Instead of being one part of the body of Christ in community, I wanted to be the entire body of Christ so that I could be everything to everyone. Instead of giving Kirk and myself the room to be human with each other, I held to an image of perfection that prevented our intimacy from growing in truth. Instead of preserving self-care and creating boundaries around my work life, I strove to do everything that came my way, even if it brought personal harm to my mind, body, and spirit.

When I came into the woods, I knew God would show me things about myself that I needed to see. But I didn't expect it would come in the form of three such visceral humiliations in three very core areas of life: community, intimacy, and work. Nor did I expect that it would happen so swiftly and so soon.

In my next installment, I'll share with you what happened on the heels of this revelation . . .