On November 5, 2016 I had the privilege of serving with the Heart of Texas Foundation in a phenomenal event called Day with Dad. This annual event is for children with inmate fathers to be able to visit and spend an entire day with their dad. The dads and their kids are reunited after years of being apart (some have never even met) and they are given the opportunity to be with each other without any glass between them. They play games, dance, throw birthday parties, give gifts and most importantly show up to love on their kids who so desperately need the affirmation of a daddy. It’s an emotional and powerful day for all involved. I wanted so badly to be a part of it after my husband had gone into the prison and been a mentor to the kids the year previously. However due to having a nursing baby ( I was pretty sure a breast pump wasn’t going to be the easiest thing to get through a men’s maximum security prison), I decided to serve in a different way. While the children spent the day in the prison, our church hosted the children’s caregivers, mostly single mothers and grandmothers. At the church, they are given a spa day, complete with homemade meals and a time of encouragement and community. I spent that day preparing the food for these amazingly strong women and then had the honor of going table to table serving each one of them. If I remember anything from that day, it would be the laughter of these women. They exhibited such joy despite living in some pretty dark and difficult circumstances. They all seemed so grateful. I was more than happy to serve them, but as I look back on it I regret that I didn’t stop and hear their stories like I should have. I didn’t need to. They weren’t relatable to me. They were in a situation that was unimaginable to me. Although I respected them, I didn’t understand them. These women were just too different from me. The irony is that it was less than 4 weeks later that I was in their exact same situation. I was now on the other side of the serving line. We weren’t all that different from each other after all.
How many times do we use the phrase, “I would never” in regards to talking about someone else’s situation? “Well I would never allow that to happen in my marriage, with my children, in my workplace, ect. ” Sometimes we are so bold to declare it outright as an absolute truth and other times it lives silently in our hearts. In some cases, it might be judgement against someone else’s sin. We may see another person’s destructive lifestyle and we utter those words ” I would never”. We think it’s their fault anyway, so we write them off and walk the other way. Then there is the judgement that comes from a false security you have built for yourself. We put pride in our hard work, right choices or even the privileges that we were born into. Often we don’t realize we are even doing this until we interact with those whose lives look different from ours. We see ourselves in a better societal position and credit that to our own doing somehow. I use the pronoun we to sound inclusive, but maybe I should be using the pronoun I. Because I am the one who stands guilty in doing this.
After my husband was arrested and I was staring down the reality of having to choose divorce, God quickly but so kindly exposed my sinful heart and showed me the pride I had been living with for years. I had put great pride in my so called godly marriage and husband. I had done all the “right” Christian things when choosing a spouse. I had lived up to a “godly standard” of dating. I had prayed and fasted fervently over who I would marry. I had even chosen mission work over a former serious boyfriend because I felt God was asking me to do so. I knew I wanted a strong spiritual leader who would serve alongside me and follow after Christ together. I felt that I found that in the man I chose to be my husband. We were the best of friends, serving together and watching Jesus do amazing miracles in so many lives including our own. I walked down that aisle with full confidence I was marrying the person God had for me. I had checked off the right boxes, what could possibly go wrong? I remember laying in bed together our first year of marriage discussing how and why people get divorced. I could not imagine a scenario in our marriage that could ever result in divorce. We loved Jesus so much and that would be enough. We looked at each other and said ” we would never“. I naively judged those who were divorced thinking they just didn’t have enough faith or maybe it was their fault because they didn’t seek God enough in who they chose in the first place. I cringe while typing this, but for the sake of being super transparent I will share with you a bit more of just how prideful I really was. One day a few years ago, I was enjoying an interview on my favorite podcast until the moment I found out the guest was divorced. Friends, I confess to you that I actually switched to a different episode of that podcast. I switched because I assumed that she couldn’t offer me much wisdom if she couldn’t even fight for her own marriage. How horrible is that? I didn’t see my actions as horrible of course. I just thought that I had a high and biblical view of marriage. I thought my righteousness was shining through, but the truth was that my righteousness was as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) I stand guilty for disqualifying that woman from ministry. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to our own sin, especially that of pride. I never realized how prideful and judgemental I was until I stood in the shoes of those I had judged before.
Since making the decision to go forward in divorce ( which was made with alot of godly counseling and prayer) , God has taught me so much more of the importance of walking in humility and giving grace to others. I ask God to reveal the other areas of life where pride runs freely and mercy isn’t being offered to my neighbor. I wonder if we all need more of that prayer in our lives? How is judgement living silently in our hearts? Who are we looking at and saying ” I would never”? Is it the family on welfare, the Central American mother crossing the border to save her children from violence, or the fearful pregnant teenager considering abortion? Maybe it’s simply that young exhausted mom in the supermarket with unruly children. Maybe it’s the older guy in the sports car who just cut you off on the way to work this morning or the cashier at the grocery store who has a bit of an attitude. Maybe it’s the guy across the street with the Trump flag proudly flying? We don’t know people’s stories and the background they have come from to end up where they are now. We don’t know what trials they are facing or circumstances they are overcoming. It’s easy to stand back from afar and judge what you see on the outside, it’s a lot more difficult to humble ourselves and enter in to their stories and learn from them. I remember vividly standing in line at the Department of Human services wearing an Apple watch and Michael Kors purse (both gifts) applying for healthcare and food stamps for my children. How many people were judging me? Maybe a few. I had spent years advocating for immigrants and refugees in offices just like this one. It was humbling experience to be on the other side of the storyline.
We are all left broken and bleeding from this sick world in some way. As followers of Christ, we have all been redeemed and rescued and transferred into his kingdom. This grace is the same for all us. When we look at others and say ‘ I would never” we don’t understand the the depravity of our own hearts and the loving grace of Jesus in our lives. Essentially we don’t understand the gospel. When we put ourselves at the center of the story, we take away what it means to walk with Jesus. Take Saul from the New Testament. He was doing all the “right things” and judging all the “right people”. He had all the gold stars of being a devout Jewish follower of Yahweh. However Saul had an encounter with Jesus and his life and his name were changed instantly. Saul was now Paul. And thanks to my kids’ Jesus Storybook Bible, I now know that the meaning of Paul, means ” small and humble”, or a servant. This should be true of us. When we encounter Jesus and his grace, our lives should be changed to one of humility. Jesus lived a life of humility and He was God incarnate. He modeled it perfectly for us to follow. He bent down to serve the poor, lowly and despised in society. He extended his love and mercy to those the religious looked at as unworthy. What if we as American Christians were known for our humility and service instead of our pride and judgement? What if we looked more like the Jesus we follow and less like the Pharisees he so outrightly condemned?
The problem is that pride runs deep. It’s not something we get freedom from and then praise God that we never have to deal that sin again. Pride creeps in easily and subtly so you may never know its there until it attacks and when it attacks it can be deadly. For me, pride is an enemy that can rear it’s head when I least expect it. I can easily utter the words ” All glory goes to God”, but my heart echoes “well some of that glory belongs to me”. I can say all that I want that I am not a judgemental person. I can say that I don’t have biases or prejudices, but that would be a lie. We all do. We are all born with ourselves at the center of our worlds. It takes significant effort, prayer and Holy Spirit power to get out of elevating ourselves and into a spirit of humility especially with those who don’t look like us, act like us, or pray like us. I have to look at myself in the mirror daily and allow God to seek my heart for where pride is growing. The most important antidote to the venom of pride is the Gospel. Jesus came and We must remember that we have done nothing to receive the grace of God in our lives. When I remember the truth of the gospel, my heart radiates gratitude, in turn gratitude results in humility and humility manifests a genuine love for others. For me this is a process I need to go through on a daily basis, sometimes on a moment by moment basis.
I wish I could go back to that church gymnasium in 2016 and sit down with those mothers and grandmothers, look in their courageous faces and hear their hard stories. I wish I could soak up all their wisdom and experience and tell them that their stories matter. I wish I knew that I would be in their shoes in just 4 short weeks. I had no idea how incredibly hard it would be to raise children whose daddy is in prison. I do now. It only takes one decision ( your own or another person’s) to be on the other side of a story you never imagined. When we engage with people who have stories that are hard to understand, lets lean in instead of out. Let’s change the ” I would nevers” into a ” It could be me”.
To help me fight against pride in my heart here are some key verses I need to put on repeat.
Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
James 4:10 –Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
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?
Colossians 3:12- Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.