Friday, June 3, 2016
One thing sports have taught me is that there is always someone better than me, if not today, definitely tomorrow. At the PIAA Track and field championships this last weekend, I saw humility, and the lack there-of, on full display.
First, a 4x100m relay team came to the meet expecting to win their 2nd straight championship medal. What they did not count on was that another team came to the meet with an alternative dream of their own. The defending champs lost by 0.01 seconds. In a fit of rage, the anchor of the losing team hurled his baton at the feet of the new champions. This bad sportsmanship led to an immediate disqualification and cost the team their 2nd place medal.
A lack of humility on the part of the losing team's anchor led to the shock and outrage that someone could take from him what he thought was his due, and this led to the subsequent unsportsmanlike outburst. Whenever we believe that we are owed something, or that we are in some way sufficient in of ourselves, or that we are superior to other people, we have a lack of humility that cannot appropriately digest evidence to the contrary. It prevents me from being connected to others and destroys relationships and opportunity.
How does this apply to my faith? God wants to bless me, overwhelmingly. However, a lack of humility on my part suggest that I don't need a blessing, that I can do it on my own, and that eventually, if I apply myself, I can earn the blessing I crave and desire. This attitude is contradicted by the truth: I can't do it on my own, I can't work hard enough to grab hold of everything I desire or all the blessings of life.
If I want to receive the blessing of God, I need to humble myself, open up my hands, and accept that God wants to bless me absurdly, extravagantly, beyond anything I can ever imagine or deserve. While there is nothing I can do to earn or deserve this rich and abundant blessing, a lack of humility is a wall I build that blocks me from receiving it. God keeps pouring the blessings into my life, but in my lack of humility, I keep casting it away, throwing it at the feet of God as though God's blessing is a baton in my hand of which I simply want to be rid. I demonstrate my inability to comprehend that I am not sufficient in of myself and close myself from relationship and blessing.
I am reminded of the story of a powerful and well-loved centurion (Luke 7:1-10) who, rather than demanding that Jesus come to serve him and heal his servant, understood that he was unworthy of the blessing. The centurion humbled himself, cast off any pretense of position and power, and depended upon the generosity of Jesus. Jesus was astonished by the man's humility and faith. Jesus intended to the heal the centurion's servant regardless, because that is just the way of God. However, the astonishing humility of the powerful centurion diffused an entitlement mentality on his part, and prepared him to receive with gratitude the gift of Christ. Humility opens up the door for relationship, connection and blessing.
One last illustration from the state championship meet cemented an image in my brain of this wonderful spirit of humility. Another defending champion, a senior, came to the meet expecting to take home her 2nd straight championship medal. Once again, another girl, a freshman, had an alternative dream that did not include the defending champion. The freshman girl ran the race of her life and defeated the senior. The victor did a dance, threw her fist in the air, was jubilant, as she should be. The senior collapsed to her knees out of exhaustion and disbelief and sorrow and began to weep. There was no tantrum from this girl, no sense of entitlement, no fit of rage. The evidence on this day was that she was only the 2nd best runner.
The freshman girl, while understanding the great joys of a victory, also understood that there was something more important than a gold medal: there was an opportunity for a meaningful human connection. She turned to congratulate the runner up but saw the senior who had come expecting a victory, on her knees, her face in her hands. The younger girl fell on her knees and threw her arms around the senior in a sincere and caring embrace that froze time: the entire track meet stopped, and the eyes of thousands were fixated on this touching human expression. The freshman victor then helped the senior to her feet, and they walked to the finishers tent, arms around each other's waists. Winner and loser were connected together, the importance of who was who forgotten in a moment of humility.