As part of the 2018 series on cultivating a ‘Mary’ heart, I am focusing on humility for March.
Twenty years ago today, my father was turning fifty-three. I don’t recall whether I was able to call him for his birthday or not. Most likely I couldn’t, for I lived in rural Ukraine at the time, and phone lines were unreliable, and the internet did not stretch to my area.
Today, I cannot call him either, for he died that year of 1998, and neither phone lines nor internet reach heaven.
As far as we’ve come technologically in twenty years, there is still only one access point for heaven and we can still only communicate through the age-old manner, prayer. We humans have tremendous abilities and inventions, yet they still are, and always will be, not as wondrous as God’s abilities and inventions.
My father loved science and technology. In his spare time, he tinkered with new computer coding languages, devising programs to better serve his patients and fellow doctors. It was so typical of him to be contributing significantly, but in the background, quietly. Yet, there was little science and technology could do, other than attempt to keep him comfortable, five months later against the cancer ravaging his body.
During the last week I shared with my son the story of how my dad quietly went to bat for me, and how that led to lasting change in our church. He was a boys’ club leader there, and I wanted to join in their cub car racing. I saw how much fun he and my brother had dreaming up a design for their cars, then shaping, painting, and weighting them, and I wanted in on it. The problem was that it was only for the boys. But he went to the other leaders and asked if I could make a car. They agreed. Then I pressed to join in the race – that was a little more contentious! However, he pressed on in his calm, logical, persistent way, and eventually I was permitted to race. I didn’t win, but it was a victory for the girls that would follow me. Now, the church opens the race to all boys and girls.
My dad never shamed those who thought I shouldn’t participate, he never bad-mouthed any of them, instead, he consistently served alongside them and demonstrated a different way. He didn’t advertise this victory as his accomplishment, because it wasn’t about him. He was humbly, faithfully living the truth of leaving one’s world a better place. He fought this battle with love and care for those on both sides of the issue. His example humbles me.
I also recall finding him sitting in the white wicker chair in the wasabi-green carpeted Florida room, light streaming in the many windows, leg crossed, as he slouched over his Bible or Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline most mornings before work. When I was in high school he discovered this treasure of a book, and it made a marked difference in his life. Dad was discovering that it is a humble thing to be in the presence of someone greater than you, but when that greater one is Jesus, you receive peace and joy. Because I witnessed this, I, too, now practice these disciplines.
Once, I wandered in to the Florida room as he was finishing, and I asked what his favorite verse was. He told me it was Romans 8:38-39.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Yet, I have his old Bible with his barely legible notes scratched alongside the verses, and I know that he had questions and doubts. He hid them not from God, but presented them in prayer with thanksgiving. A highly intelligent man, he humbled his intelligence to the mysteries that God kept hidden in his wisdom, and he accepted in faith that God knew better than he.
Even as he was dying, he demonstrated the wrestle that it is to humble oneself to death — at moments seemingly at peace, while at others struggling to avoid it. But when we — his sister and brother-in-law, wife, son and I — sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, we could see him visibly humble himself to death, and receive the peace offered him as Jesus welcomed him into his full embrace.
I am so proud, in an awed, humble sort of way, to have had such a demonstrably humble dad. His legacy of humility has left its mark in his work, his church, and, most of all, his family. Typically, we think we must prove ourselves, achieve something, and create a legacy. But my dad proved that it is not in proving oneself that one receives peace and creates a legacy, it is in humbling oneself to the One who works through our legacies.
Do you have someone who has demonstrated humility in your life? Or someone who has left a legacy of humility? Please share in the comments, we would love to hear about others who go before us in this way.