“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:7-11
Many Christians suffer much more than they need to with the guilt of failure, especially as it applies to their faith. It is a secret shame that many who share our pews carry deep within them. They presume that everyone else is doing well in their faith, but that somehow it hasn’t taken root in them as it should have. And they blame themselves in the belief that they have not tried hard enough, or not been faithful enough to the call, or strong enough in their desires for God. In short, they feel they have failed to become the Christians they had once thought, or been told, was possible for them. If this, in any way, describes your experience of faith, Jesus has a parable for you that comes with an unexpected word of counsel for high-achiever Christians: “You need to lower the bar of your self-expectations.”
Though it might sound suspiciously negligent, we are always wrong to set the bar of our spiritual expectations too high. It is a temptation of pride to believe that virtue, steadfastness, sanctity and godly love are all within our reach. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that the disappointment that inevitably results has little to do with God. It is mostly related to our disappointment with ourselves. We have spurned the blessed humility of our poverty of spirit, and have rather believed the devil’s lie that “ye shall be as gods.” In other words, we have been presumptuous about our potential status in the kingdom, assuming that a place of honour should be more natural to us than a lower seat.
As Jesus makes clear in this parable, we are best to set the bar of our self-expectations quite low. We are, after all, not “as gods.” Rather, we are the blind, the lost, the faithless and the hearts of stone that Christ has come to save. And we do well to remember the humility of who we truly are.
Perhaps the best indicator of whether our bar is set too high lies in how we respond to our seeming successes or failures. Which do we seem most surprised about? That we have failed to be genuine in our spirituality? Or that we have succeeded? With the bar of our expectations inordinately high, we will often be dismayed that we have not achieved what we thought we were capable of. Our pride will see this as failure and we will respond with shame. But if we accept the humbling truth that the bar of our capacity is actually quite low we will be much more disposed to surprise. We will more readily marvel at the grace of God that allows us, at times, to be much more virtuous than we know ourselves to be. No longer will we see perfection as a personal achievement, but more as the gift of God’s grace that it truly is.
Jesus concludes His teaching with a simple formula: “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” This is certainly good news for anyone who is ready to embrace the blessed humility of their creatureliness.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for Feb 9, 2012)
For Group Discussion:
- The practices of self-assessing and comparing ourselves to others in regard to progress in the Christian life come very naturally to us. They are also invariably bad practices! Discuss why this is so and how we may pray for mercy and transformation in this area.
- Why is our poverty of spirit such a blessing to embrace? How might we maintain this posture through experiences of both success and failure in our Christian walk?
- Reflect on the lovely invitation of Jesus to assume HIS yoke and find rest. How might the companionship of his presence implicit in this invitation transform our shame and negative self-talk?
Jesus describes himself as being gentle and humble in heart. In prayer, seek these graces in regard to your view of yourself. Meditate on the wonder and beauty of being able to lay down the burden of your self-expectations, and rest in the promise of Jesus’ presence in the circumstances and challenges of your current path.