40 DAYS: Of Humility
There’s a occurrence in immigration called “brain waste.” It refers to what happens when highly-educated professionals from foreign countries can’t find jobs in their new country, because of language, certification, racial, or other legal barriers. Engineers become taxi drivers, surgeons toss pizzas for minimum wage, lawyers are demoted to janitors. Not only does this create serious financial hardship, but it is also humiliating. Once you were respected as an expert in your field, and now you’re a minority nobody, underpaid and often mistreated in a low-skill job.
Brain waste is also a phenomenon in Lyme Disease, not just because spirochetes are literally boring into your brain, or the inflammation is visible on MRI, but from the same loss of credentials and respect for highly educated professionals. When you suffer from Lyme Disease, suddenly no one cares if you have a Ph.D, are an elite athlete, an accomplished entertainer, award-winning artist, best-selling author, or are at the forefront of cancer research. You get lost in a failing medical system, and doctor after doctor tells you it’s all in your head, just take some pills and go away. You become an advocate for a disease that the “experts” refuse to recognize, and thus a minority, ignored and brushed aside.
Us little people who weren’t much to begin with – your everyday average architects, lawyers, registered nurses, licensed therapists, entrepreneurs, single parents, honor-roll students, and writers – find that even our meager accomplishments come crashing down in our new Lyme world. We are now just “the sick one,” the “weird one,” the “hippie,” the “crazy one.” The “Lyme Loonies.”
This humiliation adds to the already-devastated sense of self that comes with Lyme’s physical and mental destruction. And yet, we can take heart, when we see that the greatest prophets and heroes of the Bible, even Jesus himself, were purposefully humiliated in order to bring out incredible power, advocacy, and strength.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
The Humility of Moses
Moses is a major figure in all Abrahamic religions. He freed over half a million people out of slavery to Pharaoh, with great signs and devastating plagues. He parted the Red Sea. He brought water out of rocks. He spoke to God on fiery mountains. He established the Hebrew nation.
And yet, the entire story of Moses really revolves around his shortcomings – it is essential to the plot, that God chooses the weak, the mere “earthen vessels” to do His greatest work.
But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.
The Bible makes it clear, again and again, that God afflicts and humbles His servants so that His ultimate power and authority be given the credit, not us humans.
And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna… that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
The Humility of Ezekiel
Ezekiel had more than a 40-day share of humiliation. He spent years bound, mute, acting out weird prophetic scenes, and basically appearing crazy, in God’s plan to teach His people the error of their ways.
But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart... And you, O son of man, behold, cords will be placed upon you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people. And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house.
Is there anything worse than looking insane, and not being able to defend yourself, especially against people who refuse to listen to your reasoning? It's Lyme 101.
Take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem... take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel. Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it… 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year.
During this bizarre demonstration, Ezekiel is commanded to eat a coarse bread of less desirable grains, and bake it over human excrement – an oft-overlooked fact that makes me smile every time I see people going gaga over “Ezekiel Bread.” It’s a sign of famine and impurity, even too harsh for Ezekiel, who negotiates a fire of cow dung instead of the appallingly unclean human waste. (Ezekiel 4)
If Panera Poo isn’t low enough for you, Ezekiel is then told to cut his hair and beard with a sword (Ezekiel 5), an even greater loss and humiliation in the biblical Mideast. He has to take this hair and burn it, go around the city scattering it, and tie some to his robe. To top it all off, Ezekiel loses his wife and is not allowed to mourn in the customary fashion. (Ezekiel 24:15-18).
When we think of great prophets, or when we pray to be used by God, do we ever imagine that it involves such suffering and humiliation? Usually when our lives go this horribly, we blame God, rather than see it as His divine plan, answer to our prayers, and maybe even His greatest blessing – speaking directly to us. Do not mistake humiliation and hardship for personal punishment. Ezekiel shows us it is a manifestation of God’s great power in us.
The Humility of Jesus
Truly no one was humbled more than Jesus – God himself stripped to a mere human, and executed among criminals. True, Jesus would teach with power and miracles. But before his ministry began, before he called his followers, he was first humbled. Made hungry, made powerless, and made poor, he refused to use his divinity for his own ease.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Jesus quoted Moses' writing, our original humble leader, from the book of Deuteronomy: “man does not live by bread alone.” The first part of that phrase is “And he humbled you and let you hunger... that he might make you know that Man shall not live by bread alone...” Hunger was God’s form of humiliation, to let man know that there is more to life than food and circumstances. God provides all that we need – physically and spiritually – to help us through the trials of life. And it is not in our own power that we eat and live, but all by the grace of God.
Once again, in all these examples, prophets are not being humiliated for their own personal growth and experience, or even their own communion with God. They are being made into leaders, examples to their people, illustrations to the greater community about God’s character.
The Humility of Lyme
What sort of humility can you take on in service to the chronically ill? Perhaps the humility of jumping on the “gluten-free bandwagon”? The humility of being a demanding or high-maintenance dining companion? Of falling ill with sugar detox? Of facing uncomfortable health paradigms you never believed in? Failing in the kitchen because you don’t know how to cook? Stretching your budget on fresh food rather than clothes, movies, or social outings? The humility of realizing how much undue judgment you’ve laid on the chronically ill because you never realized how difficult it is just to feed yourself?
Lent will not show off your strength and willpower. It will be an exercise in humiliation, a show of your weakness, so that God’s strength may be given the credit.
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.”