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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Grace in Humiliation

I gotta admit it; I am terrified to pray for the virtue of humility.

Why?

Every time I made the attempt, I was knocked so hard on my backside that to THIS DAY I still have not been able to recover! Just mention "humility" and I begin to shake and shudder and drool then foam at the mouth in sheer terror in anticipation of what anvil is next to drop.

God, of course, cannot be taken by surprise and so, in seeing such sheer terror, He finds other ways to reveal to us the true nature of humility, and in fact, finds gentle humiliations in order to best reveal to us the divine Grace available through such abjection.

The Unwitting Act of Offense

Recently, in a conversation with others, something I said was misconstrued. I did not know at the time that what I was trying to convey was being taken into left field without my permission or intention, but there it was; that is the nature of human interaction. I remember catching the expressions on a couple of those present and wondered about what bad thing they were smelling, but as they never pulled me aside to explain that I was the source of their sour expressions, I ultimately thought nothing of it.

A few days later, a friend who had been absent that day left me a voice mail, asking for a call back, explaining that party A and B (the same ones who had housed sour expressions) had spoken with her and said that I had dropped her name a few times but not in a pleasant way.

Completely taken aback, I hung up the phone and prayed. I recalled mentioning her name, but NEVER in a derogatory way. I racked my memory, trying to ascertain what had gone so wrong for some people to have taken my intention so badly.

Of course, I immediately called her back to ask what she had heard, and I was thankful that she did not sound angry, only....questioning. In fact, her own tone was joyful, forgiving and welcoming, not contrived but in total sincerity.

It didn't take long to sort out the misunderstanding and as it turned out, she completely understood my original intention and, in fact, AGREED with me!  We had a wonderful conversation, and, a few days later when we met again, she made it a point to seek me out to thank me for calling her back to reconcile the issue.

Humiliation

When I'd first heard of what others I'd thought were friends had accused me of doing (behind my back) I had felt very betrayed.  I wondered...why hadn't they just come to me or called me out on the spot?

Why?  Why didn't they ask me to clarify or even, if they were such good friends to that person, "stood up" for her if they thought I was insulting her?

I was taken aback that they had instead chosen to be subversive, both assuming the worst of me and my intentions, then apparently through their own actions, making it worse through gossip?  And wasn't their own indignant refusal to engage with me, the offender, an outright betrayal to THEIR friend?

It was in speaking with the "allegedly offended" friend and the subsequent reconciliation that I realized the Grace God had provided to us both, especially when we were in each other's company again.

Real Grace

When I had time to reflect upon the events of the previous days, and the links and even disunity in our relationships, I knew that what we had experienced wasn't anything new or rare or novel; it went all the way back to Genesis.

Sin always drives a wedge in between relationships, and usually that wedge is quite self-righteous. It's very easy for us to justify our gossip to another person about someone else. We claim we are "clearing the air" or informing someone of something they need to know about. (In this case, that applied, although they went in the wrong direction with it and the "offended" is the one who set it right!).  Oh, yes, we just LOVE driving wedges around, we sorry, fallen children of God. It's our favorite hobby, such that we can say it is our second nature to do so!

Think about it, though....when one person starts with something... where does it stop?

Read the Bible: it didn't stop. Even after the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, it didn't stop.  We were redeemed, but, well....the wound of sin continues even in those who try to be or believe they are holy.

We all struggle. We all fall. We all damage those we claim to love, and what is most horrible, we do so in the name of "Holiness" and "Truth"! What is often lacking there is "Prudence" and "Basic common sense", and actually, the Divine Virtue of, well.... CHARITY.

You know what really stopped me in my tracks, though, in this whole mess?  

The ONE friend, the one who was allegedly the "target" of whatever I had said, and thus the one offended, was the ONLY one to call me and ask for the truth.

No one from the gossipy peanut gallery who was offended FOR her called me out. THEY slunk away like Templeton and took their perceived but not edited-for-truth version to our mutual friend, telling her of my (apparently intended) insult to her.

Thankfully, that "offended" friend knew me well enough to question what she was hearing and was certain there had to be an explanation. Therefore, instead of wallowing in it as our other mutual friends had done, she picked up the phone and...[get this!]...CALLED me to ASK for my side of the story!

I was nearly in tears when I called her back, horrified that I had inadvertently done something to insult her in another's eyes. She didn't see those blinked-back tears, but I know she heard the horror in my voice and was nothing other than gracious.

I can't tell you how grateful I was for her understanding, and even the love apparent in her initial call. I can't tell you how grateful I was to have been forgiven the unintended offense.

The Heart of the Matter

It was beautiful to be forgiven, but what I really have had to take away from this experience was this:  I have to forgive, too. 

This is a message that came to me even in the middle of that mess, from another friend who knew NOTHING of the matter that so plagued me.

This other, unknowing, friend spoke of St. Therese' of Lisieux, who rejoiced upon learning her flaws, and spoke even more of the unexpected humiliations, of remaining silent in the face of unjust accusations and assumptions.

Ah, yes, she was speaking to me.

I was, even then, harboring resentment against those who had so dishonestly and subversively accused me of wrongdoing, assuming the worst of me, and taking that sordid tale to the friend who, according to them, I was TRYING to harm, and quite publicly at that.

It's hard NOT to harbor resentment when accused behind one's back.

Yet even in that initial conversation, it was clear my friend thought the best of them, and the best of me, and in so doing, was taking the advice of the Saints to heart:  to always think the best of others, and speak the best of them.

This is no easy thing to do, and yet, there I was, the offender (if without intent) yet still the recipient of such divine charity.

Who am I, then, to hold resentment against my own accusers?  Shouldn't I, then, think the best of them? Assume that their intent was not one of gossip but of charity, even if they, like me, carried it out imperfectly?

Should I not also be first in line to forgive an unintended offense?

Yet I didn't; I did to my accusers what they did to me, if in a different way.

And because our sins are hidden from each other, they can be reconciled at this point only through God, and healed only through God, and through our behavior towards each other, and our prayers for each other.

Perhaps I must go out of my way to ask them to pray for me; they are indeed prayerful people, good Catholics, people I want as my friends. I only hope they still want me as their friend as well.

Yes, there is grace in humiliation; were it not for this, I would not have recognized the strength of one friendship and the weakness in myself so clearly.

It really, truly takes only a simple act of friendship to save many relationships and to bring us all closer to Christ.

That's what holiness is all about.

I thank God for my friends every day. Whoever you are, wherever you are, please do the same. You never know who has your back until you are the one to be scourged.

2 comments:

Cathy_of_Alex said...

I'm ashamed for any and all of the times I was not a true friend and put the "story" together via gossip.

You are right. A true friend points out what is going on and works it thru with their buddy-they don't just slink away sour and angry.

RedCat said...

This is one of the hidden sins that I am most afraid of not recognizing. I have a way of rationalizing, even justifying, my thoughts when I am in the midst of sorting out a problem. Many times I have been misunderstood. Many times I have misunderstood others. This seems to be a favorite trick of the enemy. I pray for the grace to see through my own misguided reasoning.