I once had a friend at work who- how do I say this spiritually- provided many opportunities to cultivate patience in my soul. To those who are new to the faith, what that means is that he drove all of us bananas. In a job that requires constant communication and socialization, the guy whose mouth runs as steady as the Mississippi is too much to handle some days. Maybe you’ve worked with a guy like that.
But as I got to know the guy over the years, I started to realize something very basic about him. He was lonely. He was insecure. He was convinced that everybody hated him. It was very subtle, but self-pity and pride show up as cousins all the time.
Just the other day, Peggy and I were talking about my overall stinky and pouty attitude, and I wanted to do anything to change the subject. She was on to me. She asked more questions. She sat patiently, silently, waiting for me to put a finger on what she could already see. I was feeling sorry for myself.
Over the past few months, my pride has been under constant assault. In March, I got my first ever speeding ticket, then my second, then my third. In April, out of kindness, I changed the oil in Peggy’s car- you know, the one she had paid off a couple weeks before- unsuccessfully. Do you remember the scene at the end of There Will Be Blood? Picture oil instead of blood, and you get the picture. Cars, incidentally, don’t run very well or very long without oil, a fact I was painfully reminded of as I looked back in the crime-scene of a driveway I had created.
My experience of Seattle has carried with it a wide range of emotions. I’ve experienced weeks at work that I’ve only heard older waiters yearn for over a cup of coffee, and I’ve nearly caused the demise of my own job by somehow mixing up tables as I dropped checks at the end of the meal.
I’ve fallen in love with the girl who has, for some reason, agreed to marry me, but it hasn’t always been easy. Love is a challenge and oftentimes I realize just how bad I am at it.
This past year I’ve been as challenged as I have been blessed. I wouldn’t trade the past year for anything, but I’m still trying to figure out what some of it means. And sometimes I get to feeling sorry for myself.
Pity, Pride, and Comfort
And the same is true for me as it is for my friend at work. What feels like self-pity is often read as pride, because really, they are one and the same. Whether I feel like I am the best waiter in the world or the worst writer in the world, I’m still the one that gets to make the call. I’m still the final judge in the matter, and if I can’t be the best, well, damnit, I can be the worst. Either way, I win.
This is why it is a constant challenge to us, as the people of God, to agree with what and who he calls us. Think about Isaiah, when we find God calling us worms. How can we feel anything but self-pity, self-hatred, when our name is worm Jacob? The answer lies in an old seminary rule about translation that says, the three most important factors in translation are: context, context, context.
In Isaiah’s Gospel, God is speaking words of comfort, strength, and assurance as we reach the 41st chapter. The message here is that God will use all of his God-ness to help his people. He loves us. He is for us, wholeheartedly for us. And look at the line that follows on the heels of worm Jacob.
Fear not…you men of Israel!
God has not given up on his creation. He has stamped his image upon us indelibly. He has come to us in Christ and revealed himself to us. He lives in us by his Spirit. He does not despise us because we are worms.
He calls us to be women and men.
And he is for us.