Do you set spiritual goals? For a long time, my spiritual goals consisted of simple things like ‘read the Bible every day.’ But as I mature, I realize perhaps I need to move on to meatier goals. Practicing humility, for example.
Have you ever wanted to set a spiritual goal but gotten confused and discouraged by everyone’s ideal of what your goal should be (according to them)? For the next five weeks we’ll explore why and how you can set spiritual goals.
Yes, I Was a Karen
“Whatever you do,” I pontificated in my best teacher voice to my class of high school students, “you should never drink alcohol.”
“Why not?” an intrepid student asked. “Other teens drink.”
“Because,” I said with solemnity, “as Native Americans, your bodies lack an enzyme that processes alcohol. You’re more likely to become an alcoholic after just one sip.”
My students stared back at me. I forget exactly how the conversation came up, but I do remember feeling as if my pronouncement would somehow save them from a life of alcoholism.
This scene happened over eight years ago, during my first year teaching students at a small private school for Native Americans. Three years ago, while helping a student research a paper about the effects of alcohol, I discovered I was wrong.
My misinformation shaded my attitude toward Native Americans. For years I saw them as helpless victims of alcohol. White people had a burden to work with them and excuse them because we had introduced alcohol to them in the first place.
In hindsight, what a prideful, misguided way of looking at a people group. Eight years ago, if asked if I were racist, I would have proclaimed, “Absolutely not!”
Now I see I suffered from just as much racism as the next Karen in America.
As a Christian, I loved everyone with God’s love and treated everyone equally, regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, or religion. Or so I thought. I’ve learned a lot from my students in the past eight years.
My change of heart started with a personal pronoun change.
A Change in Pronoun
“Dear God, please be with these kids, help them to make good choices and keep them safe during the holiday,” a fellow staff member intoned during staff worship.
The next staff member took up the prayer, “These kids need to know you, Father God, just help them to see how much you love them.”
A skiff of unease blew through my mind. As I listened to more staff members beseeching God for mercy on ‘these kids,’ I struggled to figure out what bothered me. It hit me right before my turn to pray.
“Thank you for our kids,” I prayed. “You love them infinitely more than we ever can. Help us act as your voice of grace, your hands of help, and your arms of love.”
Just a pesky pronoun made all the difference in the world to me. When someone called my students ‘these kids,’ the speaker seemed set apart. As if they stood on the sidelines looking down at the students wallowing in problems.
Jesus didn’t stand on the sidelines watching us wallow. He joined us as a helpless baby. He became one of us.Jesus didn't stand on the sidelines of heaven watching us wallow. He joined us in our struggles and despair. #antiracist #Christianity #humility Click To Tweet
When I talk about people groups as ‘these,’ ‘those,’ and ‘you guys,’ I position myself as a sideliner. An often critical, opinionated, and judgmental person standing back and armchair quarterbacking problems other people in society face.
Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t ask us to do that, either. Through his prophet Micah, God makes it pretty clear what he wants us to do:
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”Micah 6:8 NLT
Racism Lurks Everywhere
Unfortunately, racism lurks everywhere in our society, and it takes an attitude of humility to recognize it. God wants us to respond to the world in humility, not idealistic pride.
James 2: 3-4 reminds us,
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others.”NLT
These hacks have helped me on my journey to antiracism. I haven’t arrived, but having a humble heart helps me along on my journey.
1. Start in the Word
To gain humility, start with prayer and Bible study. Start by asking the Holy Spirit to guide you as you study. As you read each verse, ask the Holy Spirt to reveal to you what you need to learn and apply in your life by reading and reflecting on each verse.
2. Go on a Word Purge
Many times, we accept words or phrases in our everyday vocabulary because we have heard them our entire lives. Just because people use a phrase doesn’t mean it’s polite, helpful, or humble. I resisted this concept for years, because I told myself, “Everyone’s using those words, so they must not mean anything.”
God revealed my flimsy reasoning to me during an embarrassing encounter with a colleague last year.
I’ve removed words and phrases from my vocabulary because they demean people groups. I no longer say:
“Stop acting like a thug.”
“Jew someone down.”
“Acting like wild Indians.”
“Let’s have a pow-wow.”
“Stop trying to gyp me (denigrates Gypsies).”
“They’re Irish twins.”
3. Take a Personal History Inventory
I find it very easy to sit back in my comfortable Costco recliner and judge the rest of the world and how they do things. When I do this, I dredge up my alter ego—Mrs. Judgy McJudgerton—who seems to believe that everyone should be able to do everything she has accomplished. Before I turn Mrs. McJudgerton loose, maybe I should look closely at my own history.
None of my grandparents finished college, but they all had some high school. My grandparents all grew up speaking the majority language. While they lived through the Great Depression, they each benefited from family connections or government help. My paternal grandfather worked in construction, and his large extended family had a system for finding work—a migrant worker network, so to speak. My maternal grandfather worked on public works projects.
All of my grandparents became Christians in their late teens or 20s and bought in to the value of Christian education. My parents both attended Christian elementary, high school, and university—at great financial sacrifice on their parents’ part.
No one in my family has ever achieved wealth—the kind that allows one to play the stock market, own a vacation home, or even eat out regularly. And no one has ever accused us of only getting a job or finishing college because of affirmative action.
Both of my parents graduated from college and have advanced degrees. Because of my skin color, I’ve had a pretty easy life. No one questions my right to walk in certain neighborhoods or my right to drive a nice car.
Take an inventory of your life. Who or what has helped you achieve what you have achieved? How would things be different if one of those variables were missing?
4. Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes
Once we’ve taken a humble look at our own family of origin, we can begin asking ‘what if’ questions.
Ask “What if—“
“my parents didn’t send me to school until I was 14?”
“I grew up never knowing where my next meal would come from?”
“my parents didn’t speak English?”
“a close family member sexually abused me?”
“my parents moved frequently because of the job market?”
“people gave me ‘the look’ every time I walked into a store?”
How would your life look if one, two, or even all of those things had happened to you? Take time to look at the information on ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and familiarize yourself with what can happen if a child doesn’t have a strong support system.
Not every child who experiences childhood or generational trauma will struggle—but we know surprising little about why some kids are resilient and some are not.
5. Don’t Let Pride Take Over
I’ve discovered idealism and pride often get convoluted in my mind. My personal accomplishments, as well as those of my parents and grandparents form a critical voice in my head that says, “If my parents can do it, then ________ should be able to do it.” Fill in the blank with whatever minority or people group you want to.
For example, “No one ever helped me with a scholarship, look at Laqueta, she got a scholarship and she still can’t succeed.”
Pride and humility walk at different ends of the spectrum. When I find myself comparing others to my accomplishments (and secretly judging them because they haven’t achieved what I have), I find myself teetering on the pride end of the spectrum.
Ask God to help you reword your backup tape. Instead of saying, “I did it, so they should be able to do it, too.” Ask yourself, “I wonder what help that person would appreciate in order to accomplish his or her goals?”
6. Get Informed
Don’t hit your BIPOC friends or co-workers with your questions. They grow weary of having to represent their culture/way or seeing or doing things/experiences to a wondering world. Read a book (or ten). Listen to a book.
Once you have your mind wrapped around a few of the problems, go to your BIPOC friends and acquaintances and ask with humility, “Hey, I’ve read _____ and ______ and I have some questions. Would you be willing to discuss these books/articles/blogs with me sometime?
If they say no, don’t take offense. Just keep trying to learn and change your behavior. The journey towards humility will never make you feel comfortable.
My Journey Towards Humility
My journey towards humility has had plenty of ups and downs. Sometimes I embarrass myself, sometimes I embarrass others. But if I want to live out Paul’s godly advice in Philippians 2:3, I have to learn to live with humility. And that takes practice and spiritual goal setting.