Note: this is fifth in a series of posts I am doing specifically based around leadership issues. If you haven’t read Parts 1, 2, 3, or 4, you have time to catch up :).
When I was a teenager, I won a writing contest in our diocesan newspaper. It was in the sesquicentennial year of the diocese (150th year of the founding, and yes, that is the only time I have ever used that word), which made it a big deal. Let me also add, I was very involved in the local parish and was the first one that anyone called, whether they should have or not, when something came up that required assistance. I was a graduate of the parish’s Catholic school, I was one of the first girls who was on the altar when they opened it up to girls back in the early 1990s, and I can’t count the number of other things that I did. So, when I wrote the article for the contest and then won, I fully expected it to be a big deal. A year or so earlier, one of the boys in the parish also wrote for the same contest and won, and the parish priest was so proud, he beamed for an entire weekend. At all five of the parish masses that weekend, he was invited to read his article, in front of everybody, in order to get praise and approval. He wasn’t that involved in church, even though his family was, from time to time. I think I saw him serve on the altar a couple of times over the years, but that was it. They were staunch, they were cold, they were not at all progressive (which the parish teetered on), and nobody had much use for them. He wasn’t well-known among any of us, and he nor his family was that well-liked, but they made a fuss. So me, in my teenage mind, expected the same to be done for me. I figured if his essay was a big deal, then surely, mine should be, too.
It wasn’t. In fact, barely anyone said a thing about it to me. It was as if it never happened. Nobody was excited, very, very few people (I think maybe two) said something to me about it, and there was absolutely no fuss. When almost a month after the fact the parish priest typed up a congratulatory note (about 3 lines) and put it in the bulletin, I never even saw it was there. When he pointed out to me that it was there, he said it as if it was supposed to be a big deal and I was supposed to be all grateful…but I wasn’t. I felt as if the accomplishment was treated as if it was nothing and as if nobody cared.
The boy who won a few years earlier was a Kennedy. Not as in the political family, but as in the family who was, for whatever reason, given great prominence in the church. He was a Kennedy, which meant that he was treated a certain way, just because of that. It didn’t matter that their family was entangled in all sorts of mess and sabotage against the pastor, or that they had rather unsocialized children, or that they were staunch, or mean, or not well-liked…all that mattered was that he was a Kennedy, and I was not. I could have been involved in the parish until I died, nothing I did was ever going to be “good enough” to be worthy of the Kennedy image.
I remember how upset I was when all of this happened, because I didn’t understand it. In hindsight, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for my mom to sit me down as a teenager and say to me, “They didn’t fuss over you because you’re not a Kennedy.” I found out many years after the fact that she too felt what happened was unfair, but knowing my mom the way I know her, she didn’t say anything to that extent because she knew that getting into the unfairness of the whole thing was only going to make it worse for me and take longer for me to get the message. No matter what I did, I was not ever going to be treated like he was, because he was, for whatever reason, “acceptable,” and I was not.
What I got was a lesson in humility. It wasn’t about being “good enough” or “better,” it was about the fact that sometimes life is just unfair and we need to be humble enough to trust that whether we get our just do or not, life still goes on and we still need to interact properly with other people. And remember that I certainly had to do, whether I wanted to do it or not, because I still returned to that church, several times per week to be involved, for over two more years. I worked there, I taught people’s children, I served, fully well knowing I was not accepted and what I did was not even appreciated.
I think humility is a lesson we all need to learn, and one that we, in church today, can’t help but learn fast enough. In our crazy world of warped self-esteem and a push to always feel “good” about ourselves, we have forgotten how to be humble and how to esteem and love others as much as we love ourselves. We are so busy worrying that people don’t treat us right, we stop doing things, living, having experiences, and accepting that sometimes things don’t go our way. This hurts leaders and, the more we give the impression to our people that we need to be esteemed in a certain way in order to stay somewhere, we forget that an arrogant chip on someone’s shoulder will cause them to stop hearing from God properly and cause them to eventually rebel against us.
Humility is a learned characteristic. It is a basic principle of being able to get along with other people, and the more I think about it, I realize it is something we learn even when we are children. Whenever we could “give” it but couldn’t “get” it, our parents were quick to tell us, “Do you like it when people treat you like that? No? Then stop doing it to other people!” We were taught that being sore losers wasn’t attractive and that we had to learn how to be good sports, able to take our losses with grace and dignity. We learned about sharing and compromising with other people, that we don’t always get our own way, and that we needed to be polite people. Being polite never, ever meant (or means now) being “fake,” but it means being mature enough and socialized enough to handle situations with certain conditions and social graces, and that bullying other people and blowing up in their faces all the time was not proper behavior for anyone.
Even though we don’t consider these things to be examples of humility, they really, in reality, are exactly what humility is. Humility is the opposite of pride. Pride puffs up and exalts itself, while humility is regarding one’s self properly, not esteeming one’s self higher than they should, and realizing who they are, whether things are fair, or not. Humility reminds us that we don’t get our own way, and that nobody owes us our own way, no matter how much we may think we should have it.
Luke 6:31 tells us, “Do to others what [Treat others as] you would want them to ·do to [treat] you.” (EXB) Many wonder, just what does that mean? The Bible has given us many, many wonderful words on how we should interact with each other, but what we don’t often teach is that treating other people in the same way that we would want to be treated doesn’t start with the way everyone else treats us. We can spend our entire lives focusing on the wrongs that have been done to us and the ways that the “Kennedys” of the world have gotten away with so many things, and it has been unjustified. Treating others the way we want to be treated starts when we do that. As leaders, it is so tempting to want to seek vengeance on people through spiritual things, by rebuking in anger and the flesh, by teaching the “truth” and gearing it all at someone who wronged us (different from telling a story and learning a lesson or teaching a lesson, obviously), or by using our position to punish someone for the way they treated us. It can be that much harder to be a leader who is humble enough to accept that not everyone is for us and not everyone recognizes what God has done in our lives, and not everyone accepts the authority that we have. It can be that much harder for a leader to be a model of humility for their people.
If we don’t do it, however, the people who we cover and who follow our ministries won’t know how to do it, either. Sometimes we have to take one for the team, and take it because if we don’t, nothing in this world will ever change.
No, it’s not right how people treat each other. No, it wasn’t right that I was treated the way I was as a teenager. In fact, in remembering the story that I started this blog with, the more I thought about it from different angles, the worse it sounded. Even twenty years later, it still doesn’t sound right, or fair. But right or wrong, it was how I was treated, and from it, I learned that things don’t always go my way, not even in church, where we should all be for each other. It makes me think of James 4:10, “Humble yourself in the Lord’s presence, and he will ·honor you [ exalt you; lift you up; 1 Pet. 5:6].” (EXB) The Kennedy kid got to read his article in front of the whole church, so what? That was the only moment he got in all those years we went to that church, and he didn’t make the paper, or get so fussed over in public, again in his life. Now I am an apostle, thousands of people all over the world hear me preach, read my books, read my blogs, watch my videos, and watch me on television. The attention and acclaim I thought I needed all those years ago, I really didn’t. What I needed was to be humble. What I need now is to be humble. What all of us need, is to be humble. (And that Kennedy kid, wherever he is now, needs to be humble, too!) God really does lift us up when we first honor Him.
Love y’all in the Kingdom.
Apostle Dr. L.
(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.