Thursday, March 04, 2010

Strength in Meekness - Arends

Here is my most recent Christianity Today column, all about an aspiration I have to be "ox-like".  The responses I've gotten to it have been interesting; some readers feel I am advocating avoiding confrontation or the expression of negative emotion -- which is really quite opposite to my point.  How do you read it?

Strength in Meekness
What to do with the anger that saps strength.
From the February issue of Christianity Today
Posted online 02/15/2010

(Note -- if you'd like to hear "Roll It", a song on my new cd inspired by the ideas in this column, go HERE)

My grandmother was great, but she had that special mother-in-law gift of raising my mother's blood pressure. A well-timed comment about cooking or child-rearing would leave my mom stammering and defensive.

As a teenager, I would walk by and whisper, "Water off a duck's back, Mom." She came to understand my code—Let it go; Nana doesn't mean anything by it, and we know you're a good wife and mother—and my whispers usually helped. But now I wish I had known to say, "Roll it onto God, Mom."

Psalm 37:5 tells us to "commit your way to the Lord." Translated, this verse says something like, "roll onto Jehovah thy way." At certain family dinners, that means passing the gravy and "rolling" the need to defend ourselves—as well as our more serious needs and concerns—onto God.

Jesus was quoting from Psalm 37 when he said the meek will inherit the earth, and it turns out that the whole psalm is a primer on meekness. I have always been a little over-meek (reticent, shy, too deferential). So when I read the Bible and find the meek congratulated, I'm delighted.

But there's a catch. It turns out that only two people in Scripture are described as "meek": Moses and Jesus. So meekness likely has little to do with timidity.

If meekness isn't weakness, what is it? The word has an association with domesticated animals, specifically beasts of burden. At first blush, this etymology doesn't thrill me; I don't particularly aspire to be ox-like. But when I think about it, an ox at the plow is not weak but extraordinarily strong. The key, though, is that his power is harnessed and directed. Perhaps meekness is strength that is submitted to an appropriate authority.

Shortly after I began writing this column, I found myself in rare conflict with a friend. At first I thought my anger was giving me strength, bolstering my courage so I could deal with the issues. But the anger soon betrayed me, sapping my energy and compromising my ability to act according to wisdom and divine direction. It's only as I have turned my hurt—and the overwhelming urge to prove that I'm right—over to God that I've begun to be able to respond (and sometimes resist responding) from a place of holy, rather than human, strength.

Psalm 37 is all about strength in meekness. It deals with trusting God to be God, and with not trying to do his job. The meek, for example, don't repay evil for evil; they rely on God for justice (vv. 1-3). Several verses mention that the meek don't fret. And the meek let God provide their hearts' desires rather than trying to manipulate people and circumstances to get what they want (v. 4).

How much energy do I expend trying to secure provisions, control outcomes, and manage people's perceptions of me? Psalm 37 tells us that the meek give that labor up. They trust God's claims that he will provide, protect, and defend, and in so doing free up resources for putting their hands to God's plow. It's a good plan.

But here's the thing: I would be fine with rolling my burdens onto God if I were guaranteed resolution. There's a joke that describes the effects of playing a country song backwards: Your spouse returns, your dog is resurrected, and your truck starts working again. I wish that surrender to God worked the same way.

But faith isn't like that. The biblical witness is that circumstances often get more challenging, not less, when one's way is committed to the Lord. So why roll it onto God if "it" (the need, circumstance, quarrelsome friend, or critical in-law) isn't necessarily going to get fixed?

There are stories about prisoners in Nazi camps who were made to move heavy boulders from one end of a field to the other, only to carry them back again. Many of the men were eventually driven mad, not by the backbreaking nature of the work, but by its futility.

It isn't the experience of being misunderstood (or suffering or poverty) itself that will undo us, but rather the sense that we are enduring hardship to no good end. That's why the apostle Paul emphasized that we do not labor in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). We discover there is no wasted effort or pain, because there is nothing that God cannot redeem.

I have a choice. I can wear myself out pushing the boulders of my life around my prison yard. Or I can be meek, and roll those burdens onto God. I'm not sure exactly what Jesus meant when he said the meek will "inherit the earth," but I've certainly discovered that this world is a better place when I roll it off my shoulders and into his hands.


Dolores Ayotte said...

I liked your article and the fact that you want our opinion. I used the same strategy in mine because I think it's a good tactic to engage people and get a little feedback.

I, too, am a shy person and can appreciate the challenges that go with this type of personality. I also have an opinion on the emotion anger.

Have you ever heard the expression that depression is "anger turned inward"? Anger is considered to be a negative emotion but it must be embraced like all of our other emotions in order to fully accept ourselves. In my opinion, there is a fine line between meekness and suppression. I've learned from experience, that suppression can result in a lot of other, not so positive, complications.

Peter Black said...

Carolyne, I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Your scriptural and spiritual elucidation re. meekness vis-a-vis weakness, very well done. Your ideas accord very much with my own. Great illustrations!
Thank you.

violet said...

Wow - great as usual! I agree with Peter - the illustrations zing. Now to follow your advice!

Marcia said...

Great Article, Carolyne and just wanted to say I bought your new CD a while ago and can't stop playing it - love it! Thanks!

Carolyn Arends said...

Hey All -- thanks so much for your comments, much appreciated. Dolores, I am intrigued by you response, because I agree with you that there is a place for healthy and constructively expressed anger. You've got me thinking about how I could have incorporated that more explicitly into the article. I get 800 words for my CT columns and it is always very challenging to cover a topic or idea in a balanced way in so few words. Thanks for encouraging me to keep trying to do better!


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