Friday night Adam Dunn was part of a botched play at first base. Never mind that it wasn’t really his fault. (The throw was a little high, and the need to keep his foot on first while attempting to catch it was probably uppermost in his mind, since a runner on third was trying to score.) Never mind that his bat had just come through again for the Nats. (RBI number 39 in the seventh inning.) What’s plastered on the sports page of the Washington Post is a picture of him standing there missing a ball easily within his reach.
Something similar happened to me at work this past week. No, my picture was not in the Post. But I sent an email that had to be recalled, along with a new email redirecting a significant group to a different posting. Never mind that it wasn’t really my fault. (Due to details way too boring to go into here). Never mind that I’ve done some brilliant work for these same folks. What’s painfully obvious to everyone at this point is that I messed up.
What’s also painfully obvious is my own arrogance. I’m just a human being, of course I make mistakes – and a sign of my humanity should be obvious without being painful! So Adam Dunn and I have at least one thing in common: another life lesson in humility. Life gives us all lots of training on it. And let’s not kid ourselves that only ordinary people suffer from these ongoing lessons. The Adam Dunns of the world also have dishes of humble pie served to them.
The great example of humility is the young child. Take a toddler trying to walk. He tries, and falls, and gets back up and tries again – without any shame about falling. He even enjoys the practice. Or take a child learning to speak. She hears the sound and tries it, and then hears it again, and repeats. What if she were too proud to listen to the correction – why, she would never learn how to talk! For children, the process of growing requires a vulnerability that would terrify us as adults. And not only do they participate in the process of growing, they do it with an inner joy and enthusiasm that most of us can only recall as a distant memory in our lives.
But it does seem that God, the author of life, has set things up so that daily instruction in humility is always available to adults – so that we can find our way back to that earlier way of living before pride and arrogance had their way with us. Children make mistakes all the time; they just handle them better than adults do. “Brush it off,” words of encouragement in baseball, a game that, like life, offers lots of humble pie, is automatic for children. They see what they can learn and move on, and waste no time reflecting on their injured sense of self. They can focus on their own learning and growth, clear in what life is requiring of them in the moment.
For us to become like children will mean learning to think of life’s challenges as opportunities rather than threats, as gifts rather than a burdens, as difficulties to be embraced rather than simply endured, so that we, like children, may continue to learn and grow. It means learning to focus again on what God has given each one of us to do in this day. And in the end, it means learning to love life all over again.
A prayer for today… Dear Lord, make me humble. Amen.