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Lectionary Living

An Understanding Mind: Great prayers are humble prayers

(8/15) 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 and Psalm 111  •  Proverbs 9:1-6 and Psalm 34:9-14  •  Ephesians 5:15-20  •  John 6:51-58

 

After the difficulties of David's life, it's good this week to get to an upside in the readings! Today's story, perhaps his son Solomon's finest moment, comes when Solomon is a young man. Asked what he most wants for Christmas (well, not exactly, but close) he replies that he's overwhelmed with being a king, has no idea what to do, and wishes for an understanding mind (3:9).

 

It's funny, when looking back at one's life, what turns out to matter and what moments stand out. Perhaps most of us can remember moments when we felt like Solomon: overwhelmed by circumstances and with no idea what to do next. It's a very human predicament. And yet, the anxiety that gets stirred up in difficult situations can work against us. One way of (mis)managing is to get so worked up that one forgets to ask for either help or input from others. Another way is to get so totally focused on what others would do about a problem, so much better than oneself, that one simply freezes in place, doing nothing at all!

 

The interesting thing here is that in both cases, a person may think she is acting humbly. The one who takes on the whole burden may think something along the lines of oh I don't want to bother them; "them" can be anyone from one's family to friends to God. The one who gives the whole burden up to others, may think something along the lines of oh I'm not nearly as capable as they are; again, "they" can be anyone. At both extremes of arrogance or helplessness, a false humility exists, where the self is somehow belittled in the process.

 

With true humility, no one is belittled. Recently, the Olympics offered some fine examples. At the end of a swimming event, the swimmers were looking at the time board and then at the water and then at each other with sheer wonder – look at what's just happened here! It seemed almost irrespective of which of them did exactly what. In an interview of one swimmer, when he was first told his time on the last leg of the race, he had a stunned look – not for himself, or so it seemed to me – but a more general sense of gosh I did not know that could be done, that's amazing! It mattered not at all that it was he himself who had done it.

 

Another clue about true humility, coming from athletes, is the advice to "run your own race." A lot can be lost, apparently, at premier levels of competition, from getting distracted by what the person in the next lane over is doing. Winners stick with their own pace. The danger of the over-focus on the other extends out from the Olympics to everyone. Each of us has our own self, for whom each of us is entirely responsible. Comparing oneself to others confuses the brain pathways. A realistic focus within oneself is tied to humility.

 

Solomon, of course, never participated in the Olympics. He had a different challenge as a new king in the midst of the people… a great people (3:8). His awareness of his responsibility to the people goes hand in hand with his prayer for an understanding mind. Whether king or pauper, working on seeing all sides of a thing can bring a person towards a more humane, humble posture.

 

Reflections:

Morning: What is important for me to focus on today? Where might I lose my way?

Evening: When did I have an understanding mind?

Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

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