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Humbling: the desert-journey to the Promised Land

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

This photo of my mother's hand just days before she transitioned into the Promised Land has always been a bitter-sweet icon of her breathtaking journey from the prison of self to the Promised Land of Love. The journey started with her prayer that we discovered in her Bible after her death, and lasted, according to the date, about fifteen years. We could map out her journey in retrospect after we had discovered the letter. She asked, "Father, please let me die a deeper death to self" and her Father, who she loved deeply, responded with passion.

Her Father knew how essential it was for her to let go of her independence and pride before she finally transitioned and He left no stone untouched to bring it about. No stone … He even kept her alive against all odds for five weeks in the end so that he could complete the work.

But in her last moment with me, she was a transformed human being. Her love was complete for the first time. I felt a love that had no reason, that pulled me into the very presence of God. She was so weak that she could barely lift her hand but that emaciated hand touched my face and I felt God-self touching me.

The barrier of pride was removed at last and Love could flow. After about fifteen years of slowly journeying into humility, she died shortly after that final flow of pure God and she died alone. As if the moment of her death was so holy that it could not be shared.

I stood next to her body and asked my Father that, if it was at all possible, the same process would be completed in me without the suffering. In a moment I realised that my independence and pride are like a transparent wall through which I can see the Promised Land so clearly, desire it with all my heart but every attempt to enter only ended in a bleeding forehead. I walked into the glass sliding door that leads to our deck the other night, thinking it was open. The pride-glass that separates us from our Promised Land, can be just as unrelenting, transparent and dangerous. Running into it can cause us to bleed and be humbled.

But since that moment, my Father also responded gracefully and kindly and taught me how to receive regular humbling as an answer to prayer and how to find a gift in every humbling incident. Then I read Richard Rohr who prays for at least one good humbling per day and I knew I was on the right path. Maybe, just maybe, I can one day enter the Promised Land of reasonless love and be able to let it flow to someone before I am lying helplessly in a sickbed.

My first experience with humbling as a gift was when I broke my hip about eighteen years ago and my poor wife had to help me with everything ... even to shower ... It dealt a huge blow to my pride. I was forced to slow down, to become dependent and to be grateful for the little things. Forget about saving lives - just getting out of the shower was an accomplishment.

That was a tough journey for I did not understand at the time that there is always a gift hidden in every humiliation. Without the gifts, humbling can be experienced as punishment. But once we start to see the gifts hidden in hardship and how they can be unlocked by humility, we can see some method in the madness and find rest in the journey itself.

It is the rest we discover when we stop fending for ourselves, stop trusting in ourselves and where we discover that we can entrust our journey, from the desert of pride into the promised land of humility, to God.

This is how the writer of the letter to the Hebrews described the Promised Land: “The promise of 'arrival' and 'rest' is still there for God's people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we'll surely rest with God. So let's keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience.

(Heb 4:9-11) MSG

I think our journey into the Promised Land of rest goes through a "desert of humbling" as it did for Israel. A whole generation had to die in the desert during forty years of one humiliating event after another before they could shift their trust from self to God.

I would guess that the shift of trust defines humility in a nutshell.

Jesus gave us a metaphor for this journey:

“I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in.

(Mat 18:3) MSG

One thing about a child is that she has to trust in someone else to survive. She does not have enough life experience to make good choices without help. Children do not feel that they are entitled to love and care because they have achieved anything worthy. They are just simply going to die if no one takes care of them.

If that is the metaphor Jesus used to illustrate the requirements for entering the kingdom of heaven, humbling becomes an intrinsic part of our journey.

Growing up, we learn to be self-reliant and to build up a portfolio of achievements to use as leverage when we need love and respect and blessings. The greater the leverage, the stronger is our entitlement.

I guess our word for that condition is "pride".

The greater the leverage, the stronger is our illusion of control. Elon Musk and Twitter, Vladimir Putin and Ukraine are good current metaphors.

Letting go of our carefully built leverage, and the control that it offers, happens through a slow process of disillusionment. Every time we learn that we are not calling the shots in this life, we take one step closer to the mindset of a child.

Our word for that process is "humbling".

And when we eventually get the message that all control is nothing more than an illusion, we learn how to trust again like little children.

Our word for that condition is "humility".

Humility is therefore not something that we possess, but whatever is left after we have been stripped of our ego-claims on life.

Humility and becoming like a child seems to be two sides of the same coin. And both seem to be prerequisites for our journey into the Divine Mystery.

According to the Apostle James, humility draws out God's grace. Without humility humans are in trouble, even when they have invited Jesus into their lives. "For it says, God resists you when you are proud but continually pours out grace when you are humble.” (Jas 4:6)

Unfortunately we often subconsciously fear humility for it carries hidden messages of humiliation and weakness but humility is the medium in which the Mystery unfolds, therefore humbling is built into life itself. Loss of control is part and parcel of growing old gracefully. We all have seen people who would not submit to this process.

And we have seen people who have submitted to the process. They are the peaceful ones; gentle people with the rare gift of unconditional acceptance and loads of patience; the gracious older folk with whom we feel safe; the rare politician who cares more for the people he or she serves than for self; the wise ones to whom we go for advice; the ones we call first when we need prayer; the people who give and give and give.

They live in the Promised Land of Rest. They often actually seem to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. There are not a lot of them for very few are willing to walk out of the prison of self and remain steadfast on the journey through the desert of humbling until they reach the full unfolding of Love.

And the universe was designed to assist us on this journey and the God of the universe, the Father of Jesus and my Mom, wrote deserts and crosses into the script so that we could learn how to release all control, and find resurrection into rest, even in this life.

I savoured the last word on humility for Andrew Murray:

“It is not a something which we bring to God, or He bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness, which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all. When the creature realizes that this is the true nobility, and consents to be with his will, his mind, and his affections, the form, the vessel in which the life and glory of God are to work and manifest themselves, he sees that humility is simply acknowledging the truth of his position as creature, and yielding to God His place.”

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Joe de Swardt
Joe de Swardt
Nov 15, 2022

Thank you, Stephan. The tower of self-reliance (pride) and the light that reveals it as it is in truth becomes an invitation. A fork in the road. Will it be surrender with joy? Or screeching shame and notions of imposter correction? Would we run laughing into the only One that should and can be trusted? To embrace the Worthy one. The one sole Being of absolute, indisputable value. And there gain love and all of its imputed value deposits, and the power, the grace, the means and the desire that allows us to bloom fully.

Why do I (we) struggle so much to turn off, eradicate and exorcise the shadowy fear that curls up on itself when God offers and…

Joe de Swardt
Joe de Swardt
Nov 17, 2022
Replying to

Fabulous, the friction, the clumsiness, the tension, the tentativeness, the imposter syndrome and the awkwardness. All so tangible in your post. Oh Lord!!!

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