Can we just agree that James is a meaty book?  Troubling.  Convicting.  No fluff, just meat.  

James must have been quite the guy.  I mean, have you read the opening to his letter? There is none of that “grace and peace” warm fuzzy stuff that Paul usually leads with. (And I cannot even believe I am calling Paul warm and fuzzy, because that man was no teddy bear).  But by comparison, he is downright flowery in his intros.  Not James!  He just jumps right in.  “Trials are where it’s at boys!” And he never looks back. “You sin because you entertain your desires and let them drag you away.” “The church is full of discrimination.” “Your tongue can cause wild-fire calibre devastation.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, reading James is like drinking from a fire hose.  It all comes at me so fast and hard I’m not sure if I’m even getting hydrated.  Mostly I’m getting drenched, and I can hardly breathe. 

As I’ve mentioned before, in my devos right now, I’m on a “big picture mission” copying books of the Bible by hand to help me focus as I read.  But I am stopping to make a mental note to come back here asap.  This puppy is heaping with great stuff.  And while I’m making mental notes – bring chocolate! From what I’m seeing right now, and what I recall of previous studies in the book of James, there is a lot of challenging stuff to swallow.  I may as well chase it with chocolate.

So here I am, at least knee deep by now in a rushing torrent of conviction.  I’m struggling to keep my footing while James asserts quite convincingly that a faith that doesn’t change the way I live my life is pointless, useless, lifeless.  

And it’s right about there that James brings wisdom into the discussion.  “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”  I am drawn to the phrase humility that comes from wisdom.  It is winsome and warm, and I instinctively want it.  What is this humility that comes from wisdom?

Walk with me, back in time about 25 years or so, to the days when my life was my own; the pre-kid days.  Ah, the age of oblivion.  I was young.  I had energy.  My schedule was full of things relating to my own life.  I thought I was busy!  How, I ask myself now, how did I imagine myself to be busy when all I had to do was work and live my own life?  I remember so little of those days.  It’s like an entirely other person lived them.  

One thing I do remember is that, while I wasn’t sure I wanted to have kids, I was confident that, if I did, I was going to raise them right.  Temper tantrums in grocery stores could never happen.  My children would never shriek when being dropped off in the church nursery.  They would eat, with gratitude, whatever was put in front of them.  They would be consistently respectful, helpful and kind…you get the picture.  I was going to be a good parent and the behaviour of my children would inevitably reflect that.  Let’s caption my mindset at that stage in the game, “the arrogance that comes from having no clue.”

So then parenthood happened.  The longer I’ve been at it the less advice I have for people.  My kids currently range in age from 16 – 20 and I am really grateful for the people they are.  I actually think they are pretty great.  But at this stage in the game, I am absolutely confident that the good in my kids is a direct result of the grace of God at work in their lives and has very little to do with my spectacular parenting skills. The truth is, the only thing spectacular about my parenting skills is how spectacularly I have screwed up at various times.  While I did not keep track, I am fairly certain that every single thing that I ever said my child would never do, at least one of them has done.  I learned quickly to stop using that phrase.  

My child will never throw a tantrum in the grocery store.  

Trust me honey, they did.  

My child will not talk back.  

You bet they did that.

My child will not leave the table without eating all of their dinner.

Toddlers are tenacious, my friends, and more than once they won that battle too.

So when people, once or twice, have asked me how I got such great kids, I will encourage them to give it their best, to love them fiercely and make sure they know it, to make wise rules that are actually enforceable, to foster accountability while teaching them to handle freedom, to choose their battles very carefully…to try really hard to be a great parent.  I will pass along any good ideas I can think up.  But the wisest counsel I can give is this: PRAY.  Oh. My. Goodness. PRAY.  Because you are going to screw up.  You are going to get it wrong. Your very best isn’t going to be enough some days.  And you are going to need God to help you, to fill in the cracks when you just have nothing to offer.  You are going to need him to put just the right person or circumstance into your child’s life when they are about to make a crucial decision without you.  Trust me when I say this: Mom, Dad you need Jesus.  It is not in your best interest to do this without him, and it’s definitely not in your kid’s best interest.  

But I digress, as I so often do, sorry.  Here’s where I am going.  

Parenting has taught me.  It has taught me a lot.  I now know I am not going to have perfect kids.  I figured out along his journey that I am not a perfect parent, maybe not even a great one.  I have realized that even amazing parents sometimes have kids who rebel, and everyone has kids who fail, because everyone fails in many ways. That, by the way, also comes straight out of James.  I have something I didn’t have before I had kids.  I have wisdom.  Maybe not a lot, but when it comes to parenting, I did manage to acquire a little bit of wisdom.  And maybe more than anything else, that wisdom has humbled me.  

Here’s how that looks.  I see the mom or dad with what appears to be a demon-possessed toddler in Walmart, and I don’t assume the child is never disciplined.  Even when mom or dad loses it and yells back, I don’t assume they are abusive.  When a teen in my youth group runs away from home, when my kid’s friend is busted for weapons possession at school, when a kid on the football team is caught stealing his dad’s prescription meds, when a boy at my kid’s school is hospitalized after a suicide attempt and another classmate is in the same hospital with an eating disorder, I realize tomorrow one of these kids could be my own.  The knowing is the wisdom, the letting it change how I see other parents is the humility.  I have learned that life can be really hard.  I understand that parenting, though inexplicably somehow worth it, is maybe the single most challenging thing a person can do on this planet.  What I know about parenting, the wisdom it has given me, has humbled me.  I’ve been a parent for 20 years now.  You know that verse, judge not or you will be judged?  It haunts me.  The minute I start feeling superior or judge-y in anyway, it creeps into the back of my mind, and I shudder.  Nobody likes to feel judged.  I REALLY don’t like feeling judged.  So why would I make other people feel like that? 

And I think that is what James is talking about.  There is humility that comes from wisdom.  And that humility is what should guide our interactions with people around us.  That verse that caught my attention at the beginning said, Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 

I think this is something I have a decent handle on as a parent.  I typically bring a fair amount of grace to the table when I interact with other parents.  But what about the rest of my interactions?  I feel like I can do a better job of letting wisdom humble me when I talk about COVID and vaccines and mandates.  If I have learned anything from the last year and a half it’s that I don’t know much at all (Socrates would be proud!) and it has been frustrating to realize how impossible it is to get unbiased information.  I try to hear various perspectives but mostly I get angry rhetoric that is trying to persuade me that everyone else is an idiot or selfish or deceitful.  I think I can safely practise greater humility around that whole topic.

Maybe even my interactions with people from other church backgrounds could use a little more humility.  I mean, there are a lot of topics of biblical interpretation that are non-negotiables and they should be.  But what about some of the things that just aren’t as black and white as I wish they were?  Can we just take a breath and agree that the Bible is a bit confusing on predestination and election and how that works?  And don’t even get me started on end times prophecy and how that is all going to play out.

When I was a kid, I had my theology pretty much figured out.  Now, not so much.  The more people I meet, I mean the more serious, Jesus-loving, deep-into-the-word-digging people I meet, the more I realise it’s possible I’m wrong about some things.  That should humble me.  That should colour my interactions with people who don’t agree with me in every way. 

The fact is, there is a lot of room for humility in my life.  It’s worth considering that maybe those situations in which my interactions are less than humble are indicators of an absence of wisdom.  Hmmmm, this is a lot to chew on.  Honestly, I’m thinking this humility that comes from wisdom might just be life-changing…

PS.  Wisdom is one of my favourite things.  It attracts me.  It captivates me.  I want it, and I don’t feel like I have a lot of it.  But James has so much to say about it in his tiny little book, so I am already chewing on something else he said.  He describes heavenly wisdom and it is so much of what I want and who I want to be.  Come back soon because I’m really pumped to chat this through with you and I hope I can get my thoughts into words in the next couple of days.   

2 thoughts on “James, Humility & A Good Life

  1. Patricia Summerfeldt says:

    Very compelling read Hope. I agree parenting is both the greatest joy but the greatest heartache throughout their journey to “adulting”. Right now I’m now just trying to apply Gods wisdom to the fallout of our previous lives parenting efforts without Jesus. Had I only knew then what I know now, and am continuing to learn. Talk about humbling. Having to admit to each of your adult children that you were a complete screw up of a human being while trying to raise them. I think I may a made a few bad decisions along the way. The amazing thing is, God knew I would come to know Him. He’s been with me throughout this whole new Christian life. The amazing thing I have come to know is He can redeem all my mess! Yep! He can turn those dirty ashes into an amazing colourful tapestry of renewal. My kids are now on their own journey. I agree with you completely…pray pray pray. It’s only by prayer they’ve stopped calling me a nun. By prayer they now ask us to say grace at a family functions, and by prayer these same agnostic kids ask for personal prayer for their issues now. Surely that must mean they are thinking there must be a God? Gods wisdom has helped me help them. I pray in due time they will view Gods wisdom in our lives and will want their own relationship with Christ, but until then, I will continue to pray and ask for wisdom from above each day to guide us.

    • God is so gracious, and also so wise. As you say, he knew who you were and who you would become as you raised your precious kids. Somehow even then he was working and I will be praying with you as he continues the work he has begun!

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