It’s been 20 years since I was diagnosed with ALS, and I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over these long and difficult years.
The strange thing about being taught lessons from difficult circumstances is that you have no idea that you’re being taught a lesson at the time. This was the case with my learning about humility. Unlike learning lessons from books or teachers, experiences, especially really difficult experiences, teach us lessons that we never forget. These lessons literally become a part of us.
“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” – CS Lewis
I don’t remember giving it a lot of thought at the time, but I suppose that I considered myself to be a fairly humble guy before being diagnosed with ALS. I now know that I didn’t even understand what true humility was back then. I am still learning.
Like taking several different classes in school, trials teach us many lessons at the the same time. Some people call this “The school of hard knocks.” But the other lessons are much easier to learn if you first learn the lesson of humility. Humble people are teachable people.
My first lesson in humility.
It’s funny to think about now, but I fought so hard to keep from having to use a wheelchair back when I first began stumbling and falling. I vividly remember it taking me like fifteen minutes to walk into church using a walker. I never looked behind me as I was creeping along, but I now picture myself leading a long line of very patient churchgoers walking at my same tortoise-like pace. I’m sure they were asking themselves, why doesn’t this guy just use a wheelchair? (Mary was probably asking herself the same question as she walked alongside me).
I’d like to claim that my refusal to use a wheelchair for so long was me fighting against the ravages of this horrible disease. That was mostly true, but it was partly old-fashioned pride. There was a part of me, the worst part of me, that simply didn’t want to be viewed as a crippled person. (Like I was fooling anyone). I know that sounds shallow, but it’s the truth.
If you ever want to test your level of humility, go shopping at the mall in a wheelchair.
I was reading the Bible every day, going to church and doing all the things “good Christians” do; I had been a follower of Christ for many years, yet I still wasn’t truly humble. I now know that being humble, just like being proud, is a choice. Choosing to be humble is a choice that even the healthiest and wealthiest can and should make. Difficult trials force us to choose one or the other. (If humility wasn’t a choice, God wouldn’t have told us to “humble ourselves” as He does throughout the Bible).
“Every Christian has a choice between being humble or being humbled” – Charles Spurgeon
Trials chip away at our pride like a sculptor chiseling away at a rough block of limestone. The difference between a block of stone and a human being is that the block of stone doesn’t have a freewill. The silent choices we make, especially when going through a difficult time, play a big part in determining what the Sculptor will make us into.
Fighting against the process of being humbled is a miserable way to live, especially when you’re dying.
I’m not saying that we should give in to the trial, that’s the last thing we should do. I refuse to allow ALS to take me down without a fight. As of last week I’ve been battling this monster for 20 years and, even though this disease has knocked me down (literally and figuratively) more times than I can count, I still choose not to give up.
Regardless of what our trial might be, we cannot fight alone. We need the help of others and we especially need God’s assistance. Whether it’s for salvation or coping with life’s many difficulties, God’s assistance comes in the form of His grace (favor, goodwill, loving-kindness…).
The Bible tells us that God (only) gives His grace to the humble (James 4:6). It’s not that He doesn’t want to give grace to the proud, it’s just that the proud refuse His grace. Pride is by definition self-reliance, an illusion that keeps God and others at a comfortable distance.
Whether or not you’re going through a difficult time right now, humble yourself and your humility combined with God’s grace, will help you in good times and bad.