2010. What a year. Two thousand ten was a year of intense joy, a year of intense sorrows, a year of hope, a year of despair, a year of love, a year of death. In my personal walk in the faith, it was a humbling year.
Wiser men have said that God will break you some day. I did not truly understand why I needed breaking, and did not believe it would happen to me. I thought I would just willingly submit, or perhaps plan away all contingencies, manage away the suffering. But “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). I could not truly submit. And despite a general intellectual understanding of reformed theology, that knowledge remained in the realm of the intellect. I acted as if I were in control of the situation, my emotions, or my behavior. And if one were to look at my life from when I was a kid till maybe the beginning of last year, one could say that “my control” has gotten me pretty far. (Of course, one cannot really say this in view of the sovereignty of God, but this is how somebody could perceive my life.)
God thus began to awaken me from this illusion of self-sufficiency. If the Christian life were a string of lessons, then the lesson of Humility began in 2010.
I write this post not to boast about humility. Often, I hear that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less. There is certain truth in that statement, that if you’re thinking less of yourself, you’re still thinking about yourself, and the premise is that thinking about yourself is not being humble. I don’t subscribe fully to such a view as Jesus himself recognized his own humility (Matthew 11:29) and so did Paul (Acts 20:19). The primary concern of sinners coming to Jesus was healing from their own physical, and therefore spiritual, sickness, which requires a dose of self-awareness.
Further, there is value in the knowledge that one is not self-sufficient. And if arrogance is being undermined by the revealing of holes in ourselves, then perhaps God is also working to make our hearts more susceptible to filling those holes with God. Solomon recognized this in Ecclesiastes, that though he had all the wealth and women, he realized that “all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:8), and “the conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Perhaps it’s because of this recognition of inadequacy and humility that Jesus preached to the poor and the needy. Perhaps that’s why the kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom where the last shall be first (Matthew 19:30). God’s power is made perfect in the weakness of the one who has faith (2 Corinthians 12:9).
So my entry here is not only an acknowledgment of God’s work in removing sources of pride in my life through particular events, but of His centering my sight upon him, that I may not fear the judgment of man as much as I used to. I can boast about my weaknesses, my sins, and my imperfections. I can rejoice not only because Jesus nullified the demands of the law (Colossians 2:14) on my behalf, but despite these things, He loves me.
I was in a relationship from the end of January to the end of April (2010). In the short three months that it lasted, my eyes were opened to the vast darkness within my heart. I was made aware of my own selfishness, my own fickleness, my weakness of character, and my immaturity. I’m sure there are many more holes I can point to, but it suffices to say that I did not understand myself as I had thought I did. I realized how ugly things were inside, even as I on the outside tried to build up an image of maturity, of faith, of strength.
I regret many of the things I said, in particular, the promises that I could not keep. I regret not having been entirely open in my communication with the person. I regret going into the relationship solo, without the actual consultation of wisdom while feigning the appearance of it. I regret the things I did, of the unduly pressure that I imposed on her.
By the end of three months, I realized I was most definitely not ready for a relationship. I was not ready to sacrifice. I was not ready to lead. When I was younger, I thought my first relationship would be my last. I had to give up clinging onto my childhood ideals and face reality; I had to come to the heartbreaking realization that my feelings were not under my control; that the direction of life was not under my jurisdiction; that I am human after all.
Every week, someone at our church leads congregational prayer. I was up to pray one day. Now I had done it several times before, and my approach had always been to write down the week prior what I was going to pray, and to fill the prayer with Biblical truths. And I think that is good. Prayer is not to be treated casually, nor do we want to pray unbiblically. So preparation is good. But somewhere along the way, a subtle smugness settled in. I began to view congregational prayer as a way to set myself above my brothers and sisters. I began to use it as a way to glorify my own diligence and “Spirit-filledness,” rather than coming before God in humility.
But in this particular instance, as I had prepared late into the night before (and as so often happens when alertness and sharpness are compromised), I didn’t have a chance to read over my entire prayer before going onstage. I read it halfway through during the announcements and thought, “It’ll be fine. God must have watched over me as I was preparing.”
I went up to the stage, and started praying. As the prayer was nearing the end, I was suddenly caught off guard by an incomplete sentence, an incomplete thought. In an split-second decision, I continued the flow rather than stopping and considering what I might have meant, and completing it. So I kept reading from the paper in my hand as if nothing happened. But in my heart, I was thoroughly embarrassed. How could I let myself do this? I must work more diligently next time! But I began to realize that God was humbling me. Who am I to think that I could be self-reliant? He would discipline me for trying to glorify myself.
Toward the end of 2010, I was scheduled to demonstrate a proof of concept to an industrial sponsor. My advisor had been pushing me and another student to get on the task of building the sensors quickly. Of course, we did not realize the urgency of this request. We thought we had time. In the week prior, we had one of the sensors done. We just needed a few more. But during the week, one of the steps in our assembly process failed twice, so instead of having three, I only had one the night before the deadline.
My advisor wanted more. I hadn’t purchased my plane ticket yet. I was operating on very little sleep. I was able to get an extension from the project manager at the company, but time was tight. I pulled out all the proverbial stops and tried almost every assembly method possible, staying up two more nights in a row (with minimal sleep). But the assembly process was relatively time-consuming, and the sensors were fragile. Of the several that I tried to assemble, almost all of them broke in some way or another. Only one worked, but only barely. Even the very first working sensor we had had stopped working. My panic led to despair as I looked at it under the microscope and saw that there was irrepairable damage.
My advisor had been asking me for regular updates, and it was with a sinking feeling that I wrote him all the problems I encountered. At some point, I also called my parents in frustration and despair. Yes, this is the Ph. D. that they wanted me to get (not that I don’t want it, but in my sinful heart, it was easier to redirect blame). I told them I might lose funding. I told them I may very well have to drop out. I am very grateful that at that moment that my parents understood the difficult nature of research. They told me that if I tried my best, that’s all that could be done. I almost wanted to get injured and be sent to the hospital, so that all my problems would go away.
It was undeniably one of the most difficult times in my research career as a Ph. D. student, and easily the most frustrating.
I kept working through the night. By morning, there was only that one sensor that barely worked that I could demo. It was an embarrassment, not only to me, but to my advisor. I gave the project manager a call, and we agreed to fly me up there anyway with what I had and with some parts so I could assemble a few up there. The rest of the day was spent packing and I flew out that evening.
By the grace of God, I did not leave anything behind. By the grace of God, I did not miss the plane. By the grace of God, I did not get stopped at security. By the grace of God, I was treated very well when I got there, and it was actually slightly amusing that I had some senior engineers wait on me as I assembled and tested a sensor. By the grace of God, I survived the next day. And by the grace of God, I am still a student.
I was told after the demo that I did well. But I knew the results were nothing to be impressed about. To be weak in one’s profession is laughable. One could argue that it’s the unpredictable nature of research, but at least I could have done a better job planning and managing my research. I had absolutely nothing to be proud of. But God was gracious.
In retrospect, perhaps this is what we’re like as we progress toward the Kingdom of God. In the end, our labor may not bear much fruit. But if we persevere in faith, we await our Master’s words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Our church had been going through a rough time, and at the turn of the year, certain circumstances culminated in an unpleasant end to 2010. One of the products that emerged from this trial was a greater questioning of the church. And out of that came the rediscovery of what the gospel is and what it signifies, through the airing of the concerns of a brother younger in the faith, to whom I was supposedly ministering.
When you are in a ministry a long time, and you become immersed in the things that need to be done, and you receive a title that gives certain authority to enable you, it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing. I lost sight, anyway, of the more important things, such as mercy and justice. The gospel, instead of glory, became a banner that’s hardly looked at.
And when a much younger person comes to you bringing up concerns about the faith that you always assumed you had, it is utterly humbling. It is humbling to a senior, to someone who’s been in the faith longer, to someone who has a leadership position, to be instructed by someone younger and assumed to be more immature.
But God’s kingdom is an equal kingdom. We were all sinners in the sight of God, but through faith, we are now all sons of God (Galatians 3:26). That’s why Paul encouraged Timothy not to let anyone despise him for his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). And as much as I want people who are older than I am to hear what I have to say, I was reminded also to listen to people who are younger than I am, even in faith. For God has given each one according to the measure of faith that He has assigned, so we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but to think with sober judgment (Romans 12:3).
God is continuing to humble me. The aforementioned are but a few major events that have challenged my perception of my own strength, and affirmed God’s grace in the presence of suffering. I write about them as a testament to His love and goodness. I also write about them so that the reader may examine himself and learn something from my mistakes. In the end, I hope that it leads to a greater worship of the God of the Lord Jesus Christ.