A little over ten years ago, the world of Christmas decorations was forever changed. I remember Tim coming home one day, right around this time of year, asking me if I saw the snowman.
“What snowman?” I replied. “There isn’t even any snow!”
“No!” he said. “The people up the street have a giant blow-up snowman in their front yard!”
I didn’t believe him until I saw it for myself.
Having both spent our childhoods in Vermont where there is always snow covering the ground in the winter and almost always a “white” Christmas, we decided this was the most obnoxious thing ever and we were so embarrassed that it was in our neighborhood!
Little did we know that this was only the beginning. Now not only do we have snowmen, but every other character imaginable – sometimes all on the same yard! In some places it’s even become a competition to see who can put the most blow-ups in one small space. No offense to the inflatables or their owners (my kids love them!) but it really cracks me up!
Buried under all the lights and decorations and holiday hoopla is a quiet remembrance, at this time of year, that God humbled Himself and became a man. And though, as the rightful King of the universe, He could have paraded in – in all of His glory and might and taken His throne – He did just the opposite. He came as a vulnerable, helpless baby and, as He walked this earth, He personified humility. Philippians 2:7-8 says, “He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
One of the things I just can’t get over about Jesus is his response to the criticism, questioning, disagreement, and even insults that were hurled at Him. Even in the face of flat-out mocking and physical torture, He never argued or complained, lashed out or fought back, ran away or gave up. He remained completely at peace – because, as John 13:3 states, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.”
Jesus pointed out to His disciples time after time that they should follow His example. He knew that as they carried His Name and the good news of grace, they would face the same criticisms, disagreements, and insults He faced. He also knew that, unlike Him, they would make mistakes, have weaknesses, and have to respond to the shots and attacks of others who would try to declare them unworthy. And He wanted them to follow His example of humility in the face of those things.
The problem with being a human being with a human nature, though, is that our reaction to criticism, disagreement, or insult is usually the opposite of humble.
A few weeks ago, we were headed, as a family, to our friends’ house for dinner. I was driving and needed to pull over into the right lane to make a turn. I put on my turn signal, turned my head to see if the lane was clear, and began to move over. “WOAH! MANDY! STOP!” (If you think my husband’s voice is loud in normal conversation, you should hear it when he yells!) A small black car was there in the right lane, and I had almost merged directly into them.
I’m a good driver. I’m a safe driver. I don’t make mistakes like that. And I certainly don’t like to be told I might have made a mistake like that. And so, I did what any mature, responsible adult would do – I shut my mouth and gave Tim the silent treatment for approximately five minutes as I remained in the left lane, refusing to pull over. We missed our turn by miles and ended up going way out of our way, but I didn’t care because I was mad. My husband had potentially saved us injuries, a huge hassle, and thousands of dollars in damages – but instead of thanking him, I threw a toddler-sized temper tantrum because my “I’m a good driver” pride had been wounded.
In the New Testament, the word for the opposite of humble – arrogant – literally means “to blow up”. It means to have a “puffed up” view of yourself – placing greater weight, greater importance, and greater rights on your “self” than is actually the case.
A couple days after the initial sighting of our first neighborhood Christmas inflatable, I drove past that house again and during the day and noticed it was gone. Phew, I thought. They must have finally come to their senses and realized how ridiculous this was!
But then I looked closer and realized that it was still there – it was just lying deflated on the ground! When I told Tim, we wondered if a disgruntled neighbor had pulled out their old Red Ryder BB Gun and taken a few shots. Of course, we didn’t know at the time that these new festive lawn ornaments were connected to a power supply and able to be deflated and re-inflated at the touch of a button, so we had a great laugh – until we saw it back up again the following night!
When it comes down to it, the true test of humility in our lives – the true test of how “blown up” we really are – is not in how much we judge others or how often we act like we’re better than everyone else. The true test of humility is found in what deflates us.
When criticism, disagreement, or insult is aimed (or perceived to be aimed) at me, how do I react? Do I melt down into a toddler-sized temper tantrum or giant puddle of tears? Do I burst with defensiveness, trying to justify myself? Do I feel the need to vent all my “puffed up” air onto the people around me or find someone to say nice things that will reinflate my ego?
I know for me it always happens to hit directly at an area where I either thought I was doing really well – or where I knew I was struggling and thought I was doing a good job hiding it. Either way, those pokes and prods are only effective at deflating me because I’ve allowed myself to be “blown up”.
But if I instead remember who I came from – that although I am “dust” (Psalm 103:14), I was created and very purposely formed by God (Psalm 139:14). My strengths were not chosen by me and my weaknesses were chosen by Him to bring Him glory (2 Corinthians 12:9). As a believer in Christ, my sin has been forgiven and I am no longer under any condemnation for it (Romans 8:1).
And if I remember who I will return to – that all of this is but a blip on the radar of eternity, and, regardless of what anyone thinks of me – it’s what they think of Him that really matters. Maybe this perceived “attack” is actually God using me to draw someone else closer to Himself.
If instead of being blown up with the fluff of my “self”, I am filled with a solid understanding of who I am in Christ, there won’t be anything to deflate!