By Kay Etheredge
It seems all humans have pride, but some struggle with it more than others. The moment we think we don’t struggle with pride, we have pride in not being prideful. Once I heard Barbara Barker speak at a ladies’ retreat. She said she didn’t go to malls. One reason she didn’t is because she would see all the lovely things to buy and covet and she didn’t want to covet. The other reason was she would resist the urge to buy anything and then she would feel like she was better than all the other people who didn’t resist and then she became prideful. It was an analogy I’ve never forgotten.
In a church we pastored in another state we had the opportunity to be in many homes. Two of the people whose homes we visited took great pride in their cleanliness. One couple had a rocking chair and when we sat in the chair and got up, she went behind us and re-aligned the rockers with the indentations they had made on the carpet. It was not a home we enjoyed visiting for that very reason. It was so perfect that we couldn’t feel at home. Once we went to eat at a restaurant with another couple and they said they couldn’t finish their meal because the windows of the restaurant were dirty. If the windows were dirty, the kitchen must be too, and they were sickened. Their lawn was impeccable and their house was impeccable but this man got up during supper at their home when we were there one night and tore the head off a sparrow that had gotten in a feeder outside the window. Give me dirty windows anytime. We didn’t enjoy being in their home either.
The couple that had us over the most in that church was a couple who lived in a double-wide and spent most of their time outside. They had farm animals that had to be tended and milked and they just didn’t have the care to spend overt amounts of time cleaning their home. We ate more meals around their table and had more laughter in their home than any other while we were there. It was the kind of home that you could pull your shoes off and let your hair down and there was real conversation and real problems were discussed around that table. When the meal was over we crowded in her tiny kitchen around her sink and we shared laughter while we helped with the dishes. I can still remember the way the crickets sounded through the screen by her sink, and the way the stars looked, brightened because of the absence of city lights in the Kansas countryside as we drove home after our times there. She was the one I called when our rooster escaped our little chicken coop at the parsonage and we laughed uproariously as we chased that rooster around our yard. She fell over a fence at 57 and it should have killed her but she got up and we caught that rooster. She was the first person at the parsonage when word came that my dad had passed away back in Alabama. She walked right in and went to grab the clothes out of the dryer when the buzzer sounded and I was too numb to move. She was real and because of that I didn’t mind her folding our clothes and helping us throw things in a suitcase to head home for one of the hardest times in our lives. She never noticed the dust bunnies that I’m sure were in the corner or that the windows weren’t sparkling.
The men at Brother Bryan Mission are refreshing because they are real. They are humble. They aren’t living in pretense because when you are in a men’s rescue mission there’s not a lot you can hide behind. The conversations I have had the privilege to have there have been deep and meaningful. There are hopes and dreams thrown on the table and opportunities to listen…to encourage and look into eyes and souls and listen. Most of our churches have little time for that kind of conversation. Our services are mapped out and there is time to shake hands and comment on the weather and “how are you?” and the answer is most always “fine”, even when we are so very far from “fine”.
If we add anything to grace it is not grace. Anything we take pride in diminishes the need for grace. Anything we take pride in becomes self-reliance. God never wants us to rely on ourselves.
As I played the piano for a wedding Sunday I was overcome with my own ineptness at the piano. For a moment I thought of how foolish it was for ME to be sitting on that bench in front of these people. For a moment I fought running from the sanctuary in shame. God swept away those thoughts and I had one of the most intimate moments with him at that piano that I’ve had in a long time. When I am in the kitchen or planning menus and food amounts I am in my element. But that becomes its own form of pride. When I am at the piano I am uncomfortable, so I am totally reliant on Him. I don’t like to be seen and noticed and I don’t want to wave my mistakes and sour notes in front of a sanctuary full of strangers. But that gives me the opportunity to be genuinely bankrupt and God can then work by teaching me to rely totally on Him…to press close into Him and welcome His embrace.
I am encouraged by how God is working in the lives of the men at Brother Bryan. There are baby steps to be sure , but still forward moving progress. There is little self-reliance, and there is a freshness in the eyes and conversations like a fragrant spring breeze. It is the kind of place where you can feel at home, and talk of the Savior is easy and pure. It is a place where mistakes don’t have to be hidden and laughter is heard.
The windows could be spotless there. Or maybe not. I couldn’t tell you, because I’ve honestly never noticed.