I have been mentally composing a letter for you, little Lili, seeing as how you're now nearly five months old and one for you, Tito, now that you're a full-bore two year old. There's lots to say to each of you, but this is something I hope you both take to heart because it's one of the most important lessons you can ever learn in life. I think it's fair to say that if this sinks down in your hearts, if it really takes root, life will go as smoothly as it possibly can for someone walking upon this fallen earth. And that's not just me saying this; I think God says it, too.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Lili, your given name is Elizabeth, one of the meanings of which is "God's Promise." One of my favorite promises from God, and the one that I've been long meaning to write on your name badge above your crib, is the beautiful and sweeping promise of God's presence and protection to the exiles (people who felt like God had abandoned them) in Isaiah 43. The whole chapter is lovely, but here's a taste of verses 1-3:
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
When you are feeling alone, when life's circumstances threaten to overwhelm, what a better thing to know than that the God who made you and who died to redeem you is with you and offering you the most remarkable protection.
But you know when else you will need to cling to God's promises? When you feel on top of the world. When the tsunami waves are not rushing toward you, or when you don't even feel waters of a slow flood beginning to lap at your feet. The Israelites were in exile, needing these Isaiah promises because they hadn't taken to heart God's earlier promises, the "Do this and you will live" sorts of promises.
At one of those high points, when everything seemed to be going their way (in fact, it was during the temple dedication), God made a prediction and a promise: You guys are going to forget me, you're going to go your own way and fail miserably, and I'm going to "Shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, [and] command the locust to devour the land, [and] send pestilence among my people" (2 Chron 7:13)... that's the prediction, now here's the promise: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chron 7:14).
So here's the point that I've been slowly getting to: be humble. Be humble, be humble, be humble. Humble yourself before God when you've sinned, of course. Humble yourself before others when your actions have hurt them (this is hard, I know; Titus, you demonstrated this last night when you accidentally spilled my wine glass and it took you 20 minutes, two time-outs and lots of hugs and promises of forgiveness for you to manage the words "I'm sorry," even when we assured you we knew it was an accident).
But be humble preventatively, too. Proverbs 3:5-8 doesn't use the word humble, but the idea is certainly there, and look at the promises in store:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.
Straight paths, healing, refreshment (or nourishment, in the NIV). Who wouldn't want these things? But here's the trick, and the father giving his son advice all through the book of Proverbs knew this: it is so easy and alluring to be wise in your own eyes.
Wise in your own eyes says I know what's best for me. Wise in your own eyes looks like thinking your parents don't know best, that their advice is foolish and old-fashioned and boring and irrelevant (I say this as an experienced daughter and not as a mother). That the advice-givers don't know your real situation, or that they are patronizing you and don't realize your true capabilities. Wise in your own eyes looks like shirking an established plan of action because it got tiresome or you didn't see a payoff coming in the near future. Wise in your own eyes means not surrounding yourself with people who will give you solid advice, even advice that you don't want to hear. Wise in your own eyes means hesitating to seek help because you think you can figure things out or you don't want others to stick their noses into your business.
This will apply to your sexual purity: it is nothing short of pride that says, "I think God's design for sex inside of marriage is meaningless; I will do what I want." This will apply to being honest and hard-working at school and work. This will apply to your future marriages. Oh, how I long for both of you to marry humble spouses. One of the greatest strengths of your dad's and my marriage is we have very few secrets from our friends, family and trusted counselors; your dad is so quick to distrust himself and seek help from others when we even begin to get stuck, we rarely have opportunity to become entrenched in a destructive pattern. (Don't miss, though, that this was a hard-won trait that did not come naturally or easily to him, but at great cost in his previous marriage.)
This is not a dissertation on humility. No doubt, many books by great scholars and by godly people have been written on the subject. This is about a promise, from me to you, and from God to all of us: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" and "Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you" (James 4:6, 10). The context in this James passage is about listening to God's counsel over the world's counsel (and your own heart's counsel); it is about submitting your desires to God's desires, trusting that submission to God is the true path to joy, not to mention prosperity (read all of James 4 for more).
Competition, self-protection and self-interested pursuit of satisfaction come naturally to us all. Submit yourselves to God; resist these subtle ploys of the devil and he will flee from you. And God will give you grace, grace, and more grace, to pursue obedience and humility. I promise it will be worth it, and so does God.
We are in this together.