James left the church a convicted man. The preacher’s sermon had ripped into his holier-than-thou heart and exposed the stench of his arrogance. At the time, he’d looked around, certain that everyone in the sanctuary had seen the blackness spewing out of him, but anyone he made eye contact with only smiled warmly at him. The whole place had been filled with love and acceptance and he’d been shaken to the core, moved to change his life.
He took a route home from the church that would take him by the mall. He pulled into the parking lot, found a curb spot for his Cadi, and headed into the mall, direct to the Christian store. He went straight to the pimply-faced, on-fire-for-God lad behind the counter and asked where he might find these certain stones he’d heard about that had inspiring words printed on them. “You know…like Love, Faith, Hope, Humility…I’m especially interested in Humility,” James said.
“Oh me, too!” the pimply lad exclaimed, raising his hands to the ceiling. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you!” he shouted. Then he looked back at James and said enthusiastically, “Yes, sir! Follow me, right over here!”
James followed. He fidgeted while the pimply lad poured over the rack of boxes and packages of inspiration stones while humming, “Our God is an Awesome God,” and he wondered what could be taking so all-fired long.
Just as James was about to ask what the problem was, the lad shouted victoriously, “Aha!” as he whipped around with a bag of stones in each hand. “Out of all the brands on this whole rack, only two included stones that have ‘Humility’ on them.” The lad chuckled and said, “I guess that says something, eh?”
James just raised an eyebrow.
The lad cleared his throat, “Alrighty then! Two choices here, sir, the earthen colors or the neon.”
James chuckled at the irony of a neon Humility stone. He patted the lad on the shoulder and said, “I’ll take the earthen ones.”
He paid for the stones and headed home with the Awesome God tune stuck in his head. It’d been a long time since he’d felt this moved. The reviving and building up of chapter 11 corporations that he’d dedicated his life to required a combination of high-end intelligence, determination, and brutality. He’d become a blood-thirsty junkyard dog, a pitiful failure in relationships, and this morning at church, that view of himself had hit him full on. Now, he was looking forward to building a better James.
He ripped open the package of stones and dumped them on top of his dresser. He sorted through them until he found the Humility stone. The instant he picked it up he felt heat from it. It warmed his fingertips and became hot. Just as he was about to drop it, he felt the heat leave his fingertips, spread up his arms and into his chest, filling his heart with the glow of peace, joy, and hope. He felt instantly changed, euphoric, holy, and oh so grateful that God had blessed him in this way.
The next day, James awoke, his head a mix-master of business ideas as usual. Then he remembered church and the sermon and the Humility stone and that he was a changed man. Funny, he didn’t feel as enthusiastic about that as he had yesterday. Still, when he went to his dresser to get his wallet and change, he grabbed the Humility stone. He looked at it a moment. Nothing. He shrugged. Then he felt it, the heat, the euphoria, the holiness, the gratefulness to have found this amazing stone. He smiled and stashed it in his pocket.
From that moment on, the Humility stone got radically put to the test daily: on the way to the office, fighting the traffic, fighting the expletives; at his building, dealing with the morons in the elevator, dealing with stifling his derogatory comments; passing the obnoxious admin on the way into his office, passing up the urge to belittle her; attending ridiculous meetings, attending to and checking his anger. Each time he felt the old mechanisms of arrogance beginning to churn, he reached in his pocket and fingered the smooth, warm stone. Peace would always pervade. Gratefulness would always follow.
Months went by like this. He’d wake up busy-headed, remember he was a changed man, hit the shower, dress, grab the Humility stone off his dresser and head to the office. The people he worked with and dealt with on a daily basis had noticed the positive change in him and some had even dared to mention it. It was good to get that confirmation, but the biggest boon was less resistance in getting what he wanted. He understood now more than ever that people just want to be recognized and heard, and if he just shot a couple of genuine looks and a few agreeable, acknowledging words in their direction, he could leave the steam-roller at home.
The only thing that gave him cause for concern at this point was the upcoming annual meeting of stockholders. That would be the biggest test of his newfound humility. Ridiculous agenda items were scheduled, ones he didn’t believe in, and one proposal, in particular that would require his company to reimburse stockholders of expenses incurred in certain situations. On top of that offense, the Chairman was a real asshole. But the Humility stone hadn’t failed him thus far, so why should it then? He put his hand in his pocket and got a fix. Thank God!
On the day of the stockholders’ meeting he awoke as usual and, he was pleased to note, with no sign of agitation or even concern regarding the meeting. He hit the ground running, went through the drill, grabbed the stone, and out the door he went. He showed up at the 9am affair confident, in good spirits, and of course, humble. All was going swimmingly. He’d successfully checked the barrage of affronts he’d had good cause and plenty of opportunity to unleash, until the Chairman singled him out and cornered him on a proxy issue.
As proud of himself as he was to not have needed the stone prior to this moment, James knew one more split second without it could blow everything he’d worked for in this meeting and potentially cost his company funds that would trickle down to affecting execute perks. He slid his hand into his pocket for the Humility stone. Something was wrong! The stone felt different.
The Chairman was growing impatient and queried him for an answer a second time. He pulled the stone out of his pocket and looked at it. Gratitude. Shit! He’d grabbed the wrong damned stone. “Well, bloody hell!” he thought. He got cold, felt the power of humility drain out of him and he let the Chairman have it with both barrels.
1. The idea for this piece came from listening to Diane Rehm interview Maya Angelou regarding her newest book, “Letter to My Daughter.” When asked by Rehm what the most important life lesson she’s learned is, Angelou says, “I believe the most important lesson any human being, I, can learn and practice, is an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude. To never be modest. Modesty is a learned affectation. It’s stuck on like decals. And as soon as life slams the modest person against the wall, that modesty will drop off and you’ll see the real person come out.”
2. I got carried away with Awesome God youtube offerings, so the wide spectrum is listed below solely for posterity:
Live traditional version of the chorus by the one and only Michael W. Smith
Home recording, violin and piano – priceless http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRqWccM9J-Q
Hip hop going on to Texas boy, Kirk Franklin’s, version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb32yHS8MBQ&feature=related
The good old Rich Mullins full version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrLH6kImNd8
Broken stained glass window from http://k41.pbase.com/u40/fredarmitage/large/39366086.brokenstainedglass.jpg
Inspiration stones from http://www.thevelvetbow.com/zen-cart/images/The%20Velve%20Bowt009_edited_440.jpg
Click here for more on prompt “#138 – Grateful” from other Sunday Scribblings participants.