I am not a very nice person. It’s only taken me some forty-something years to admit this outright! Perhaps, if you are reading this and know me, you are thinking, “Like, duh! No surprise there!” On the other hand, if you are thinking: “Okay girl, enough with the false modesty!” let me assure you, this is not some suave attempt to self-promote and do a bait and switch. It’s the truth. At the same time, I will admit that with every fiber of my being I aim to live contrary to this truth–to be intentional in becoming a person who radiates a beauty that comes from a cultivated spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
But back to the “not nice” part, here is a case in point. I was about 9 years old (Yes, I said 9). It was Friday spelling test, and we had exchanged our papers to be graded by peers. I was in high spirits! I felt confident that I would get all 10 words correct and be allowed the coveted honor of standing tall and proud (hopefully, I would be the only person), when the teacher announced: “Those who got all 10 correct, please stand!” Can you imagine, my shock and horror, when I got back my paper and saw that I had 9 correct! What!! I scrutinized my script. The last word was “razor”, and between the letters “o” and “r” was an “i” that I had NOT put. I was indignant! I pleaded the case with my teacher with as much vigor as a lawyer pleading over a life and death sentence. My teacher compared the writing and the color of the ink and determined that a crime had been committed by my friend. Ah ha! I reveled in my vindication, and I rejoiced in her demise. But wait, there is more. For many years later, whenever, I saw my friend, the first thing that would come to my mind was: “Hmmph, she put an “i” in my razor!!” For sure, this is a crude example, but there you have it–pride, feelings of superiority, lack of forgiveness, resentment, ill-will etc. etc.
Now here I am an adult, and I recognize that it is still all too easy for feelings like these to surface in response to a myriad of life experiences–injustices real or perceived. How much harder it is for us to cultivate the response of love in the face of injustice, forgiveness in response to wrongs, and humility instead of selfish pride. In reflecting on the difference between that 9 year old girl then and the woman I am now, I do not want that difference to be merely that I have learned to hide these feelings better–to present to those who know me a false view of my inner reality. So what’s a girl to do? Well, here’s my 1,2, 3 approach.
- Admit Your Poverty of Spirit. Coming to this point in my life journey has been remarkably liberating. Empowering even! I can’t even begin to tell you the many times I would begin my analysis of a difficult interaction with a colleague or friend from the flawed perspective that “I don’t understand it. I am a nice person!” “Oh, PllleaeSEE!”The spiritual foundations of my faith tells me that none of us is good or has a good heart. It is only in recognizing my poverty of spirit that I am in a position to begin the process of countering this reality. I am no longer surprised or taken off guard when negative feelings surface and my ugly spirit rears its head. I expect it.
- Speak to Your Poverty of Spirit. Yes, I speak to myself! When an event happens that triggers negative feelings, I face these feelings head on. I examine my feelings and the weight of the circumstances surrounding them to determine the amount of effort and work it will need to counteract it. Let me illustrate this using money (Hey, I’m married to a CPA. It rubs off). So I say to myself, “Girl you’ve only got two pennies of good vibes about this. However, you need that whole dollar of good vibes to to be in line with the spirit that you desire.” So I say: “Wow. This is gonna be a BIG one! Girl, you’re gonna have to dig deep. No pain no gain!” Then I prepare myself to do battle with the cry, “Bring it on!”
- Act from that Poverty of Spirit. I now think of these experiences as opportunities for spirit growth. So what do I do? I begin by spending the two pennies of good vibes as an investment into the rich spirit I desire. For too long, I had operated under the misconception that I needed to feel better to act differently. This misconception is crippling. If we fail to act against our base instinct, we run the risk of having that unwanted spirit deplete our nobler aspirations– we lose the few pennies of good vibes that we have. So lean into your spiritual oasis! Lean into your God, and ask Him for the strength to act from that place of scarcity. Here’s the remarkable thing! First, I do believe that acting out of our poverty of spirit is a quality that God values. Jesus said of the poor widow that when she dropped her two mites into the offering plate she had given more than all the others, because she had given “out of her poverty”. Secondly, when we invest our little in living more intentionally towards a nobler, better way of walking, those pennies grow exponentially–we begin to develop a richness of spirit.
An experience I had several years ago while teaching at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College in the British Virgin Islands made me a believer in this system. One morning as I was explaining an important concept, one young woman came in very late and was talking loudly on her phone. She proceeded to call out loudly “Good morning”, and was disruptively heading to the front of the class. I stopped her and asked her to quietly slip into the back. Well! She did not appreciate that! So she proceeded to curse me out, then she turned around (still cursing), walked out the door and slammed it loudly behind her. Boy! I was livid! I could hardly wait for my one on one tutoring session with her later that week. Oh it was ON! it was ON like popcorn with a whole “lotta” butter! However, while explaining what had happened to a wise and dear friend, he challenged me to treat her with the same level of care and concern as I would have if nothing had happened. Like, “Huh??”
Well, a couple of afternoons later when she walked into my office, I looked up at her with a broad smile on my face and said. “Hi, *Beverly. I am so glad you could make it. Now how can I help you, today?” It was not until the end of the session that we talked about what had happened. She was still belligerent. But guess what? As I had gritted my teeth and dug deep throughout the session to love her, my attitude towards her had changed. She admitted that she had felt embarrassed when I stopped her. To which I could have responded and defended my actions with a number of reasons. Instead, I smiled and said, “It’s okay. I am here to help you in whatever way I can. These things happen.” Fast forward, several years later, on a visit to British Virgin Islands, I saw Beverly at the airport. She greeted me with an exuberant hug and we chatted like old friends. How different this encounter might have been had I chosen to act differently.
The secret to cultivating a beautiful spirit is rooted in an acceptance of our poverty of spirit coupled with a fierce determination to act contrary to these feelings with each arduous battle. As difficult as it was that day to repay Beverly’s disrespect with respect and to place her interest above my own, when she left the office that day I felt like I was on a high that money could not buy.
That is the high that I continue to chase after.
* Not her real name.