Condescending: Seriously Bad & Gloriously Good

Baby feet in cloth

Ooh. That sounded condescending, I confessed seconds after using the phrase, “So cute.” The topic? Christmas decor.

What does condescending mean? asked the 13 year-old son.

Like you’re God’s gift to the people you’re with. I paused, As if they’re beneath you and you’re so great to get on their level and give them the time of day.

Oh, he said.

I didn’t tell him the Latin part.  

Condescending Is Seriously Bad

I can be condescending. The bad way—the smug, snooty, Seriously?! way. The, How could you not know that? way. I don’t say it. But sometimes I think it. And thinking it even once is too often for a child of God.

But I begin to think how good it is of me to “go low” and help someone “up.” Even with “so cute” Christmas decor. That thought betrays my pride. For humility is not thinking less of yourself, Lewis said, it’s thinking of yourself less. Jesus said, Don’t let your left hand know.

Bad condescending is bad not only because it’s proud, but because it lacks sympathy. I condescend the bad way when I feel like the people I’m “gracing” with my insight or presence should know better or know more or fear less and trust more.

I’m not alone in that mire. Even the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon confided,

There are distresses to which God’s people are subject with which their fellow Christians can have but little sympathy. Some Christians whom I have tried at times to comfort, have had fears so silly that I have felt more inclined to laugh at them than to console them.

I must have more sympathy to condescend the good way. Because there is a good way.

Aunt Merriam says to condescend means 1: to assume an air of superiority, 2: to descend to a less formal or dignified level; to waive the privileges of rank. Number one is bad. Number two is the good.

Now here’s that Latin part. Condescendere comes from the Latin words con- which means ‘with’ or ‘together’ + descendere which means to ‘descend’ or ‘come down.’

A question for us: When we descend to be with another, is it with love and sympathy or pride and superiority?

Condescending Is Gloriously Good

The God way is the good way. Philippians 2, verses 6 and 7 explains the “good” condescension so beautifully,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Do you see it? Almighty God condescends to us, not by reminding us of our smallness and neediness, but rather by stooping down to make us great. The All Wise God who does great things beyond our understanding speaks to the creature in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, the Word made flesh. The Holy God in whom there is no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

Have you ever sung that old hymn “Come, Christians, Join To Sing,” by C.H. Bateman? Here’s the second verse:

Come, lift your hearts on high,
Alleluia! Amen!
let praises fill the sky;
Alleluia! Amen!
he is our Guide and Friend;
to us he’ll condescend;
his love shall never end.
Alleluia! Amen!

Did you see it again? God’s condescending love is worthy of our praise. God’s is gloriously good condescension; his condescension is free from pride and full of sympathy. Spurgeon—and I— know that even when we are unsympathetic and condescend in the bad way, our God in not like us. Thank God he is not like us.

Now our God is so tender and gentle that He even condescends to deal with our silly fears…His gentleness shows itself in His being afflicted in our afflictions and entering into our sorrows, and putting Himself side by side with us in the battle of spiritual life.

C.H. Spurgeon, Divine Gentleness ackknowledged

Condescension like that makes me want to worship Christ the newborn King. Oh yes our God condescends.

And not just to the whole wide world, but to sinful, needy you and sinful, needy me.

God Condescends

Fourteen years ago last month, I made a once in a lifetime announcement. With Jim’s family gathered around to say grace before Thanksgiving dinner, I asked if I could recite a Psalm.

It was Psalm 13, a condescension Psalm.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He settles the barren woman in her home
    as a joyful mother of children.


The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stooped to look down upon me. He was mindful of my humble estate. After ten years of barrenness, he remembered me. He came down with me and lifted me from the heap.

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianiy

But our Lord condescends in everyday ways too. Today he gave me peace in conflict and strength to forgive again. Then he allowed a cancelled session which gave me time to finish a report. In big and small ways, God stoops down.

But He did it biggest at Christmas.

Christmas Is About Condescension

I think C.S. Lewis saw it that way. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body, he wrote. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)

That condescending conversation in the van last night brought this song to mind in the morning. You might like it.

Who but God would send his Son
To condescend and make himself the likes of a mere mortal man

For in the end, condescend is one of the sweetest, most Christmasy words I know. It’s why we stretch Advent out. Because in the incarnation, God did way more than just come down and give us a hand. More than just step out of his castle for an evening of revelry with his serfs at Ye Olde Pub. Oh, no. Infinitely more.

He became one of us. He took on our weakness, sympathized with our weakness and bore our sin. The Creator became a creature. Like us becoming slugs but far more shocking. Who would condescend like this?

All glory be to Christ. Who but God.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

Psalm 113:7

Gabriel Speaks

I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.

Luke 1:19b

Some of you know this story, but lots of you do not. And this is of all the days the best day to tell it. So here it goes.

Once upon on time, ten years ago today- but it truly began nine months before that or really even eight or seven
Yes, it was ten years plus seven months ago, Gabriel, when you first made your presence known.

But I really must rewind

Because it was ten years before these last ten years-

Twenty whole years ago, it was

In January when Dad and I- we two, were joined as one.

For most of those first ten years (Big brother came by plane after nine)

We hoped and prayed and tried (how we hoped and prayed and tried, and too much, I think, I cried)

And doctors consulted, tried this and that, and poked around inside

But all their methods failed- it just wasn’t the right time.

And empty wombs like empty stomachs sometimes ache 

But God’s children run their race and walk by faith and trust the promises true-

That our trials produce steadfastness and character and a hope that will not disappoint

That  no good thing will He withhold and they that wait upon the Lord will be renewed.

So we stopped the procedures and we ceased striving and tried less hard.

But still in faith we prayed, in His love we hoped, and life kept racing on

Then one fall- that fall Aunt Char and I decided, Sure, let’s run it all.

And I remember how

That September, my coffee didn’t taste as good and I was suddenly ready for bed by seven

Then came October, and snow,

But we sisters plowed on and  drove six hours north

To run that 26.2 mile course.

(Run we did -we three, the third, still unbeknownst to me- and we finished the race in four hours, give or take.)

Next week I took a test I’d taken a dozen or more times before

But this time, the stripes said YES, YES, YES- it’s true

Your frame was being finely woven by then for eight whole weeks

But that was when I first found out for sure about you.

And now tonight, ten-year old son,  I pinch myself and think how loud your name rings true

You are our YES  to countless prayers that God would grant us love’s sweet fruit

Your presence with your brother “HEARD OF GOD” was so good we prayed for more

But God, for righteous reasons only He knows

Has not again opened to us that door.

You are no angel, but still you are a messenger to tell

That God alone sets the times and the seasons and even the days

And that no good thing does He withhold

That His ways are not our ways (and that is all okay).

It’s been ten years today since I laid eyes on that long-lashed, lovely baby boy- and I never want to forget the messages I heard then

That we’d best keep running and look to Jesus even when we ache a lot.

That it’s when we cease striving that we can know that He is  God

And that the best gifts can’t be bought.

Because, after all, Who is like the Lord our God who sits on high and humbles himself to behold things in heaven and on earth? 

That’s is good news God sent you to tell us Gabriel, messenger of God.

Who is like the LORD our God,

Who dwells on high,

Who humbles himself to behold

Things in the heavens and in the earth?

He raises the poor out of the dust,

And lifts the needy out of the ash heap,

He gives the barren woman a home,

Making her the joyous mother of children.

Praise the LORD!

Psalm 113:5-7, 9

The Carnation Conundrum: Mom’s Day Fodder for Mothers and Others

RAFAH - GAZA STRIP - NOVEMBER 22: Sheep feed on carnations flowers at a farm November 22, 2007 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Palestinian farmers had to dispose of their flower crop due to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, preventing them to export their goods. According to reports Israel yesterday said that it would ease its trade embargo - imposed in June - allowing the export of fruit and flowers into Israel and Europe. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)

Should we give a carnation to each mother? 

That was all she asked. Simple question. But it got so complicated. 

Not that all involved weren’t entirely gracious in reply. Everyone was. But our email thread got tangled.

Maybe the kids could hand-out them out? 

No, that won’t do. Some moms might get overlooked. That’s uncomfortable.

Plus, some who aren’t moms might be mistaken and get a flower, too. That’s awkward.

Besides,”Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Why heap gifts on the gifted?

The gift could hurt all the ladies who have longed to hear but never heard a child call them Mom.

And cause pain for mothers whose children are prodigal or gone.  

And what about all the guys? (Dad’s Root Beer all around come June?)

I don’t bend over backwards to be PC. That’s why my carnation reluctance surprised me.

But it’s these words-Let all you do be done in love– not the avoidance of unease-that should guide. Because the God who is love didn’t promise pain-free. And the God of all comfort didn’t canonize comfortable. We are each called to honor our mother (and father).

Honor Your Mother

Every last one of us has a mother. So Mother’s Day is a holiday for all of us. We’re all called to honor our mothers. It might mean a grown child pauses to remember the good in a mom who is gone. And if Mom is with us, we let her know she’s valued. Honor is due.

Honor might mean carnations. Or a card or a call or a brunch. Or “one pass to the barbar and a bakrub,” unexpectedly came my way yesterday.

But some women deserve more than the honor that comes from being a mother. Sometimes special praise is due.

Praise Due

Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain, but the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31:30-31

The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. If you’ve been blessed with a spiritual mother, with a holy mom who hopes in God, let your praises roll.

Why should we? Why should we praise a faithful lady? Pastor John Piper gives some great reasons.

1) It honors God. We must not think here that in praising the woman we are giving to her what belongs to God. There is a sense in which all praise, just like all boasting (1 Corinthians 1:31), should be in the Lord. But since the Lord has made the world and is at work in us fallen creatures, it is possible to praise him indirectly by praising something he made or praising something that exalts him. If you praise the table manners of my sons, Noël and I feel honored. So God is honored through praises which come to his people for graces which he has imparted and which by their very nature exalt him. Therefore, when we praise a woman who fears the Lord, we praise God. 

2) It strengthens her hand in the Lord. There are always temptations to allure us away from the fear of God: temptations to fear financial insecurity more than we fear God (cf. Proverbs 23:17), to fear rejection by our peers more than we fear God, to fear the loss of time spent in good deeds more than we fear God…Again and again we must have our hand strengthened in God. We need to hear a saintly person say, “Well done. I love the way you fear the Lord.”

So hand out those carnations. But maybe they go to the mothers and some others. 

To Mothers and Others

Because, Who really is my mother?

Jesus answered that in a surprising way in Matthew 12:48-49. And when his own mother and brothers asked to see him, Jesus said, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mothers and my brothers!’ 

The Lord Jesus Christ-Son of God, Son of Man-turned earthly relationships upside down. Luke records this short exchange. In a way, it confuses my carnation conundrum more. 

“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” a woman cried out to Jesus. And he turned and said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27).

What is this that Mary’s son-God’s son-says? Is he really saying what it sounds like he’s saying? That the obedient Christian –mother or not, even married or not– is of mother status? It does sound that way.

But back to the carnation conundrum. I wonder what Jesus would say.

If Christ would weigh in our Mother’s Day thread, would it sound something like this? 

“Mothers, be thankful. Honor your mother. Be glad in the kids I gave you and treasure good things in your heart. Savor your role as Keeper of the Springs. And always be leaning into me. Abide in me. Feed on my Word. Their eyes are wide-open, watching everyday, so live like you need me. Show your kids that you know you are not their Savior. But live so they want to know yours. Help them want to know me.

Others, be thankful. Honor your mother. Know that there is a better name than sons and daughters. My Father’s-our Father’s-family grows through faith in me, not by children born of the flesh. The bonds you have to me and my Body, the Church, are stronger and tighter, more permanent and precious even than family ties. Marriage is temporary. The married couples are pointing to Christ and his Bride all along. Whatever state you’re are, remain in me. 

Mothers, a last word to you. It is your day, after all. Be sure you know my better name, the sweeter name than Mom. Keep your heart-eyes clear to see motherhood as the sweet gift, and terrible God that it is. Don’t idolize your kids. A sensitive son or devoted daughter can never deliver the forever satisfying joy found only in me. So come to me.  Keep coming to me. 

And when disrespect and complaining cut you deep and when sweet “bakrubs and barbar” treatment comes, your prayer can stay the same: Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14).

Far as the Curse is Found

We’re all- mothers and daughters and fathers and sons, single and married and adopted and orphaned- all of us wounded. Sin stains, disease maims, and words do hurt. The curse is still found far.

Far into lonely hearts of singles and aching arms of the post-abortive, the empty wombs of the infertile and broken hearts of moms of prodigals. It reaches into broken hearts of grieving moms who never saw their kids grow up and into wounded hearts of grown up kids whose moms never got to see them all growed-up. The Fall reaches far.

Its long reach means even a carnation can hurt.

There is no pain-free, awkward-less solution this side of heaven. A sword will pierce your own heart, Simeon said. Mary watched her Son die. And when he rose, he went away.

On Mother’s Day, I wonder if the Son of Mary might say, Pain is okay. Uncomfortable and awkward, too. But one day they’ll all be swallowed up. Until that day, praise the woman who fears me and honor your mother on Mother’s Day. 

A carnation just might be a splendid way.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4

The Day I Gave The Dress Away

Only divine, shake-free mercy would let me give this dress away. 

Is nine years a long time? Nine years is how long this little red dress hung on the end in the closet. It was a precious sister gift during that one bliss, the one blessed pregnancy God gave me. 

The infertility that delayed that one settle again. But no daughter ever came. And I never quite knew what to do with that silky-soft, rosy-red dress. 

As time passed, the dress became both a reminder to hope and sign of loss. When my sister and friends had girls, I’d peek in the closet and ponder setting it free. But Don’t give up hope or admit defeat-keep buzzing-came to mind while I caressed the soft, little dress. 

No, I’d buy a gift. I’d slide that door shut again.

So I kept knocking- and pounding-on heaven’s door. I was a bee at the window. I clamored for sweetness, for more reward, more womb’s fruitfor a whole quiver-full, I prayed. For these best of earth’s comforts, I buzzed, I boomed, and I pressed. 

But He said,“Not that way! All, all in vain, You weary out wings and bruise your head.” Then came that day in June. 

The day I gave that dress away was the day niece Ruth was born. The time was right. God caught me up, pressing, buzzing at the windowpane.

He caught me up and shook me out and He gently let me go. 

Then I gave the dress away and out now to real sweetness with I gladly go

*   *   *   *   *   


Is nine years a long time? Maybe it’s a minute compared to the hours you pressed on your windowpane. And maybe the rosy-red dress is feather-light in view of your loss. Whatever your hope, however deep your pain, may you too know God’s gentle hand, catching you up, shaking you out, pushing you to pitch your hopes heaven-high


The LORD is good to the one who hopes in Him, to the one who seeks him.

Lamentations 3:25

The Day I Gave The Dress Away

The day I gave the dress away
Hope wasn’t lost but found.
That same night two boys played
Rolling happy on the ground.
 
Sons that came two different ways;
One from the heart and one from the womb.
But barren came back, and the dress, 
All that was left of hope deferred, entombed.
 
Mercy—more years, more hope deferred—
Took me down to the frozen centre.
A cycle of months, and still no third,
Heaven’s door my knock couldn’t enter. 
 
(Clamor, buzz at window pane
I did so much I bruised,
Left to my own will
I’d be dead at the sill…)
 
It is for mighty saints– for
You and me-this way ’round Mount Pain
So up we pitch up our longing great; for
Better reward, deeper joy, and more gain.
 
We toss hope up-He catches it and us, 
Then gently shakes us free
To set hope our in Him heaven-high.
Because-we know-He told us why:

“Then you will know that I am the Lord

those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”

Isaiah 49:23

 
*The Day I Gave the Dress Away was inspired by C.S. Lewis’ Five Sonnets. Lines in italics are directly from the sonnets.
 
The five are a stunning depiction about the death of what’s dear and how finally we can be freed to pitch our hopes heaven-high.