You may have heard the classic joke, “He won a badge for humility, but they took it away because he wore it.”
“Ironically self-deceived” would describe much of my inner life. I’ve felt like a failure many times. Other times, I’ve experienced envy at the success of others, or undue pride at my own successes. Anytime I’ve been told I am humble, I’ve been very proud of creating that perception. I’ve enjoyed comparing myself with those who I consider to be proud, or incompetent, or immoral.
Humility is hard to come by. In the great book Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance, Terry D. Cooper demonstrates that human beings either have too low a view of ourselves for beings created in God’s image, or too high a view of ourselves, as created creatures who are fallen.
What’s your poison? Pride or low self-esteem? Either way leads to some form of self-destruction and broken relationships.
We know that Jesus humbled himself, even to the point of death on the cross. We know that the whole Bible teaches us to humble ourselves. We know that no one human being is of greater value than any other, and that Jesus reversed the values of our human world system, by teaching us that leaders are servants, and that the greatest is the least.
I know that stuff. I’ve preached it. Tough to live it out.
But perhaps a lot of my roller coaster ride between the false peaks of pride and the treacherous valleys of low self-esteem has been driven by a misunderstanding and misapplication of Jesus’ teaching on humility.
Jesus didn’t didn’t teach us to trash ourselves, or to devalue our personalities and powers. Quite the opposite, he came to save and heal us as ourselves. He isn’t interested in destroying our personalities or powers, but in healing and re-directing them.
On the other hand, he didn’t teach us to trust our every instinct, falsely puff our egos up with platitudes, and pretend that we aren’t a part of the fallen world. He did quite the opposite of ignoring or papering over our sins and failures: he exposed them as would a doctor diagnosing an illness. He wasn’t afraid to tell us that pride has sickened us just as much as our low self-esteem does.
But Jesus didn’t go on to tell us to try to feel more humble. He himself didn’t just go around feeling inferior or using false modesty to seem humble. Instead, he put himself in places where he was humbled. He became a man, he lived in poverty, he washed feet like a slave, he served his followers, and he laid down his life. That’s what humility looks like.
Humility is less an attitude and more an action. Of course, seeing ourselves as no greater than anyone else is important. But humility is learned by humbling ourselves and giving and serving others. It isn’t found by merely thinking or feeling, as important as those are.
In the end, a humble person is someone who goes where the needs are and serves. A humble leader is one who works for the thriving of a community of people. A humble action is one that promotes the good of others.
Lord, its so hard to be humble.
Humility is a lifelong discipline. It is a practice of putting ourselves in a position to go lower, and to serve. Along the way, we will feel pride, or low self-esteem. Along the way, we will be carried away by these. Humility calls us back though. Jesus calls us back.
And so I want to leave you with Mother Theresa’s Humility list. This list of practices is a way to follow the path of humility. Several of them grate against my sensitivities or raise serious, practical questions. A few could be terribly mis-applied. And yet reflect on these and pray, and then join me in trying to walk in her footsteps to see what happens.
Mother Theresa’s Humility List
- Speak as little as possible about yourself.
Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
Accept small irritations with good humor.
Do not dwell on the faults of others.
Accept censures even if unmerited.
Give in to the will of others.
Accept insults and injuries.
Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
Do not seek to be admired and loved.
Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
Choose always the more difficult task.
Source: Catholic Company
Photo: Public Domain