Ever since I started this blog, I’ve wanted to write about humility. For months, the topic seemed to crop up wherever I turned. The only problem is, I’m not sure I know what the word humility means.
I know the definition, of course. And I know it is one of the chief Christian virtues. And I know God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. And I know the meek will inherit the earth. But I just don’t know what it would mean for me to be humble.
So after six months of waiting for enlightenment, I’m changing strategies. Rather than my telling you about the meaning of humility, why don’t you tell me?
The wrong path
To start the conversation, I can tell you the wrong paths I’ve taken. There was my determined effort to shake off my childhood self-confidence. My dad, especially, believed that I could do whatever I set my mind to. I believed it too, and earned a reputation as a bossy girl. So when I became a little older, I started to hang back – not to please the boys (in case my feminist friends are wondering), but to be a nicer person. But these efforts didn’t make me humble. If anything, they’ve made me more self-conscious, lurching between an insecure pushiness, and just plain insecurity. And I wonder what might-have-been if I had retained my know-it-all self. Would it have been worse than this?
I may be on a wrong path now. Like many of you, I long to make a difference in the world by finding and fulfilling my true vocation. But I wonder how much pride is mingled in all this.
I think of George Eliot’s great character study of two evangelical Christians in Middlemarch. The ardent Dorothea designs model workers’ cottages for her uncle’s estate. Her desire to do good is pure and noble. But as Eliot wryly notes, Dorothea can’t suppress her disappointment when she discovers the tenants in her future husband’s estate are all well-housed.
And then there is the Middlemarch villain, Mr. Bulstrode. He cries out to God, “Lord, use me how you will, but use me.” His ambition to serve God leads him to destroy the fortunes, the reputations, and even the lives of the people around him.
The lovely ideal
I also think about the real-life examples of humility that have charmed and moved me. I think of women speakers who are presented with T-shirts at public events. They gallantly pull the T-shirt over their carefully chosen wool suit and tidy hair because, well, it will make the audience happy.
I think of Foti (his name means light!), a young Albanian hoping to serve his countrymen’s fledgling church in Canada. The church’s priest did not have the educational qualifications that would allow the church to be formally recognized. So Foti agreed to take on the official role. It meant growing a beard that scratched him, and getting rid of all his coloured clothes and wearing only black. (I think of idle conversations among Canadian Christians about whether we would be willing to die for our faith. I now know that, unlike Foti, I would have trouble giving up my wardrobe for Christ – I, who have never cared about fashion, and need to look down to remember what I’m wearing.)
I think of Jesus, who lived off hand-outs, hung around with losers, and sacrificed his life – not because it was clear to him it was the right thing to do – but as an act of obedience.
Friends, these are the thoughts that swirl round my head. Now tell me what you have learned about humility, where you’ve seen it in action, and what it means for you.