My own experience with humility has been quite forced. I grew up believing in the idea of being humble. My mom used to ensure that I would actually stay humble by constantly telling me that I didn’t think I was as great as I thought I was. Churches teach humility to mean that you don’t brag or being arrogant. Overtime, I began to think of humility more intellectually. Humility was the emptying and diminishing of self. I started to believe that humble people were ones with no secret agendas that were self-serving and were able to think of people and forget about themselves entirely.
I was chatting with a friend this week and he was telling me about a bunch of work that he did for his sister building her a closet and he spent a day off from work putting it together for her. He walked away feeling so great about all the work that he put into it and then added a caveat “I guess that means I am selfish because it made me feel good to help my sister this way.” This is a sentiment that I think is prevalent among church folks especially; that we started to equate humility with this idea of self-emptying and the removal of pleasure for anything that we do because we think any reason that involves our own pleasure must be for the wrong motives.
Humility for me was something to achieve. It was another thing to add to the list of things that I needed to become and do in order to be right with God. Of course, as we know, this list can be quite daunting. On top of justice, mercy, peace, love, faith we have all of our cultural moral things we have to do and not do. So I just added humility into the list of things that I had to try and do and become.
Only recently have I begun to see that humility is not something in which we can achieve. We cannot sit around and learn five steps to becoming more humble. This isn’t something that we even grow towards having a better understanding of. This is such a backwards way of understanding spirituality because it is not something that is taught, it’s not something that is explained, it’s something that is experienced through the stopping of the pursuit of it and everything else. Emptying yourself may have been a decently close analogy but ended up, at least for me, just being a thing that I was trying to do rather than something that I let happen to me.
Throughout the Bible stories we begin to see humility as a description of a place in where God finds you or a description of a place that is blessed by God. Whether it be through the beatitudes in identifying the kind of approach that God blesses, or when Jesus speaks about children and how being like them is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God.
Growth in the spiritual life takes place not by acquisition of something new. It isn’t like the acquisition of new information, which some call “spiritual capitalism.” In reality our growth is “a treasure hidden in a field.” It is only discovered by the release of our current defense postures, by letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image. Then the inner gift lies present and accounted for! Once our defenses are out of the way and we are humble and poor, truth is allowed to show itself. God could not risk giving truth to proud and power hungry people; they will always abuse it. Truth shows itself when we are free from ideology, fear, and anger.
– Richard Rohr [Link]
For me, humility has been a transformation of the way that I see myself in the world. It hasn’t been something that I’ve done, but something that has been done to me and learning to accept it. Any humility that has happened to me, has been simply me be able to see that which is in front of me and understand myself in relation to it and that relation is always gratitude.
I have seen these moments happen to people that you might be familiar with. Think about the first time that you held your child. That moment is humility.
Q: Can you see humility as honest presence? Do you have humble moments that you can share? Have these moments changed you or are they one offs?
We can see these moments throughout the scriptures. Think of every story you’ve ever read of Jesus healing a blind man. Think of the stories about a woman searching for a lost coin and then eventually finding it. Think of the moment when Moses takes his shoes off. These are all biblical moments of the same thing as you holding your child for the first time.
It wakes you up. It opens your eyes. It gives you the capacity for seeing the things that underlie everything that we have and everything that we are.
You don’t have to be a perfect person or in a certain place to experience the fullness of God. God is always given, incarnate in every moment, and present to those who know how to be present themselves. As we have seen in our own lives and especially in the scriptures, these moments happen surprisingly, in secular settings, and when people have come to the realization of truth. People don’t experience God necessarily (actually it seems quite rarely) through doing the right religious rituals. People are experiencing God when they are at a place in life when they hold onto nothing else but what is true and real right in front of them. [Taken from link below]
This is why Micah 6:8 ends with saying to walk humbly with God. Humility is a way of taking everything that we learn in those special moments and applying that to all of life.
The biblical text moves us toward transformation of both the self and all of history. Deep understanding of Scripture cannot happen until you have somehow first experienced God actively and lovingly working in your own life! Then it all makes sense. Without inner experience of God and grace, Scripture interpretation is often lethal and egocentric. As Paul courageously says, “The written letters alone bring death, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Richard Rohr [Link]
We cannot conjure up the right situations to have these moments. We simply receive them when they come. We remember them. We allow what we saw there to create a new way of seeing as we move on through life. This new way of seeing makes sense of our ideas of justice and gives us the strength to walk mercifully; it ties it all together.
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”
– Teilhard de Chardin