The Forgotten Virtue
I know a small group of men who meet every 6-8 weeks to express and discuss those things that are important in their lives. They call the meeting The Gathering Fire. Moments like these are rich with laughter and friendship. Yet the conversation always seems to transcend the ordinary when we begin to share the hopes and dreams of what we really want our lives to be.
But here’s something I’ve never heard anyone ever share in those conversations – “I dream that my life would be marked with humility.”
It is a remarkable thing that someone would dream of being virtuous, but even among the virtues, it seems no one wants to be known for humility.
And I get it. It’s not an easy subject to discuss. (When was the last time you heard a sermon on humility?)
If we think we have it, our admission let the cat out of the bag – you don’t. It’s an even harder virtue to live…it seems so elusive. I mean, I have a hard enough time just trying to define it, let alone live it!
I remember being in a particular class my last semester of college. I can recall the room, where I was sitting, and even who was teaching. But I have no idea what was being said. (If only we teachers knew) Anyway, for some reason, and I haven’t a clue as to what it was – maybe boredom, I recall having a conversation with God in my head during class.
And this part I remember like it was yesterday… I asked God to make me a humble man. I said that because ‘man’ is my gender and ‘humble’ is what I thought I should be but knew I wasn’t.
I also recall, that immediately after offering my short prayer a question bolted into my consciousness, “Why do you want to be humble?” And in a moment of unguarded honesty I silently replied, “So others will know that I’m humble.”
I was sitting in one of those desk chairs; you know, the ones where the desk part flips up from the side? Simultaneously, my body slumped both down and forward and my elbows came down on the desk as my face fell into my hands… and I remember thinking, “Oh God, I am so messed up.”
It was a teachable moment.
Why does it seem so difficult for us to live humbly? It could be as simple as; we just think we’re better than everyone else. Maybe. But I want to suggest a couple of other possibilities. First, I’m not convinced we have a very good idea what humility actually is. Even Webster defines it by simply saying what it is not – “the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.” That may help us a bit by explaining what humility doesn’t think. But, what does humility actually think?
It seems to me that humility is a virtue born out of knowing and loving who I really am and then living consistent with that ‘true self’ rather than from a false sense of self. In other words, it’s an identity issue. It’s embracing my worth and simultaneously knowing it is not self-made worth; rather, it was given to me.
What I mean is; humility doesn’t brag. It is content to be silent. When it must speak, it does so with deeds and truth because humility doesn’t need to be ‘somebody’…it already knows it is.
Second, we don’t equate humility with success. And what every one of us wants from life is to be a success – however we define that concept. Consider: when was the last time you heard someone credit his or her success to being humble?
Here’s my point, humility’s goal is not narcissistic. Humility will not allow me the illusion that I am superior to others because of my gender, race, economic status, or my personal achievements, knowledge, and beliefs. It will resist the temptation to think or behave in a way that conveys any notion of that.
I’ve often wondered, what was it about Jesus that drew people to him? What did they see? What did they experience? Probably a lot to that discussion… Here’s what I think is at least a part of it;
Since Jesus knew exactly who he was and who his Father was, he had no identity crisis. He never lived out of a false sense of himself. As a result, his very nature is humble, which allowed him to stoop beneath us to lift us up to a place of dignity and worth that we hesitate to believe of ourselves. He treated us with self-giving, other-centered love and compassion. So when people encountered him – his words, his tone of voice, the touch of his hand, just the way he looked into our eyes – our souls felt their worth.
This is the beginning of the healing of our souls.