I reckon humility is the hardest thing in the world.
From the moment we are born, we crave attention; we are desperate to be heard. It’s a normal human need. But even those who were brought up with the most loving and attentive parents have still had to deal with a deficit of attention. And so we spend our lives trying to get ourselves heard, our insides sometimes screaming for someone to just listen to us. We exalt ourselves, desperate to let people know how great we are. But humility teaches us the opposite; it teaches us that the ego has to die if we are to live.
When I am around people who have stuffed their lives up but are now recovering, I find their humility awe-inspiring and challenging. These people teach me what humility really is and in the process they show me how judgmental, arrogant and ‘superior’ I often am.
When you’re around truly humble people, those who know their own brokenness because it’s so obvious that there is just no hiding it, you see how far short you fall. But at the same time you don’t feel shamed by them. Humility has no interest in shaming anyone. It quietly, just through its actions, shows you a better way. That was the amazing balance of Jesus’ life. He loved people in their brokenness, and just by that, showed people how far short they fell. But he never shamed them. The only people he warned that they were in real trouble were the ones who were convinced they weren’t.
When I realise how far I fall short of the mark of humility, I actually can’t imagine myself ever being truly humble. My only hope is to ask God to do it for me.
I’ve made some huge mistakes in my life, with massive consequences. And yet I still find myself feeling judgmental and superior a lot of the time. That says much more about me than it does about those people.
To find out a bit more about what it might look like to actually be humble, I recently went back to a Christian classic from two decades ago, Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace?. Towards the end of the book, Yancey recalls Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well in John 4. Instead of being moralistic and telling the woman how immoral she was by living with a man who was not her husband in that culture, he said, in effect, ‘I sense you are very thirsty,’ and proceeded to show her that the water she was drinking would never satisfy her, and then offered her something that would, forever.
Yancey then explains, “When I am tempted to recoil in horror from sinners, from “different” people, I remember what it must have been like for Jesus to live on earth. Perfect, sinless, Jesus had every right to be repulsed by the behaviour of those around him. Yet he treated notorious sinners with mercy and not judgment.” And yet I, who have caused so much havoc in my life, still have the gall to think I am better than others.
All this makes me want to sit at the feet of Jesus more. It was the rotten ones, the thieves, prostitutes and liars who flocked to Jesus because he accepted them for who they were. The Pharisees were shockingly offended when Jesus had the nerve to tell a story of how a tax collector, and not a ‘righteous’ religious person like a Pharisee, was actually more pleasing in God’s sight because the tax collector was humble and cried out to God for mercy.
It’s the notorious sinners who I want to be around, because I am one of them. I feel more comfortable with them than I do with the pious, self-righteous and judgmental ones; the latter remind me too much of myself.