The battle between humility and pride is central to the spiritual life. Pride contaminates anything that is good, destroys relationships, and blinds us to what is good, true, right, and just. It is the source of all moral evil. But what is humility, why does it matter, and how do we grow in this essential virtue?
C. S. Lewis observed, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, its thinking of yourself less.”
Today’s difficult teaching is…
“Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This is from Luke’s Gospel, chapter 14, verse 11.
Now, wanting to be exulted could be in and of itself driven by pride, but there is another definition of exalted. Exalted in this sense of a state of extreme happiness.
Humility is essential to spiritual flourishing, and yet, it seems to be more misunderstood than understood. Humility is highly desirable, and yet, it has been shunned by the modern world for the most part.
We live in a world dominated by pretending, and pretending is exhausting. So, there is no point trading one type of pretending for another. And this is often what happens in our first attempts to grow in the virtue of humility.
Humility is truth. It is false to devalue yourself or your talents. That isn’t humility. Humility is acknowledging the source of your talents. God is the giver of all gifts, the origin of all our talents and abilities, and the source of all goodness and every blessing. You can have exceptional abilities and be humble, you can be an exceptional human being and possess deep humility.
Humility isn’t about pretending to be small and fragile. The humblest people I know have a very powerful presence. They have a very strong sense of self. They also tend to have a beautiful awareness of reality.
Humility is also sometimes thought of as weak, but nothing could be further from the truth. Humility is tender and meek, and yet it possesses extraordinary strength, because in it we realize the unquenchable source of our strength. Our strength is in the Lord, as the Psalm says (Psalm 46).
Our desire for humility grows the more we understand what it actually is, and how it differs from pride.
Prideful arrogance is repugnant. Humility is also supremely attractive.
Pride wrestles with the whole universe, trying to get everyone and everything to conform to our will. Humility surrenders gently to God.
Pride is impertinent, disrespectful, and rude. Humility is well mannered and respectful.
Pride thinks only of self and now. Humility thinks of everyone and everything, forever.
Scratch just beneath the surface and you will discover that pride is small, mean, and scared. Humility is all-encompassing, generous, and trusting.
Pride is restless. Humility is peaceful and at ease.
Jesus invites us to a life of humility because he is supremely interested in our happiness. Through each of these difficult teachings Jesus desires to lead us to a level of fulfillment that far exceeds our wildest imaginings. But the journey to that place of immense fulfillment requires that we let him lead and that we attentively follow.
And here we may have stumbled upon the most important and practical aspect of humility. Only a humble soul can be led. It takes real humility to quiet our desires, and all the distractions of the world, and listen to the voice of the Spirit. And it takes humility to follow wherever that voice leads.
Teresa of Avila proposed that a little humility is more valuable than all the knowledge in the world. These difficult teachings seek to rearrange our values and priorities, and turn our lives upside down, which as it turns out will be right side up.
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