Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cultivating Humility

“Humility is the virtue that requires the greatest amount of effort.” – St. Philippine Duchesne

Humility is a very misunderstood virtue. It is easy to think that it means to make oneself low, to not value oneself, to always consider oneself less than others. In reality, however, it means seeing oneself the way God sees you – both the good and the bad. God has given each of us our special gifts. To devalue those gifts and feel they are nothing is to not appreciate the great generosity of our Father in heaven. We have an obligation to make the most of our gifts and to use them in the service of God and our neighbor.

The flip side of this is that we also need to recognize the gifts God has given to others. It is all too easy to look at someone else efforts and think, “I could do that better!” or to be envious when someone else achieves some success and recognition that we feel we deserve. Humility calls us to be happy for our neighbor. St. John Chrysostom instructs us: “Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God.”

Humility comes when we turn our lives over to God and do all for Him. It comes when we stop caring what others think of us – both the positive and the negative - and simply care what God thinks of us. It also comes when we are willing to perform any service if it is what we are called to do at the moment. When we are humble, nothing is beneath us.

In many ways children help us mothers become more humble. Mothers are called to serve, especially when children are small. We are required to perform tasks such as changing diapers and cleaning up vomit and bathing others. We clean the floors and do the laundry and scrub the toilets. It is nearly impossible to have an inflated view of yourself when you have spent your day engaged in these types of activities. The same is true of anyone who works in a service profession.

All, however, are called to serve our brothers and sisters. In any walk of life, when we find our fellow humans in need of our help, it is our obligation to provide it. When we do all for the glory of God and in service to God, we have taken a giant step toward becoming truly humble.

The world is always telling us to toot our own horn, to strive for the greatest success possible. Sometimes we do need to do that. One of the hardest things for me in working as a freelancer is marketing myself and charging a fair rate for my work. As my husband will attest to, I’m not great at it. Thankfully, he takes it with a sense of humor that I often work for free or very little pay! I’m still learning that sometimes making the most of our gifts requires us to put ourselves out there, try for a better job, and show others what we can do.

We do need to have confidence and do our work to the best of our abilities. The difference between a proud person and a humble person is the motivation. A proud person works for his or her own glory. A humble person does it for God. By the same token, a proud person is reluctant to let others use their gifts for fear of being upstaged. A humble person is willing to allow each person to contribute to his or her full potential. A proud person trusts in himself and gives himself credit when things go well. A humble person knows that every good thing comes from God.

As St. Philippine stated, humility does require a great deal of effort. Pride seems to be imbedded so deeply in our being. Yet there is a peace that comes from humility, from not always being concerned with being the best or with what our neighbor is doing. As St. Teresa of Avila wrote in her “Way of Perfection,” “humility does not disturb or disquiet or agitate, however great it may be; it comes with peace, delight and calm. . . The pain of genuine humility doesn’t agitate or afflict the soul; rather, this humility expands it and enables it to serve God more.”

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