This past Sunday in Church, we took a look at the humility of the tax collector when he prayed in the Temple (Luke 18:9-14). Humility is one of the things we truly need to learn and to practice more often in our day to day lives. As I mentioned on Sunday, even listening intently to someone without thinking about what you are going to say can be an act of humility. Instead of my thinking that I have a story even better than the one you are sharing with me, I can let my story go and focus completely on what you are saying. We have countless opportunities every day to practice humility…and it does take practice. Very few folks, if any, are born with the gift of humility…we have to learn to be humble.
St. John of Kronstadt had much to say about this process of learning to be humble. Here are 3 of his thoughts for our consideration and application:
“To be humble means to consider ourselves deserving, for our sins, of every humiliation, injury, persecution, and even blows; and to be meek means patiently to endure injustice, abuse, et cetera, and to pray for our enemies.”
Television commercials feed me just the opposite, telling me “you deserve the very best…(car, beauty products, clothes, etc)…because I am so wonderful and I am the center of the universe. When something goes wrong in my life, I am quick to proclaim: “This isn’t fair; this shouldn’t be happening to me…I deserve better!” Hmmm…perhaps it is only by God’s mercy that we don’t actually get what we deserve!
“If you wish to be truly humble, then consider yourself lower than all, worthy of being trampled on by all; for you yourself daily, hourly trample upon the law of the Lord, and therefore upon the Lord Himself.”
Each and every time I judge someone else for their actions, their words, or simply their very person, I am in actuality exalting myself: “I know better”; “I could do better”; and last but not least… “I am a better person!” I may not say those words, but it is the very foundation of my judgmental attitude. Again…we have the opportunity every day to practice doing the opposite.
“When any one, out of kindness, praises you to others, and they transmit these praises to you, do not consider them as a just tribute of esteem really due to you, but ascribe them solely to the kindness of heart of the person who thus spoke of you, and pray to God for him, that God may strengthen him in his kindness of heart and in every virtue; but acknowledge yourself to be the greatest of sinners, not out of humility, but truthfully, actually, knowing as you do your evil deeds.”
Do praises from others feed my pride or do they cause me to love that person more because we see their kind heart? What would happen if I started praying for someone when they praised me (as St. John suggests)? Instead of rising up to stand on the “podium of praise”, I would kneel in the humility of prayer for this kind person who praised me in spite of myself (as I know me). Again, we are called to learn and to practice such humility.
From my own experiences, I have found it much better to attempt to practice humility than it is be find myself humbled under God’s mighty hand. You may recall the verse: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus said that after telling a very simple parable about where to sit down at a banquet table. He was telling them that they could learn and practice humility even in the simple task of where they sit down. Here’s that parable:
“So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)
As we journey toward Great Lent, may we learn and practice humility each and every day. The opportunities are always before us…our words, our actions, our thoughts…our very being. I have a feeling that even the slightest practice of humility would bring about a spiritual peace and joy that I need so very much in my soul. With you in the journey…
St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church 1010 Spruce St * Pueblo, Colorado * 81004