Thursday, February 14, 2008

Humility; Lesson One

Most journeys begin with little thought given to what we may learn along the way. Only recently, I’ve begun to learn by seeing backwards. Just like the windshield is filled with opportunities, so the rear view mirror is filled with lessons if we care to glance back. This will help us do life well.

Jesus wants us to learn to do life well. “I have come to give you life and that more abundantly …” (John 10:10). The beauty of the destination makes the journey critically important. A few personal lessons have come to my attention of late, along the journey and for the journey. These are important to me.

Lesson one: If I think I’m humble, I only think I’m humble. Being my slow self, one day it dawned on me that humility is one of those quiet virtues. I noticed that humble people never think they are humble. Then it became obvious: thinking one is humble cancels the whole concept! Broadly speaking, humility can be defined as a proper view of oneself, others and God. Developing such views truly takes a lifetime. Taken more narrowly, to be humble is being prone to modesty and deference rather than arrogance and pretentious. Humility is the absolute antithesis of pride. In fact it carries the connotation of abasement. Jesus’ call even more stark in it’s implications when viewed from this angle!

Just this morning I got a personal example to keep my in pursuit of the difficult blessing of humility. At Starbucks I noticed a man of different race than myself. He was obviously trying very hard to keep to himself and he was reading a Gideon Bible. He was reading quietly out loud and had an old tattered dictionary lying next to him that he would occasionally consult. He had no cup of coffee and as I always have mine, I had one of those feelings that it would be nice of me to offer to buy him one, and hoped that this would give me a chance to maybe interact with him about his Bible reading. So, after putting myself through a mini-test about the reasons I would not do such a thing, I approached the man and asked if I could interrupt him. Immediately he said, “No!” He didn’t say it overly loud as if to make a scene, but there was something in his eyes that looked like fear and finality. I then asked if I could simply buy him a cup of coffee. He just added another word to the one he already used then turned away, “No thank you.”

Now, you probably had to be there to get the sense of it all. Describing his expression and response is very difficult. I almost ‘felt lead’ to approach him, and then very definitely felt rejected by his terse rebuff. I was humbled, actually a bit humiliated standing there like a dope when all I could muster was a polite, “OK.” Maybe my feelings came as I began evaluating my motives. Maybe it was because of my own ‘need’ to be helpful(?) Whatever was he afraid of? Certainly I will never know. Who would turn down a cup of coffee from a normal looking guy who was trying to be polite? Maybe a black man who has learned not to trust white men? Maybe a person who couldn’t be handled like a charity case one more time? Maybe a shy person, who simply didn’t want any interaction, and didn’t like coffee? Whatever the case, I cannot know. The ‘not knowing’ is still bugging me …

As I got into my car I considered two questions: why did I think I could help, or think he wanted or needed my input in the first place? Was it my pride? And then, why did I feel so terribly uncomfortable after such a brief encounter? Probably pride. Then a third question entered my head: why would anyone ever actually pursue such a virtue as humility?! Maybe humility is one of those virtues that just happens to a person? Is it possible that instead of pursuing it, we are just to accept it? Is this the unseen process of Christ-likeness that begins before one leaves the planet? What is Christ-likeness anyway if one is not rejected, humiliated, and rebuffed? Hmmm…

Like the rest of ME, my education is a work in progress. So I’m not implying that practicing humility is wrong. But to my way of thinking, to begin to think one is humble is pride all over again. Humility is Lesson One.