Humility is hard.
Maybe the single most difficult thing Christ expects of us followers. That’s never been more true than it is now. Pride flourishes these days. We dress it up like it’s an indispensable accessory to a successful life in the internet age. Ambition, we call it. Or taking a stand. Or perhaps self-defense.
Call it whatever, humility is in short supply. We’re walloping the world around us with pride-laced speech and action, often at the behest of our most influential leaders. Perhaps today is the day to take seeking humility more seriously.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no humility aficionado.
Several years ago my wife and I spent a summer working in the Jamaican mountains. We hosted mission teams from the states and served at the pleasure of the local church there.
Hope was a cook, which meant we worked together at least three times a day. Hope and I did not get along. Her fellow Jamaicans loved her. They saw me as an unknown outsider, who constantly struggled to acclimate to Jamaican culture. Technically, Hope worked for us, but my wife and I had gone to Jamaica to humbly learn, serve, and be challenged. I paid the bills, but I felt confined to letting Hope make all the decisions. That she did with ease, she also loved to tell me how to do my job, my dishes, walk with my wife, sing songs, make my morning coffee and anything else I happened to do within her eyesight.
Throughout my childhood I was always the shortest kid in my classes. The experience of other kids constantly discounting me because of my size, made me a young man with quite the chip on his shoulder. I entered the world driven to prove I was worth something. So, Hope’s tack with me prodded one of my deepest fears. I did not take it well. For all my sincere intentions of working humbly in the Jamaican jungle, when it came to Hope, I became the epitome of a passive aggressive pain in the butt.
One of our biggest struggles during our summer in Jamaica was the laundry. So far as I knew, the closest washer and dryer sat in some unknown location 90 minutes away. So, each Saturday we filled a big red tub with Dawn and went to scrubbing. But no matter how passionately I beat the soap out of those clayed shorts, I just couldn’t remove the weekly reek. One weekend, I made the mistake of washing my clothes just outside of Hope’s kitchen.
Before I knew it, she’d left her domain and came to hover over my shoulder. Her loud, rancorous instructions careened through my interior like electro-shocks. I stood up from my stooped position, my face red with fury, and was about to turn around and give her a profound lecture of which she would not soon forget. Just before I could, I caught my wife’s face, which had found a way to pack an entire sermon into a single expression. So, instead, I turned around and said, with a generous heap of exasperation in my voice, “Okay Hope, show me how to do it.”
She bent over, practically singing her instructions, and showed me a technique for squeezing an enormous amount of water through each piece of clothing. When I gave it a try I felt short, but not shortest-kid-in-your-class short. More like, American-know-it-all-jerk short. “Yep, that’s … uh, better,” I said, the way you tell your spouse they’re right, after you’ve surmounted a manifesto worth of reasons they’re wrong.
From that day forward I knew how to make my socks smell good. I mostly took Hope’s preoccupation with my ineptitudes in stride. She even laughed at a few of my jokes by the end of the summer.
Things are trough right now, if you ask me. Maybe we need to lower ourselves a bit and take a real crack at cultivating humility in the world. Below, I humbly offer you five suggestions:
Pray for it.
I don’t memorize scripture very often, but one I’ve hidden in my heart is Philippains chapter two. Pride runs rampant in my mind, and I find a prayer for humility centered around this ancient hymn slows me down enough to open myself to God’s steadfast transformation.
Support leaders who value it.
We’ve let our leaders go fast and loose when it comes to pride. It may be time for the Church to hold prideful leaders accountable. Pride is knocking in the door of churches these days. If you think a leader you admire has lost their way on this front make it known. On the flip side, write a note of encouragement to a leader who is getting it right.
Visualize your worst enemy at the cross.
My church and I often do this. Imagine yourself at the foot of the crucifixion, beholding Christ’s ugly sacrifice. Maybe you’re literally wearing all of your sins and failures. You feel shamefully hollow. You look up and Jesus says what to you? He lectures you grandly? No, he says, “Daughter, I do this for you. Your faith in me makes you well!” Now imagine the exact same sequence, only this time imagine that it’s your worst enemy at Jesus’ feet and he offers them the same grace and kindness he’s offered you.
Read Luke with a highlighter
It sounds corny, because it is, but we all need to do something that wakes us up a bit. Read Luke, maybe in one sitting, with a highlighter in your hand. Mark-up every time that Jesus acts humbly or teaches about humility. Its prevalence may surprise you. Try using a different color to highlight every time Jesus chastising leaders for prideful attitudes and actions.Talk about it with someone and get creative in ways you can infuse our world with Jesus’ humble way.
Weed out media that negatively effects the way you act.
I can only watch Seinfeld, my favorite, for about a week at a time. Any past that threshold and I catch myself acting like them. Man were they funny, but if I actually treated people like they did, I’d be fired, divorced, and alone. A surplus of pride-lauding media floats around out there, just say no. Look for commentary that treats people with dignity and care; look for examples you can emulate with confidence it won’t ruin your life or society.
As hard as it is, humility is worth it. Look at our world without it. Plus, you might just learn how to turn our reeking situations into sun-dried fluffs of fresh.