“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” –SexyJesus
I never thought much about humility until I was asked to do a job I just couldn’t do.
Up until that point in my life, I had a pretty good opinion of myself. I was righteous. I was good. When something came down the pike at me, I handled it with aplomb. (Or so I liked to think.) I got through a divorce and moving and falling in love again and being a good mother to my kids through many transitions. I packed up a whole house by myself (mostly), and I went off to the mountains to hike alone. I was strong and tough. I kept patting myself on the back.
And then I was stuck in a cubicle all day, trying to manage twelve software applications on a computer, attempting to interpret what all the numbers meant on a bunch of color-coded spreadsheets, having everyone around me speak in what felt like a different language. (I think it’s called Acronymese.) Despite the central air and plants on the windowsill, which I tried to appreciate, every day felt like being stuck in a foreign country with none of the luster, none of the good food, and really poor coffee.
With people always telling me what to do.
Most of my coworkers were a decade younger than I, and yet they handled their tasks with ease. I became that annoying woman who was always asking for help, never catching on, not knowing anything she was supposed to know.
That was a really good lesson.
A really hard lesson.
Because most people don’t wake up in the morning and say, Hey God? Make me more humble. Please. It will be so good for me.
I have spent most of my life using my brain. It’s a good, solid brain. I can conceptualize and analyze. I can write a damn good paper, and a long one too! And when it comes to emotional intelligence, I have a tendency to know how to proceed in a situation, how to talk to my kids about their troubles (for now, at least). I don’t act impulsively. I’m nice, and all. But, despite all of this, I found out through that job that there were things I just simply could not do. No matter how hard I tried. There were certain synapses in me that did not compute. I felt like a kid playing in a professional basketball league, next to six-foot players who kept knocking me down and scoring lots of baskets.
Recently, my daughter asked me about the seven deadly sins, which she’d heard about from the church she goes to with her father. She was particularly concerned about pride, because she thought that might be a problem of mine.
“Why do you think I might be prideful?” I asked.
“Because when we asked you why you were giving those other kids our food even though they didn’t share with us, you said it’s because you’re generous.”
I tried not to get defensive. This was a really thoughtful question!
“Well, do you think it’s prideful for me to recognize a good trait that I have?” I asked.
My kids tilted their heads over this one as we drove. Was it?
We were wondering.
I can’t remember how that conversation ended—other than me eventually saying that I think kids are a little too hard on their mothers and how I was going to be nicer to mine—but I thought a lot more about the topic. What does it mean to be humble, or prideful? After all, Jesus did say, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” And he said, “Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
Even as I write this, I worry I’m in dangerous territory. Because if I attempt to calculate any moment of humility, any “grand understanding,” I become anything but humble.
But I don’t think humility means we can’t acknowledge our strengths, or the good in us. That’s what I’m trying to say. I don’t think Jesus meant that we have to walk through life beating ourselves up, professing how awful and broken we are, how meaningless our lives would be if we weren’t “saved.” I don’t think humility means we shouldn’t ever acknowledge a talent we have, or an act we perform that brings us joy. I think this life is cause for celebration, and our gifts are something to celebrate, too. I think this Teacher’s main point is that we are all equal in God’s eyes, and we should never believe one person is more special than anyone else. We just each have a certain path to walk, in the halls of one building or another, or on a plot of lush, hot grass. And we may never know the fullness of that path, or what trials we’ll come across that help us learn. In God’s eyes, we are perpetually children, never experts. And no one child is loved more than any other. Never.
The material, physical world we live in encourages us to attain and strive and acquire. We assume someone is more worthy because they have a lot of money, or a prestigious title, or a ton of followers through social media. (But seriously, can I get some of those?) We elevate people who have many degrees, or who hold leadership roles. And then we may have a tendency to look down on the woman who brings us our eggs at the local diner.
There’s a reason many Buddhist parables are about a beggar on the side of the road, doing grunt work with no teeth, who offers a searing blade of wisdom to the passerby.
What would life be like if, every day, we treat every person we meet as though they are the living incarnation of Jesus? How different would the world be?
I mean, could it hurt?