The rottenest thing about humility is that, if I might put it thus, in achieving it you lose it! Like, in striving to achieve it, and you think you’ve achieved it, and rising in your mind is the thought, I’m there. I’m so humble. I’m just so satisfied I’m at last so humble!
(Like the old line, I used to be conceited but now I’m perfect!)
There’s a great song that begins, “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way …”! Do you know it? You can read all the words here.
It’s so self-mocking, yet true to life. I recognise my own instincts in it, and it reminds me once again to get over myself. To not take myself seriously!
Humility is something we recognise in others, but struggle to emulate, and even to define. (And I’m not satisfied with the dictionary definitions I’ve uncovered. One dictionary, Merriam-Webster, gives examples: “Being a parent can be a humble job, wiping noses, changing diapers, and meeting a child’s every need for years. Letting someone ahead of you in line when you see they are in a hurry is an act of humility. Cleaning the toilets of your office, even though you own the company, is an example of humility.” No, even these don’t suffice.)
Watchman Nee wrote, “Genuine humility is unconscious … God’s workers must be so emptied of self that they are unconsciously humble.”
I knew a Pastor once who seemed to have quite a big ego. But one day I learned of something amazing that he’d done with his own time and money, and never mentioned it, never sought applause, never had it known by anyone except the recipient of his service. My previous suspicions dissolved and I realised I’d misread the ego thing. Boy, was I humbled.
A famous conductor (a story goes) was once asked what instrument he considered the most difficult to play. His reply: “Second fiddle.”
Abraham Lincoln wore tall ‘stovepipe’ hats. The man he defeated for the presidency in 1860, Stephen Douglas, is reported to have held Lincoln’s hat at his inauguration. As he stood up to speak, Lincoln (himself a man known for a certain humility), looked for somewhere to put his hat. Douglas rose and took it, sat, and whispered to a cousin of Lincoln’s wife, “If I can’t be President, I can at least hold his hat.”
Getting the idea?
No, second to last.
Author Elisabeth Elliot wrote, in musing over Isaiah 59 about the Potter and his clay, “I believe the word humble comes from the Latin word humus, meaning earth, clay …”
And Merriam-Webster concurs. That helps. Think about it.
Last one: Gladys Aylward was a much admired twentieth century missionary. Her story contains some breath-taking, credibility-defying chapters. (Read about her here.) But she started out a poor, uneducated (due to learning difficulties) parlour maid to a wealthy British family. She became a missionary (an inspiring story in itself), and near the end of her decades in China she travelled the world speaking to large crowds; dined with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, and was the subject of a This Is Your Life TV programme. But the most striking thing about Gladys was her unconscious humility, saying on one occasion, “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I did in China. There was someone else … I don’t know who it was … I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing. And God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward …”
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man.
O Lord it’s hard to be humble
But I’m doing the best that I can.
(Mac Davis, 1980)