Cultivating humility is such a tremendously difficult thing to do...or at least, it is for me. I come from a long line of proud and self-righteous family members. In my family defending one's position and being right was of the utmost importance. My family was quick to accuse, slow to submit and even slower to forgive (much less to forget). Growing up in this environment I find myself so quick to defend, and I have to really fight against this tendency. Pride rears its ugly head and I hop on the high and mighty horse without a second thought.
I'll never forget the time I really hurt someone, a friend, because of my pride. At the time I didn't even see the situation for what it truly was, but looking back its glaringly apparent. It all started out with plain old nasty gossip. Though I was genuinely concerned for my friend and the choices she was making in her life, I handled this concern in an immature way--I talked about her behind her back. I broke the cardinal rule of trust. Though I wasn't trying to intentionally cut her down, it got out of hand and I got carried away. Then the worst happened: it got back to her. At this point I ought to have humbled myself and simply apologized, which I initially did. But in response to her hurt and anger (which were 100% justified) I started to get angry. I started feeling wronged by the rejection of my apology. And in all of my self-righteous anger I started pointing the proverbial finger at her, with accusations of wrong-doing while defending my own sinful actions. Pride came rushing in and I only made a terrible situation worse. Looking back on my friend and on the choices I made I wish I had been able to just take a step back, pray for the strength to humble myself and repair things as best I could. But too much damage had been done and the friendship was forever lost.
Why is it so easy to give in to the temptation of pride? I will forever carry sorrow in my heart for my shameful actions and words. Whenever I think of pride and of the damage it causes, I immediately come back to this sad memory. I will always ache for the hurt I caused my friend so many years ago and in a way I'm glad for that, because it serves as a constant reminder to me of the very real and negative consequence of pride.
One of the nasty things about pride is that it seldom comes alone. It usually brings along with it a boatload of other sins: a hard heart, anger, condescension, gossip, boasting, attention-seeking...the list goes on and on and to put it simply--it ain't pretty.
So, how are we to combat pride? Are we slaves to this puffed-up vanity and self-regard? Is there any way to mediate this ugly side of ourselves? I find Mother Theresa to be a huge inspiration to me in this area. To her Missionaries of Charity, Mother Theresa recommended prayerful reflection on the following list:
1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
3. Avoid curiosity.
4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
5. Accept small irritations with good humor.
6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
7. Accept censures even if unmerited.
8. Give in to the will of others.
9. Accept insults and injuries.
10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
12. Do not seek to be admired and loved.
13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
14. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
15. Always choose the more difficult task.
Are you feeling a bit taken aback by this list? How tremendously difficult some of these things are to put into action! Though it's difficult and requires much prayer, discipline and grace (always grace) I find trying to live my life in this way so freeing and... joyous. This is pretty revolutionary stuff. In our individualistic society that encourages us to stand out, to be tall and proud, to pamper ourselves and self-indulge this list is in drastic opposition to all of that. To accept insult and injury?! To give into unmerited censure??? To speak little about ourselves? You mean, life isn't all about...US? Revolutionary indeed. And ironically more powerful than any self-serving, self-glorifying pursuit on earth.
Another thing that brings me down from that proverbial high horse of pride is to consider the awesomeness of the Lord. To reflect on the vastness of the universe, of His boundless knowledge and power immediately takes me down a peg or two. How little and insignificant we are next to Him! I try to cultivate this sense of wonder and awe so that I may remain mindful of my teeny tiny part in His Grandscape. Trying to see myself as a mere cog in the great machine of His Creation serves as a reminder that my life and all that I do is for Him. What brings us to this place of wonder and awe is different for everyone. For me it is nature--opening my eyes to appreciate a vast night sky of stars, the roaring ocean storm or a summer day so serene and tranquil I feel my heart might burst. How perfect and amazing His creation is, and I am so humbled and blessed to be living in it! What a blessing is is to become smaller--to get out of the way-- so that He can become bigger.
I encourage you to reflect on humility and prayerfully consider the ways in which you can glorify the Lord through "becoming smaller." Thinking in this vein often brings my mind to the Prayer of St. Francis:
- Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
- Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
- Where there is injury, pardon.
- Where there is doubt, faith.
- Where there is despair, hope.
- Where there is darkness, light.
- Where there is sadness, joy.
- O Divine Master,
- grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
- to be understood, as to understand;
- to be loved, as to love.
- For it is in giving that we receive.
- It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
- and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
I love the emphasis of this prayer on becoming instruments of the Lord for His glory. The desire is solely on giving and serving others. I pray that I may live my life in this way--always seeking ways to bless others and being an instrument of the Lord.
Let us ask the Lord to reveal to us the ways in which we can truly be instruments of His peace. I encourage you not to just read this prayer but to really pray it. Let the words soak in.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope. His hope to others who desperately need it.
Where there is darkness let me bring light. His light to those in darkness.
Grant that I may console those who hurt. That I may love others the way He calls us to.
In a society that encourages us to be everything, this prayer is a request that we empty ourselves of our own desires to become an instruments of the Lord--to make music for His flock. I encourage you to cultivate humility along with me. And I pray that we may all become instruments of His peace, music makers of His glory.
"Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name give glory."