When my grandmother Rose burned a pan of cookies, she looked up to heaven and said, “Aren’t I humble enough yet?” She was, in fact, very humble, and yet accepted every setback as a gift from God that was making her more holy.
Humility is a gift
Maybe the last couple of years haven’t exactly felt like a gift. We’ve been made to step back and realize we weren’t as in control of our lives as we imagined. And we’ve been made face our total dependence on God and his mercy.
Maybe it’s a good time to look again at the virtue of humility to unpack the advantages it gives us in being closer to God.
What humility isn’t and what it is
It isn’t being a doormat. It isn’t putting ourselves down. It isn’t pretending we don’t have talents. Humility is simply seeing ourselves as God sees us — dependent on him, yes, and also filled with his power to do good. A humble person prays to have her weaknesses made strong and thanks God for her talents and uses them to build up God’s kingdom on earth.
Advice from an expert
And who better to get pointers on humility from than a saint? Mother Teresa listed 15 ways to be humble that she and her sisters lived by. I ran across them in an article by Patti Armstrong, and share them with you, each with my commentary.
While she was head of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa kept a list of ways to cultivate humility for the sisters in her care.
- Speak as little as possible about yourself.
I’ve noticed that to do this I need to think as little as possible about myself.
- Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
Of course, we have to blend our affairs with others all the time. But am I too often expecting others to do things my way or think of things from my perspective?
- Avoid curiosity (she is referring to wanting to know things that should not concern us).
How many thoughts do I have during the day about others’ private affairs?
- Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
Being aware of #3 can help a lot with this.
- Accept small irritations with good humor.
Okay, accept big ones with good humor, too. But starting with the smalls helps us build the all-important virtue of patience.
- Do not dwell on the faults of others.
Notice how many of these relate to each other? If we’re not expecting others to do things our way, and don’t get involved in their business, we’ll be less concerned with their faults. Spending less attention on the others’ faults means more attention to my own.
- Accept censures even if unmerited.
“Bear wrongs patiently” is the fourth Spiritual Work of Mercy.
- Give in to the will of others.
Ouch. Letting others do things their way is one thing, but giving up my way? Yes, Lord. I know that when I let others have their way, especially if I have prayed about it, I will have more peace.
- Accept insults and injuries.
This would be the fifth spiritual work of mercy. It means not retaliating, but instead bringing our grievances to God — to suffer with him in his unjust torment. A big exception to this, of course, is if someone is actually abusing us. The confidential hotline for domestic violence is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit https://www.thehotline.org/help/
- Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
Are these getting harder as they go on? Uniting with Jesus in his humiliation is the only way to do this.
- Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do. When I hurt someone, did I mean to do it or was I just protecting myself from something? It’s surprising how often hurtful behavior comes from just protecting an old wound. Let me offer others the same compassion and speedy forgiveness I have for myself.
- Do not seek to be admired and loved.
This is a supernatural gift — God, help me to spend my energy in what pleases you instead of those around me.
- Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
My dignity is given by God and cannot be taken away. Because of this, I can let things go, trusting that God is directing the situation.
- Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
This requires the virtue of prudence, letting us do this in the right situations. But when only our ego is at stake, yes, let me be the loser of the argument so as to stand with the humiliated Christ, Victor over sin and death.
- Choose always the more difficult task.
A good practice to strengthen our virtue muscles. Doing the hardest thing on our to-do list first. Volunteering to do a disagreeable job and no one wants in union with Christ, who never did his human will but that of God.
The Power of Humility
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” —Saint Augustine
Mother Teresa called humility the mother of all virtues. She said: “If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.”