In pursuit of humility


“When pride comes, then comes disgrace,

but with humility comes wisdom.”

Proverbs 11:2 (NIV)


“Do you want to be counted wise and build a

reputation for wisdom?  Here’s what you do: live well

live wisely, live humbly.  It’s the way you live, not the way

you talk that counts.” James 3:13 (MSG)


          Some years ago some of us smiled when we heard the lyrics of the country-western song, “It’s Hard To Be Humble”.  In fact certain phrases still come to mind after all these years!  Do you recall them?


                    Oh Lord, But it is hard to be humble,

                    when you’re perfect in every way!

                    I can’t stand to look in the mirror,

                    ‘cause I get better looking each day.

                    I must be a hell of a man!

                    Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble,

                    but I am doing the best that I can!


          While we may discount most of the words, a certain basic truth remains: It is hard to be humble!!  One flip observation heard during my younger years was: “He who is humble usually has much to be humble about!”  But maturity has convinced me that it is hard to be humble not because we are so perfect and others have so many failings but rather that humility is extremely elusive.  When we think we have grasped a bit of it, our pride in that accomplishment dissipates our humility!


          Further, as one author suggest, we tend to judge our behavior of others much differently than that of our own.  He observed: “When we forget something, it’s just a slip of mind; but when someone else forgets, it’s gross negligence.  When we snap at someone, it’s simply because we are having a bad day; but if someone snaps at us, we see them as mean-spirited!  And, of course, if we are late for an appointment, it’s because of the hectic day we are having.  But if someone else is late, we judge them as irresponsible!”  Obviously, while it is easy to condemn and criticize others for their shortcomings and excuse our own imperfections, we will never attain even a semblance of humility until we admit to ourselves that we, too, have faults and our actions are not always perfect!


          I was surprised to find almost forty references in the New Testament alone, in exact reference to humility itself or a similar concept, such as “not being proud”.  Obviously, Jesus and the Apostles placed a great emphasis on humility and yet I note both in myself and in others how little attention we seem to give to seeking ways to attain it!  The opposite trait of humility is pride and there is no pride like that of being self-righteous, i.e., feeling good about our own performance and looking down on that of others. 


          In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15:11-32) Jesus emphasizes the love, compassion and grace of the Prodigal’s father.  However, He didn’t stop there; He went on to tell us about the jealous and resentment of the older brother.  Yet the self-righteous older brother probably would have qualified to considered as a pillar in most churches!   We need to internalize the lesson that Jesus was teaching and see the greater wrong of the self-righteousness both in the older brother and view its presence within ourselves.


          A major problem with self-righteousness it that it is so easy to identify it in others and so difficult to recognize it one’s self!  Yes, we will admit to some of our shortcoming but NOT that of self-righteousness!   However, until we examine ourselves for at least traces of it, the acquiring of genuine humility will be an impossible goal!


          A person whom I feel most closely reflected humility is the late Pope John II.  On his visit to the United States in October of 1995, he said a number of things that each of us should ponder.  However, the one statement he made at the closing of his presentation represents a guideline for each of us seeking a greater degree of humility.  He said, “Nobody is so rich that he has nothing to receive.”  When we internalize the wisdom of his observation, I believe we have at least a good starting point in our pursuit of humility.  Amen