Humility is a concept that is difficult to define. We often think of it as an antithesis to confidence. But this is simply untrue. Many of our favorite leaders in history or in our own lives are treasured because of their humility. I think of St Teresa of Calcutta and her work with the poorest of the poor in India. Or an old boss who always said it was the interns who did most of the difficult work on a project, not him. There is an openness in humility. A flexibility to learn something new. A teachable spirit. Humility allows us to listen. And ultimately, humility is connected to God’s sovereignty.
I am not a humble person. I aspire to be. But I’m quick to react. I often feel the need to “prove a point” or defend myself. My husband is a humble person. He is slow to react, if he reacts at all. He stops. He assesses a situation. He listens.
Often, I will tell him a story of how someone annoyed me, wronged me, or needs to be put in their place. If I stop in that moment, I know I am red in the face, my heart rate is up and I’m a little sweaty. I’m completely worked up.
And my husband calmly, coolly, lovingly says to me, “To what end?”
And I immediately know the answer.
To make myself look good. It’s as if I see myself as the “strong female lead” in the movie about my life.
I can cloak my reaction in phrases like “defending myself,” “protecting myself,” but in the end, it is all about lifting myself up. It is as if my trials and desires occupy the most important place in this story of life.
And I am reminded of St. Paul’s words in Philippians 2, a passage which is oddly one of my favorites because it reveals the character and love of Jesus. In it, St. Paul invites us to be like Christ, who did “nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.” Jesus didn’t look out for his own interests. Even though he was God, he did not feel the need to prove himself. In fact, he revealed his strength, love, and glory by humbling himself, by becoming one of us and being so obedient to his father, to his sovereignty, even to the point of death on a cross.
St. Paul uses the phrase, “clothe yourself in humility.” I love that idea of putting humility on like a shirt or a scarf. There is a tenderness in that. A warmth that humility gives. A kindness, as you interact with others through this reframing.
I think of this now as I move through my day. When I am driving and the person in front of me is taking up two lanes and moving at the speed of a snail. I think to myself “clothe yourself in humility.” And it is as if I can see the other person more clearly. She pulls over to look at her directions and I see she is someone’s grandmother, nervous about the different neighborhood and the speeding cars around her.
Or online, when I feel the need to have the last word or explain my point ad nauseum, I remind myself “to what end?” And I know Jesus would not even bother with such silliness.
But it is when I am confronted by someone else’s anger that I know I am learning. The anger might be about me, but it might not. When I clothe myself in humility, I can hear because I am listening. I am open to the other person’s hurt and pain and anger. Instead of reacting and adding fuel, my tenderness cools the situation. When we clothe ourselves in humility, we clothe ourselves in Christ.