Humility: Some Practical Steps
A reader recently wrote a blog comment inquiring about some practical suggestions for acquiring humility. The reader was quite right in recognizing that humility is a primary Christian virtue and the sure pathway in the spiritual life leading to union with God Who took the form of a servant and clothed Himself in humility. Indeed, the lack of humility has been the scourge of humanity to the present day and the source of its estrangement from God since the Fall.
Because humility is central to the spiritual life and plays a pivotal role in the ultimate destiny of every human being, God gives us daily opportunities to acquire humility. For example, when a spouse is judgmental and we choose to overlook it, when a co-worker acts unfairly and we choose not to retaliate, we are acting with some degree of humility. There are perhaps hundreds of opportunities for such exercises in humility every day, opportunities that the Lord graciously provides us in order to grow closer to Him. Saint Macarius the Great wrote, “Christians therefore ought to strive continually, and never to pass judgment on anyone—no, not upon the harlot on the street, or upon open sinners and disorderly persons—but to regard all men with singleness of intention and purity of eye, so that it may become like a fixed law of nature to despise no one, to abhor no one, to make no distinctions between them….This is purity of heart, when you see sinners or sick people, to have compassion on them and be tenderhearted towards them.”
Thus, the first step is not to make distinctions between people on the basis of their actions, but to have compassion on them. Quite often the correct response is silence, but it should be a silence with loving-kindness and compassion, not a silence of harsh indifference. Silence can also provide us time to find our moorings and commit ourselves to the Gospel’s call. When silence is from humility, it is truly golden. Pride, on the other hand, often manifests itself via the tongue that we misuse in our egotistical desire to correct a wrong, assert our ego, and dominate or control others. How much better it is to offer the humble prayer, “Lord, have mercy on my brother and on me by his prayers; Lord have mercy on my sister and on me by her prayers.”
The circumstances of our daily life offer us a myriad of opportunities to choose the better part, which will not be taken away from us by listening quietly for the Lord’s gentle and compassionate voice. But we cannot listen, while we are talking, scolding, or reacting with our tongue or even with the tongue of the heart. Each of these opportunities requires a choice between the self-aggrandizing ego and the meek, humility of the Gospel, between the captivity and the compulsion of the passions and the glorious freedom of the virtues, between the flames of thousand competing selfish desires and the cool refreshment of the one true desire of the human heart, our Lord Jesus Christ. Heaven and hell stand before us in our choice for or against humility.
Humility can be lived in the midst of our present circumstances. It’s not an abstract theory encapsulated in a sentimental phrase. One practical example of humility may be found in the Lord Christ’s baptism. He was not ashamed to enter the Jordan with others confessing their sins, though He was utterly sinless. He hardly spoke. He called no attention to Himself. He quietly worked the salvation of all humanity, purifying the waters for our baptism, taking on the sins of the world, and showing us, from the beginning of his life in the manger until His death on the Cross, the most excellent path of humility, calling us to tread on that path as well.