Mother Teresa says of humility: “If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed, you won’t be discouraged; if anyone calls you a saint, you won’t put yourself on a pedestal.” (From Mother Teresa: Her Essential Wisdom)
My grandson Micah (16) won an award for a humorous presentation this past weekend – first place among forty-some kids. We are all proud of him for this great accomplishment. Needless to say, he was pretty proud and I would want him to be. We allowed him to gloat a bit and flash his trophy about. Micah does not have to be performing before an audience or rated by judges to be humorous. He is simply putting to use the gift given to him from birth. He appreciates his gift enough to give it time and effort to develop it so that he can use it to entertain others. I see this as the highest form of prayer.
When I was a child, being proud of one’s talents was considered “big headed”. A good parent would discourage any self-praise. No matter what a child felt about an accomplishment, they were never to take credit or talk about it or they would be reprimanded. One should not expect praise. If it came, it should be quickly deflected. This was supposed to help a child develop the virtue of humility, but this was a result of a misunderstanding of the meaning of humility.
Humility is not thinking little of one’s self, but rather knowing one’s place in the scheme of things. As Mother Teresa said in her quote above, you are humble when you know what you are. I have heard people describe a spiritual experience in which they became aware that they were just a grain of sand on the shore or a drop of water in the ocean. This is not a diminishment of self at all. It is a sense of being one with others, part of a whole. To be one does not mean to be the same. In ways we may not be able to distinguish, each grain of sand and drop of water is unique. And all are equally important or the dune or ocean would not exist.
This is how we are in the world, I believe. We are part of something bigger than ourselves- part of the human race, part of the animal kingdom, part of nature, part of the universe, part of God, however you imagine the whole. We each are uniquely gifted and when we use out gifts, we benefit the whole. Those gifted with a humorous view of the world lighten thing up for all of us. Without humor, life would be dismal and few of us would want to stay around. I like to think that our gifts are actually characteristics of God that we reveal. In Micah’s case, it is wonderful to imagine God with a sense of humor. “Lighten up, don’t take things so seriously, my children,” says God. It is God’s will for us to be happy and joyous and there are those among us to remind us of this.
When one is truly humble, they do not deny their gifts – that would be insulting to God. Rather, they find ways to use it in service to others. And if they really understand the workings of God, they will seek to empower others to recognize and to use to their gifts. Any self-centeredness associated with identifying one’s own gifts is dissipated by one is seeing and appreciating the gifts in others. It is all about belonging and gratitude for all of God’s gifts.
I know a woman who is constantly says, “I can’t do that,” whenever she sees the handiwork of her friends. She has a tendency to be overly impressed by the gifts in others while she denies the gifts in herself. This same woman is a master gardener and walking through her garden, one is filled with a sense of peace and beauty. If you draw that to her attention, she diminishes her gift. She will tell you of someone else who is better than she or she will point out all of the faults in her garden. She was raised in the same era as I. Her parents did what they believed good parents were supposed to do. I wish I could wake her up to this great gift that God has given her. Fortunately we benefit from the beauty of her garden. I wish she could find joy herself in her giftedness.