This is the first in a series of blog posts about Christian virtues (a series I’m calling “Add to Your Faith”). In today’s post, I’d like to examine the word humility.
There’s no shortage of instruction in the Bible regarding humility; in fact, the word ‘humble’ first appears in the Bible in Exodus (KJV). Perhaps one of the most famous verses (at least, that I am aware of) is James 4:10, which tells us to “Humble [ourselves] in the sight of the Lord”.
But really, what does that mean? Most of us do not consider ourselves prideful people, and indeed, when you think of those you know, there are surely only a few you can place in that category. It’s pretty easy to identify people who have a high opinion of themselves.
This afternoon, I was watching Jane Austen’s Emma (1996, starring Gwyneth Paltrow), and I was struck by Mrs. Elton’s manners. She is a master of the “humble brag”: “I do not profess to be an expert in the field of fashion (though my friends say I have quite the eye) but I can tell you, there is a shocking lack of satin!” Sure, she never personally brags on herself, but she spends plenty of time sharing what her friends say about her greatness:
It’s easy to identify a Mrs. Elton, and easy enough to say “I’ll never be like that.” However, those who are fans of the novel or one of its film adaptations know that there is another significant scene, involving Emma, the hapless Miss Bates, and a healthy dose of humility.
Emma is like most of us, caught up in her own life, her own needs, and her own desires. She is not overly prideful or outwardly concerned with herself. In fact, she spends the majority of her time scheming to get her friends and acquaintances married off. While she takes pride in her appearance, she doesn’t seek to drape herself with pounds upon pounds of adornments.
And that’s how we are, too. Sure, we check the mirror before leaving the house to make sure we look presentable–but we’re not vain (or so we tell ourselves). We spend time working for others, with others–for our spouses, our kids, our coworkers. We give to charitable organizations and donate what we can.
…and unfortunately, sometimes, we delude ourselves like Emma into forgetting the importance of humility.
While Emma has a good, kind heart, she does fail in one respect–Miss Bates. Miss Bates is beneath Emma’s station, a spinster who often makes up for her isolation by having a week’s worth of conversation in an afternoon. Her chatter is mindless, inane, and harmless:
Emma and her friends are generally kind to Miss Bates, although they do tend to avoid her when possible. However, there comes a moment when Emma is harshly unkind to Miss Bates. Mr. Frank Churchill proposes a game, where each person will say “one thing very clever … two things moderately clever, or three things very dull indeed”. Emma delivers a nasty little barb to Miss Bates, who will have, in her opinion, a very difficult time saying only three dull things:
Emma’s companion, Mr. Knightley, chastises her for what she’s done, and when presented with it, Emma is horrified with what she’s done.
So what’s the point of all this? Humility is defined as a moderate view of one’s own importance or station in life. Christ continually set examples for us to be servants to others, instructing us to “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). It’s regrettably easy to forget to have compassion for others who are “beneath us”.
What do I mean? Consider the last time you were at a restaurant. How did you treat your server? What about the last time you were at the ball field and someone else had left behind trash? Did you stop to pick up and toss that empty Gatorade bottle, or did you leave it for someone else?
My children and I are currently working on this virtue. Yesterday, when the dryer kicked off, I asked the children to unload it and put away the laundry. Each child grabbed what was obviously their own and left the rest of the laundry balled up on the couch. I called them back in, and my oldest huffed a sigh. “It’s not my laundry,” he explained. “I shouldn’t have to put it away.”
But really, what does it cost us to be kind to others–to be a servant to others? When we are only concerned with ourselves and doing for ourselves, we are missing out on a chance to be Christlike. That being said, we don’t have to debase ourselves. I wouldn’t expect my sons to go clean my daughter’s room. However, they can humble themselves and help her put her laundry away since they are taller and can more easily reach the closet rod.
As you go about your daily life, seek out ways in which you can humble yourself, and by doing so, lift up others and yourself.
MICKI CLARK is the author of Don’t Ask Me to Leave, available on Amazon (print and digital) and other fine retailers.
Newlywed Rachel Miller has everything she could want from life—the perfect husband, her dream job, and a cute little house in the country—but the daydream is shattered when her husband is killed in a tragic accident. Her mother-in-law, Nadine, takes her in as she tries to pick up the pieces, and their handsome neighbor Beau is willing to help…if Rachel will let him. Does she dare open her heart for a second chance at love? – Don’t Ask Me to Leave, March 2017