What’s the difference between being humble and having humility? I wondered. From a resource: Humble is an adjective that means not arrogant; unassuming, while humility is a noun that means modesty. Humility is the quality or state of being humble, which would imply that it’s not a trait but a quality that can be learned. Not proud or arrogant; Having or showing a modest estimate of one’s own importance. To subject oneself humbly out of respect for another. Humility: from old French, Latin humils—low, from the ‘humus’--the ground.
Some people believe that true humility is putting oneself down, or intentionally denying yourself of pleasure or relaxation. Humility is not allowing others to take advantage of your kindness or being mistreated. Jim once began a sermon on humility with “I’m humble, and I’m proud of it!” which was a humorous attention-grabber but which paved the way to his point. “Humble/humility is an attitude that we acquire as we acknowledge our interdependence on many, but expressly God. Anyone taking pride in their humility is barking up the wrong tree.”
The blog on Acquiesce (July) listed several close similarities to humility but there’s sufficient difference to underscore the value and award greater significance to humility. Acquiescence is a readiness or willingness to yield to the wishes of others. Humility is the absence of any feelings of being better than others.
A book about Abraham Lincoln has recently fueled my interest in researching honest humility. The writer emphasizes the utmost trust that these young politicians had for each other, even though some were arrogant, which in my opinion is a revealer of insecurity. Many, like Lincoln, acknowledged without apology their humble backgrounds, who they were and were not and what they projected they could do. They not only depended on each other but managed to tolerate others, gathered information, made decisions, took risks and figured out how best to lead this country.
Although Lincoln is not my subject, his humble undertaking of bringing those who were previously on the opposite side into his cabinet primarily because each one possessed a quality that would serve the nation best in those turbulent times, is impressive. His insatiable thirst for deeper understanding of people and how he could cooperate with other leaders including those with whom he disagreed hinged on humility. One cannot fake true humility which is an honest assessment of one’s abilities, learned skills and wise decision-making. Lincoln displayed unusual humility when taking the blame several times for co-workers’ bad decisions to enable them to save face.
Mother Teresa exemplified a prime example of a leader humbly committed to serve behind the scenes faithful to the calling she had received from God, and doing for people what they could not do for themselves.
Most have a favorite biography depicting the humble, unselfish sacrifices of physicians, scientists, political leaders, missionaries, nurses, inventors, teachers, parents, friends, on and on and including 2022.
Developing a humble disposition begins with a willingness to receive correction and direction from an authority with a realistic understanding about what we know and don’t know, what we can and cannot do along with the acknowledgment that we’re not the center of the universe, but are distinctly in the crowd. Owning up to our mistakes is an important part of the mix. A humble attitude actually aids discernment in making everyday decisions and maintaining healthy relationships.
Jim loved the example about the energetic and noisy little boy who was dancing around and getting on his mother’s nerves. She finally thundered out “Sit down”, which he did immediately. But he uttered under his breath, “But I am standing up on the inside.” He obeyed the authority of his mom but didn’t totally agree with her. We are like that, too, aren’t we?
Calling on God for wisdom and his help is an act of humility because we admit we need his wisdom, direction, inspiration and peace. Giving God our day, our energy and putting our plans, purchases and ideas on hold until we have given serious thought and the Lord time to make any impressions of corrections is how humbling ourselves works. God does not humble us; the scripture says clearly. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10 (NIV)
Truth and humility are a two-some. We learn the truth and stick with it. As mentioned earlier, humility is not a trait but a learned behavior but for many it’s also part of our spiritual growth. For instance, forgiving someone who has betrayed us is unnatural and difficult because it demands humility and special assistance from God to do so. Even forgiving ourselves must be done at times. Unconditional love is a goal. A subject for a future blog. Early believers from the Garden of Eden through the Psalms, Isaiah, the prophets and New Testament learned and lived what was true and the importance and wisdom in trusting God.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13
Galatians 6:3-4 very simply maps out behaving humbly: If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.
In order to embrace humility, we may need to change the way we think. Humility seems to be fluid, strong at times, weak at other times. I don’t think that we will ever arrive at: “Okay, I’ve mastered humility like I’ve accomplished an exercise, walked a certain distance or scrubbed the floor in jiffy time. ‘Always room for improvement’ keeps us humble.