The gift of humility

Posted on April 12, 2010


I often struggle with humility.  I was blessed with good health, a stable family that valued education, and intelligence.  My parents always provided what we needed and much of what we wanted.  That lifestyle continues with my husband and children.  It’s easy (for me anyways) to fall into a trap of thinking that all of this good fortune is mine because I deserve it, because my people deserve it, because something we did makes us worthy.  Yet, we have had our share of misfortune, and we have seen our friends experience misfortune, and I know in my heart that misfortune can hit anyone.

The Christian tradition values humility, and sometimes you’ll hear Christians refer to Christ as a ‘servant leader,’ i.e., one who leads by serving his flock.  Christians are urged to follow Christ’s humble example.

This is really hard for me on so many levels.  For one thing, it feels like a ‘should do’ and not a ‘want to do’ and I have issues with doing something because I should.  For another, it feels false to me – how am I supposed to be humble about, say, my intelligence or my education when I’ve got more than my share of both?  Should I lie about these gifts?

However, there is another way to think of humility.  I read a blog post by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt about Shabbat that @RonColeman linked to my post on Unplugging for a day.  Rabbi Rosenblatt describes the Shabbat day of rest as “an opportunity to find a place of peace and humility within oneself.” [emphasis mine]  This description opened my eyes.

Perhaps the idea of humility is the flip side of control.  We cannot control everything.  We cannot do everything.  We cannot change everything to fit our desires.  Our belief that we can control our lives and our attempts to control our schedules, our environment, our children, our spouses, our employees or managers and our careers create stress.  We will never feel free of this stress until we acknowledge that we do not have control.  No matter how hard we work, no matter how well we plan, no matter how good we are . . . things happen.  When we accept that our life will never be completely under our control, we can release that stress.  This doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen.  It means there are better ways to spend our lives than trying to prevent every contingency.

Going back to the idea of Shabbat/Sabbath:  If we humble ourselves enough to say we do not have control over everything and we give ourselves one day of every week to allow life to unfold, to focus on the here and now rather than trying to plan and control and fix everything, maybe, just maybe, our lives will shed the stress and the arrogance and the restlessness of these modern times.  Maybe we can choose a life of connection and love and freedom that comes from humility.  Maybe we can get closer to God or to our own divinity.  What a gift.

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