I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.
Then I was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin or desire not self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed….I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.” –Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
Read this again: If only they could all see themselves as they really are…….I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.
Now, take a deep breath and notice how you react to that statement.
The first time I heard someone quote those words, I gasped. Hearing those words of one of the greatest spiritual guides and writers of the twentieth century, my vision cleared and I could get breath down deeper than ever before. I had to take off my shoes — figuratively– and bow my head because I knew that I was standing on holy ground, taking in those words.
That statement, my friends, defines humility, but it takes some rearranging of the furniture in one’s mind to allow the truth of it to sink down into your heart, and it takes some courage to live the truth of it in everyday life.
Merton’s definition of humility doesn’t quite square with the street definition that most of us have carried around in our minds, burdened by knowing we should have humility, but not really wanting it. (Hint: Always watch the “should” word; it’s laden with guilt and shame, dread and resistance.)
I want to be known for having humility, but allowing that state of being to grow in me is not so easy. In theory, I want to be humble, but I’m not a fan of being humbled and I pretty much run from humiliation. As a lifelong member of the Christian community, I know that humility is something I should want, but in my history, humility was too often too much like shame.
Part of the problem is that my mind, heart and will have been formed in a culture that places high value on self-reliance, independence and self-will, so to come to the point of having to ask for help requires that I admit that I need help and then I have to take the risk that if I ask, I will be given what I need.
In our culture, humility is sometimes associated with weakness, and sometimes “strong” people think they can run over those who are humble.
Another problem in this humility thing is that I have to get over my shame in order to humbly ask for help, and when I say “get over” what I mean is that I have to step around it or over it and in spite of it if I am going to muster the courage to ask for what I cannot accomplish myself, but truly think I should desire.
It’s the shame of having the character defect in the first place that binds me to my fear, and it’s the shame of having to admit the defect and my inability to obliterate it by myself — in my own power, out of my super-abilities or with my hard work.
Sometimes I find I can’t even pray my defect away, but then I go back to that scripture about “praying amiss” and I remember that if in my praying, I am focusing on my defect, I’m praying to the problem. I should be better at praying a-right, shouldn’t I?
You know how that is. If someone says for you not to think about the number 7, that’s all you can see: 7 7 7 7. If you focus on the problem you’re trying to banish from your life, it will become stronger, dig in deeper and taunt you more because this principle works: whatever you think about, you will become.
Jesus himself said it: As you think in your heart, so are you.
To really understand humility and to work this step, I have to return to examine again the importance of how I relate to God, my God-image, God-as-I-understand him.
When it comes to humbly asking God to remove my shortcomings, an image of God that is of a loving, forgiving, merciful and gracious God goes a long way to making it possible for me to ask for his help.
Here’s what I think humility is not, then, Humility is not groveling before God. It is not declaring how horrible I am and how I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, tolerance or love.
Humility isn’t slinking around, ashamed and self-flagellating either with words or a whip.
Humility isn’t repeatedly reciting my lists of wrongs over and over. It isn’t holding on to an image of myself as a zero, a good-for-nothing, unworthy of forgiveness, carrying a black stain around in my soul.
Humility is standing before God, opening my mind and heart to the Almighty, confident that as a creation made in his very image, created a little lower than the angels, beloved unconditionally by God, I present myself to him as one who has direct access to the Creator of the universe.
Humility means that I am strong enough to admit and confess my shortcomings and defects, my failures and my frailties to the One who understands how I am made and wants to help me.
Humility means that I can say, “I did that” or “I feel this” with the assurance that until I can say the hardest facts, I am bound by them. It is in saying the truth that begins the process by which I can be freed from the shackles that bind me.
Humility means that I do not have to hide my shamefulness behind excuses, justifications or fears of God’s wrath. It means that I am so confident in God’s nature of unconditional love that I can tell the truth without fear. I can call things what they are and not use euphemisms.
I can confess my weaknesses to God without fear of his branding me by my worst traits.
I can confess my failures to God without being locked into them forever because it is God whom the psalmist declares is merciful and ready to forgive.
Humility is more about believing in the nature of God than it is about the nature of my wrongs.
It is about believing that however badly I have behaved, God’s goodness is greater. than all of my harmful deeds, added up over a lifetime.
Humility is confidence not in my ability to change, but in God’s great love for me, a love that transforms, heals, liberates and empowers us to be fully who we are created to be.
Humility is accepting my place in the order of things. I am God’s creation
* * * * *
So, back to Merton’s bold declaration. (Does it make you uncomfortable?)
If it’s hard to accept what Merton says, try this:
Imagine yourself standing tall before the grandeur of God, arms stretched out as a symbol of your confidence in God’s love for you.
How does it feel just to imagine that?
Imagine yourself standing boldly in the presence of God as a person created in his image and loved passionately by the Creator who made you.
How does it feel to imagine that?
Imagine yourself as that creature made just a little lower than the angels, deeply and unconditionally loved by the One whose very name is Love, unafraid and at perfect ease in God’s presence. Imagine feeling completely free in the presence of God.
How does it feel to imagine that?
Imagine that God is saying to you, “You are my beloved child”.
How does it feel to imagine that?
Imagine that at the deepest level of your consciousness you can know that “the Father is very fond of you.”
How does it feel to imagine you can feel that fondness?
Imagine that you can hear God telling you, “We are in this together. I’m here to help you.”
How does it feel to imagine God as your Helper?
Imagine that humility is coming boldly and confidently to God with the assurance that God wants you to become all that you are created to be and will work with you, in you, for you to remove whatever is keeping you from living the one wild and precious life you have been designed and made to live.
How does it feel to imagine that God is like that?
Humility begins with an understanding of the order of things and continues with the on-going awareness of who God is and who we are and how things are to work in the world.
Keep it simple. Keep it straight.
Begin with this: God is love.
Stay with this: God is love and God loves you.
Grace to you —