Joyful humility requires that we accept our need of others and oftentimes our dependence on them. Having recently experienced in my own life my need of support, I have again been reminded of how important it is to learn to accept the love and compassion of others with humility.
Often, I have read that the only way we learn humility is by being humbled. It seems that God sends us many opportunities to learn humility, but it is up to us to accept these lessons with joy and thanksgiving.
Humility – Celebrating Dependence
Living the hidden life of a mother and housewife, the Blessed Virgin Mary practiced humility even as the Mother of God. She must have needed St. Joseph and Jesus just as we need others. She most likely yearned for intimacy with other human beings just as deeply, or more deeply, than we do.
Perhaps during her pregnancy and the early days with the infant Jesus, she accepted the help of other women in her home. Perhaps this acceptance of outside assistance was difficult or embarrassing for her, as it may often be for us. Maybe she didn’t always know what others thought of her, yet accepted humbly the judgments of others, recognizing that she was a creature entirely dependent on the love and mercy of her God.
Are we guilty of looking at others and judging them in their weakness or time of need? Why is it easy to imagine that I am stronger or more self-sufficient than those around me? In only a moment God can send a trial which brings me to my senses and to the acceptance of this fundamental truth: that I am a finite creature whose happiness depends entirely on the love of God, made present in my life through the love of those around me.
Why do I sometimes imagine that I could endure more joyfully the trials which my neighbors undergo? Each day of life I am called by Our Lord to acknowledge my own weakness, and brought to recognize once again that it is through my acts of humility that He can most fully make me strong.
Recognizing a Need for Others
Experiencing humility, or literally “being humbled”, forces me to recognize my need for others. Is it more meritorious to play the suffering servant towards my spouse at the end of the day, or to look him in the eye and admit my own weakness and need for his help?
I don’t want to burden him, but I often find that by conjuring up an attitude of martyrdom, I do more damage than good in the long run. It is difficult for me to acknowledge my needs and expose myself to others, even those closest to me, in moments of weakness and failure. But when I do surrender my own will in an act of humility, the result is usually one of deeper understanding, forgiveness, and greater love.
Physical, spiritual, and emotional trials can teach us the virtue of humility, as well as call us to deeper gratitude. When I am brought low by illness and exhaustion, I am horrified, literally, by my own inability to care for those who need me. Suddenly I become the child who depends entirely on the goodwill of my family and friends, and this experience is deeply eye opening when I allow it to be.
A New Awareness
If I cannot physically and emotionally care for my husband and children, and someone else is temporarily fulfilling this role for me, I suddenly “see” the true beauty of my vocation with a new awareness and a deeper appreciation. It also makes me stop and think: what must it feel like for the terminally ill, or those struggling with chronic pain, to lie back and allow God to manage their lives, accepting this painful weakness with abandonment and trust?
I can’t begin to imagine the suffering and trust which must be involved in such circumstances, and recognition of this fact gives me a renewed opportunity to value the sufferings of others, to thank them for their example of faithfulness, and to offer gratitude to God for all of my blessings. Does not God in His goodness continually send us opportunities to recognize His great mercy, if only we open our eyes to receive these insights with joy?
Finally, how will I teach my children the virtue of humility? In what ways can I accept being “humbled” before them, in order to model the beauty and dignity veiled therein? Can I show them that there is joy to be found in the experience of not responding to a negative comment, or of not putting myself forward in social contexts, whether it be through social media or in a simple gathering of friends?
I want to teach my children the importance of praising the good work of another, without it demeaning my own accomplishments or self confidence. Perhaps cultivating a spirit of appreciation for the eye opening experiences of humility God sends my way is the first step in the right direction.
As the saints teach us, it is by thanking God in our littleness, in our moments of weakness and need, that we find true joy and peace.