A few months ago I wrote about the struggles I faced in accepting one of my greatest strengths, adaptability. I wrestled with possessing a strength that I perceived as small and useless. I wondered why God didn’t gift me with the ability to ideate or to woo or to strategize.
I still wonder what I can do with that strength, where it will lead me, if it will get me a job that will pay the bills and then some. But I’ve been learning something else about myself that seems to be in conflict with my ability to be unattached to plans and to go with the flow: humility is not my strong suit.
If you’re confused as to how those two things clash, let me tell you a little something about humility: she’s subtle. She’s cloaked in unassuming garb and she’s tight-lipped about what she looks like and how she operates until you’re tested in her ways. But if you let her, she’ll teach you how to be like her. And she’s a lot harder to learn than you might think.
Because what you think you know about humility sure sounds pretty and romantic and easy, but it only scratches the surface. Sure, humility is knowing where you stand before God. It’s knowing that you’re no better than anyone else. Those are Sunday school answers to the “can anyone tell me what ‘humility’ means?” question.
I’ll make no secret about it. I’m after the Heart of Christ. I hunger for it. I need it. I didn’t fully recognize that need until a few weeks ago, so when I did recognize it, I started praying for it. I begged Christ to show me His Heart, to give it to me, to let me draw near to it. And I started waiting for and hoping in His response, because I knew that He wouldn’t leave me longing.
But Christ has funny ways of answering prayers. Often He won’t give us what we ask for—patience, kindness, understanding. Rather, He’ll send us little tests as opportunities to practice those things. I’m convinced that His Heart is exactly where He wants me. But I think He’s showing me what it takes to reach it first, and He’s been doing that by opening my eyes to how gritty true humility is.
Knowing where you stand before God and your fellow man sounds rather straight-forward, but Christ has been showing me that putting humility into practice is exactly the opposite. For me, humility has meant doing tasks at work that I’m not thrilled about and doing them without complaint. It’s meant putting my personal night prayer on hold so I can pray with my community before everyone turns in for bed. It’s meant realizing that the community that I live with is collectively more important than I am, that the work I do hinges on my ability and willingness to set aside my own will.
Even though I like to think of myself as adaptable, humility has meant seeing that I’m still not as detached as I ought to be. That I shouldn’t cling to my little day-to-day and even minute-to-minute plans any more than I should my longer-term plans. Being obedient to God means doing His will in the small things, because our days are filled with small, ordinary moments. If we look for God only in the big, the loud, the earth-shaking, we’re almost always going to miss Him and opportunities to grow closer to Him.
I started reading a book last week called Worshipping a Hidden God by Archbishop Luis Martinez. The very morning I started reading it, I prayed a Litany of Humility, a prayer asking God for radical humility—to be free from the desire to be loved, to be preferred, even to become holier than others. God must have been preparing me for what the day would hold; sure enough, the first few chapters of Worshipping a Hidden God are about how humility is one of the most critical parts of the interior life. Not three pages in, Archbishop Martinez quotes St. Augustine:
“Reach for God and He’ll run away from you. Lower yourself before Him and He’ll reach down to you.”
I struggled with that when I first read it. I didn’t want it to be true. It made me wonder if I had been approaching Jesus all wrong. I still struggle with it. But I know that Christ wouldn’t put this ache in my heart for Him if He didn’t intend on fulfilling it as much as He can in this life. If I want union with Him, He’ll grant it to me. But there is no pride in the Heart of Christ. I can’t put myself first in all things and come face-to-face—no, heart-to-Heart—with the One Who always put Himself last, at the service of His Father and His neighbors. So I follow Christ’s ways. I follow the path to His Heart on His terms, not mine.
And it begins with humility. I’m not sure where it goes from there. I might be at the beginning for awhile. But the Heart of Christ is worth any struggle.