Most days my missionary community prays Liturgy of the Hours in the morning and at night. If you’re unfamiliar, Liturgy of the Hours is a way of praying with the scriptures that priests and religious communities, as well as many lay people, pray at prescribed times during the day.
Wednesday’s night prayer concludes with a few lines that are probably a little curious to some:
“Lord Jesus Christ,
You have given your followers an example of gentleness and humility,
A task that is easy, a burden that is light.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m after Christ’s Heart. I hunger and thirst for it, for sanctity, for closeness with Him. I want to be a saint. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life. And if I want to get there, learning humility is an excellent start.
But if you’ve read this post on humility, or this post about my struggles with virtue, or if you’ve ever striven for humility yourself, you know that being gentle and humble (or practicing any virtue, for that matter) is the farthest thing from easy at times. It might be easier than the complicated, back-breaking rules and rituals that Jewish law imposed on people, which is what prompted Jesus to say that His yoke is easy and light. But it’s still a hard thing. I can’t imagine how difficult those laws must have been in Jesus’ day if He offered humility and gentleness as an alternative. Even though Jesus’ way is probably easier than other paths that people tried, holiness is still hard.
Such struggles and questions make me think that St. Therese of Lisieux and I were destined to find each other. I’ve been taking a lot of tips and inspiration from her lately, especially after reading her autobiography and a retreat guided by her “little way.” So it’s no surprise that I find myself turning to her to help me make sense of those lines in Wednesday night’s prayer.
St. Therese was also filled with a great desire to be a saint. But she found the examples of the saints that came before her to be lofty, intimidating, and difficult to imitate. Still, she was determined to reach heaven, even if it meant creating her own way. And she did. Since she considered herself a weak and little soul, she knew that great spiritual insights and heroic exercises of virtue were beyond her. Her way of holiness was rooted in her simple understanding that God is a merciful Father who delights in the trust and the small acts of love of His children, not in their perfection and heroism.
And trust and humility go hand in hand. Humility is being right-sized before God and others, no bigger and no smaller than we really are. And to be humble, we must trust that God knows best for us and that He will always make things work for our good, even if things don’t always seem good at first glance. If we step on God’s toes, if we act like we know better than God, we aren’t being humble, and we aren’t being trusting.
According to St. Therese, if we want to be holy, we must remain little. We must trust not in our own power and abilities, but in the constant love and care of God. In a world that is screaming at us to be independent, to be the masters of our own destiny, and to be impressive, God is telling us that such things will cause us to outgrow His fatherly embrace. Relying on ourselves will only lead to disappointment and frustration, because we are inconsistent and weak. But if we choose to remain close to our Father’s heart and will, if we choose simplicity and smallness, if we trust that God doesn’t want our successes as much as He wants our childlike devotion, we will be on our way to holiness in no time.
If we remember this about humility–that it is about staying close to God and not about being impressive or self-sufficient–then it seems a lot less intimidating and yes, maybe even easy. Because people are hard to please. Human opinions and impressions are fickle things, even when we’re just trying to please ourselves. Try as we might, we can’t be all things to all people, and we often disappoint ourselves, too. But if we don’t worry about what other people think, if we are only concerned about being the delight of our Father, we will find it to be an easy task and a light burden, like Jesus promised.