We were in Bangkok.
There was a quiet knock on the door. It almost sounded apologetic.
I opened the door in response . A timid young Thai woman bowed her head and mumbled some words. “Why was she bowing?” I asked myself.
She had on a uniform with the name of the hotel embroidered on it, so I knew her to be one of the hotel staff.
I let her in and in her broken Thai/English vernacular, she said, “Housekeeping, Madam.”
I understood what she said but still couldn’t figure out the “bowing” part. My first instinct was to tell her to straighten up, but I knew I couldn’t make her understand what I was saying.
My second instinct was to gently place my hands on her head and lift it but I know better than to touch a stranger in a foreign country.
Over the next two weeks, I was bowed to so many times, I felt like royalty. My husband laughingly explained it was protocol for the staff at this particular hotel. I grew to like it a little too much, I’m ashamed to admit.
Fast forward twelve years later.
I’m at a motel chain in Atlanta, Georgia, a far cry from the Bangkok Hilton. On the flight there, I was reading a book by John Ortberg, entitled, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”. It’s a book that focuses on spiritual growth and at the end of one chapter the author suggests we ask this question, “Am I becoming judgmental or exclusive or proud?”
That question is what prompted me to remember my experience in Thailand.
When my husband’s job transitioned to internal travel, we knew it was important that we handle what others would view as a “WOW” in the right way. We knew people can be impressed easily and we didn’t want that. We knew we were the same people.
So we decided early on that we wouldn’t broadcast the bit about the international travel. I remembered the times I’d heard other women talk of international travel and how I felt I had nothing in common with them. I always felt a little inferior. That was my fault, not theirs but I didn’t want others to feel that way about me. It’s too easy to get a big head. Besides, the glamor wore off after about the third trip.
Humility doesn’t mean we can’t feel good about our achievements. We all feel good when we’ve worked hard on a project and it turns out even better than we expected. I feel a healthy pride when one of my paintings turns out good.
Unhealthy pride almost always leads us to think we’re more valuable than the next person.
We can judge unhealthy pride in ourselves by how we treat others.
We can enjoy the fruits of our labor without feeling we’ve abandoned humility. Physicians make the salary they do because they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education, years of internship and often hold a patient’s life in their hands. Respecting someone’s expertise is very different from elevating them. My husband earned every one of his frequent flyer miles the hard way: cancelled flights, long layovers, being away from his family and friends, being sick In a foreign country, having to rush every minute when he was home to see the people he needed to see, and never getting any time to enjoy his own pursuits.
When God blesses us with something we need never apologize for it. As long as we acknowledge that God is the ultimate source of every blessing and show our thankfulness in meaningful ways, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of our labor. Pride rears its head when we twist our thinking to convince ourselves we did it all on our own. That’s when we cease to be humble.
Many people confuse personality traits with humility. Some of the most humble people I know are extroverts. Some of the least humble people I know are introverts. Further, humility doesn’t mean we never confront or share our opinions either. Christ was humble but he wasn’t meek or timid acting. Hardly. He often harshly addressed the hypocrites around him. Even during his trial, he never backed down from the truth.
(Remembering my promise to myself to keep my blog “real” and to be authentic I share this personal bit.) There are days, when during my quiet time, I say to God, “God, I think I made you smile today and that makes me feel good.” I want to know I’ve made God smile. Why would I want anything less? I don’t feel the least bit prideful about saying that. Maybe that’s because on other days I have to say, “God, today, I think I made you sad and that makes me feel awful.”
If you can look in the mirror and once you look away forget about yourself, you are well on your way to humility. If you can pick up someone else’s mess without complaining, you are well on your way. If you can graciously offer your place in line to someone behind you, you are well on your way. If you can visit someone who needs a visit even though they’re not the most pleasant person, you are on your way. I believe as with most aspects of life we have to be intentional or we simply will let things slide
Deliberately put yourselves in situations that keep you humble.
I want to tell you a true story. Your first thought may be that this woman I’m going to tell you about was less than humble by sharing her story. That’s not true. She’s one of the most genuine people I know. It happened in a Bible class I was teaching and the subject was relationships. Her demeanor in telling her story was gentle and sweet and I could tell she struggled with sharing it for fear she would bring too much attention to herself.
It happened in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She has four children. She and her husband were struggling financially. This particular day everyone was getting on everyone’s nerves. Her husband was becoming frustrated with the children and with her. This was very much unlike him. This kept up for the afternoon and she was to the point of tears. She was also getting irritated herself with her husband’s lack of understanding about a few issues that were transpiring that day. She went into a room and prayed.
She knew what she had to do.
Everyone was gathered in the family room sulking, no one talking to one another. She went into the kitchen, filled a large round bowl with water, and gathered some soap and a washcloth. She entered the room, and without saying a word she knelt in front of her husband. She said that everyone immediately became still and quiet as they watched what she was doing. Her husband was so taken aback, he just sat there. Without one word, she took off his shoes and socks and gently and lovingly washed his feet. Her family was so struck by what she was doing, tears came to their eyes. (Mine, too, as I listened.)
She never said what happened next. She ended her story very quietly and none of us spoke, even the never-at-a-loss-for words teacher. As I recall, the silence in our room continued for quite a while as we took in what she’d done. I will never forget it. It is to this day the most graphic example of true humility I’ve ever heard about.
She would have been justified in nursing her wounded feelings but she knew her husband was upset with himself and rather than chastise him, she took the opportunity to humble herself before him.
Those of the Christian faith are beginning to celebrate Holy Week, the interval between when Jesus entered Jerusalem till the day he rose from the dead on Easter. During that time there were a few trials, many betrayals, and finally a crucifixion. In Philippians (a book in the Christians bible), it says that Jesus humbled himself. Christians believe Jesus, being God’s son, had all the same power his father did. He could have stopped his own crucifixion but instead, he humbled himself and fulfilled prophecy. No one had to humble Jesus. He did it himself.
Humility isn’t an intrinsic quality. Humility is an action. Humility isn’t something we claim’ it’s something we give away.
Christ was our example.
God bless and I hope you have a good day.