Humility – The Soil of the Interior Life

I’ve been trying to write about humility for a few days now and I keep getting stuck. With the start of this virtue series, I determined (probably in response to a Holy Spirit nudge) Humility to be the best place to start because without it, there is no spiritual life…but I’ve had a hard time getting past anything other than definitions and dry etymology. I was angry. The whole point of my desire for writing on the virtues is to relay the truth, goodness and beauty that has stormed my life in encountering their place in it. I may have to start out a bit rusty here, but bear with me, I trust that beauty will break forth.

What is the heart of humility?

The heart of a thing makes it beat life, breathe, takes it beyond the two-dimensional reality and makes it something I feel drawn to understand and embody. The heart of a thing is what will draw you into itself. So, what is the heart of humility?

A good friend and Catholic Strengths Coach, Michelle Dunne, once described the Clifton Strengths Finder as a means to know your spiritual DNA. To know who you are and who you are not so that you can embrace the gifts you have and stop pointlessly trying to be someone you are not. I realized that this is Humility. In her words 

“To know who I am, to know who I’m not and that both are okay.”

I tell you this phrase is freedom! “To know who I am” is to understand the truth of my nature. Friends, this is my IDENTITY. Humility comes from the latin humus which literally means “Earth.” Earth, the ground, to be grounded in my identity is the stability and beauty of the virtue of Humility. 

In my own personal experience, humility has had a bit of a bad rap. In the Catholic sense of the word, it is defined as being “submissive and lowly”…I don’t know about you but there is a part of me that wants to puke at the thought of making myself submissive and lowly to all. I am someone who struggles with self-esteem, you really want me to go down that rabbit hole of self-deprecation and self-hatred?!? 

I had to cool down a little, but I’ve come to realize in my research and prayer time that Humility, in the Catholic sense, is about knowing who we are, knowing our identity, in relation to God. I have absolutely no problem with acknowledging that I am lowlier than the Almighty. I have no problem in recognizing that He is omnipotent, omniscient and believe (with His help) that what He says is true. After I was able to get off of my high horse, which ironically is not on the ground, I was able to progress forward in my understanding of the virtue. 

Humility is the soil in the interior garden of our souls. It is our foundation, the thing which nurtures and sustains all the other virtues. It provides the firm foundation of our identity as a beloved son or daughter made in the image and likeness of God. Without it, the interior life withers and dies under the scorching heat of pride and with it, we are sustained through many ups and downs, desolations and consolations, dry spells and wet spells.

Humility is the key to interior freedom that unlocks the door to joy both in this life and the next. In knowing who I am and who I am not, and joyfully embracing each, I am able to love myself, to exist in relationship with myself from a place of detachment, allowing myself the freedom to be who I am and the freedom to not have to be anything else. 

You know the image of holding sand in your hand? Hold it too tight and the sand leaks out, too loose and the wind sweeps it away, but guarded just right, it remains in your hand, like an act of mutual trust. Loving myself with detachment means having the willingness to lose something I value but also having the openness to accept things I never suspected. In this posture, I can allow God to enter and work in my life, trusting him completely to choose what remains and what is lost until every little grain of sand left is exactly what I need to be the truest version of myself. This can take an enormous amount of trust, but also a significant degree of self-awareness that can only be reached through prayer.

Often I am convinced that something must or should be different than it is, that someone should like me, that I should be appreciated, that family shouldn’t get sick or taxes shouldn’t be so high, but in reality, God is teaching me something, calling me to lean on Him in distinct ways in each of those situations. Someone not liking me, going unnoticed, worrying about a child or the certain amount of money I have in my bank account, are all exactly the right things in this moment that I need to lead me to God. It is good to have friends, it is good to be appreciated, it is good to have health, and it is good to be able to afford for your family, but all of these things pale in the good that is knowing who I am in the sight of God and knowing who He is as my creator and ultimate Knower of my good. 

Multiple concepts have come up here: freedom, identity, detachment, acceptance, love of self, love of God, and joy. Ultimately I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but I know that I can always come back to this one day and rework it, or maybe follow up in a year with a more beautifully fleshed out and brilliant exposition on the heart of humility, but for now, this is my offering to you. 

If nothing else, I want to leave you with that image of the interior garden of your heart. Guard it gently, tend it dearly and always remain open to the wonders God has in store for your life.

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