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Lenten Ponderings about Humility

In a deep and far-reaching discussion in our Gospel of Thomas group last week one of my good friends made a comment that has stuck with me and about which I have given considerable thought. The point he made was as touching as it was revealing of his generous character. He said that he has become more aware of a very subtle tendency on his part to insert into his conversations with others indirect references to things that he is doing that tend to paint him in a positive light. While this is a long, long way from bragging or boasting, he indicated that he now sees that it is unnecessary and that during this season of Lent he intends to try to curtail it.

Credit: Paramount Pictures
Credit: Paramount Pictures

I believe I know what he meant by this, and I can recognize that tendency in myself as well, and my propensity is not always that indirect! I love sharing with others my excitement of some of the things I am doing as well as some of the ideas that are cooking within me and some of the successes I have been enjoying. But when is this appropriate and when is it over done? Indeed, Lent would seem to be a very good time to look more deeply at this issue. It brings us to the commonly held ideal of humility.

Despite the place of honor in the spiritual life that humility holds, I wonder if there isn’t a potential trap in the cultivation of humility. If a humble attitude is something that is worn on the outside like a suit of clothes, if humility is fostered as a standard to be lived up to, if humility is seen to be an ideal to be actualized—it may be just the one side of a common coin of which boastfulness is the other side. As such both may be manifestations of the cultivation of outer appearances and standards of behavior about which we think we will be judged.

Perhaps humility isn’t really either a value or a behavior that can be directly cultivated. Maybe it is much more the result of moving beyond the gravitational pull of the ego, such that our own self-enhancement is no longer the absolute center of our concerns. In this way, more than a quality to be cultivated, humility is simply the result and byproduct of finding and living in a more expansive orbit—one that considers others as much as it does ourselves.

From the other side, maybe too often we shy away from claiming the gifts and talents we bring into this life—gifts and talents that we can share with others and from which they may greatly benefit. Indeed, living into our own fullest personhood seems to be contingent upon developing and releasing our talents and abilities into the world. And rather than be hidden under a bushel basket, these need to be as celebrated as they are shared. This is about learning to trust the basic goodness of your life and to actualize your life purpose.

The stuff from which we have been created has its source in divine potential and goodness. Our work as full human beings is to cooperate with this divine intention by allowing this inner goodness and potential to unfurl in the form of our unique gifts, talents, and abilities. We ought to hold nothing back. And the fullness of our lives will become most apparent in our unique abilities and our deepest authenticity. And these are to be celebrated.

How? By allowing them to be what they are—without boasting about them and without minimizing them or even hiding them. We can just let them be what they are.

It turns out that my friend’s concern was a sincere expression of his own deepest authenticity. Everyone in the group heard it that way as well. But this whole vast subject gives us some interesting things to ponder in this season of Lent…

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