Cathy Madavan gives us some great ideas to actively cultivate more humility in our lives
Back in the day, my grandfather used to sing to me a silly song that began with: “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way!” We laughed a lot about that! The truth is, most of us feel far from perfect; in fact it is all too easy to put ourselves down. But humility (as the old adage goes) is not thinking less of ourselves, but rather thinking about ourselves less. In a culture that elevates success, beauty, accomplishments, confidence, knowledge, wealth and influence, humility instead accepts that we are not the centre of the universe, and (newsflash!) our opinion is not always guaranteed to be the right one. Honestly, who of us doesn’t wrestle with this? We all see things from our own point of view, after all. So, how might we cultivate humility in a culture that celebrates celebrity?
1 Less pointing the finger
It is incredibly easy to spot problems or to commentate about situations or other people. As we do this, we subconsciously diminish others and elevate ourselves or our point of view in the process. But Jesus hit this tendency to judge others on the head by challenging his listeners to attend to the log in their own eye before trying to point out the speck of sawdust in somebody else’s (Matthew 7:3-5)! We’ve probably all felt judged at some point in our lives (I know I have), but I’m sure we have all done some speck-spotting too. The only person I have the power to change is me, and there’s always plenty of room for growth there!
2 Challenging stereotypes
The human brain loves a shortcut. We often make assumptions and draw conclusions, even reverting to easy stereotypes. If I say to you: “footballer’s wife”, what do you think? If I say: “tech-entrepreneur”, who do you imagine? If you see a person in a wheelchair, what do you assume? Our brain fills in the gaps, reinforcing what we think we already know or have been told. But what if the footballer’s wife is a nurse who hates the limelight, and what if the tech-entrepreneur is a woman in a developing nation, and the wheelchair user is a medal-winning athlete or a top lawyer? We challenge expectations and stereotypes as we humbly listen, learn and become more curious about the complexity of people’s lives.
3 Widening our focus
I’m all for self-development and self-care, but there’s a balance to be struck – if we fall into self-indulgence or self-centredness, we’ve gone too far. I remember hearing one church pastor saying that when he walks into a room, he chooses his posture. Rather than adopting a “Here I am” mindset, he instead chooses a “There you are” approach. We can all learn to be “There you are” people, wholeheartedly focusing on those in front of us, asking genuine questions rather than being on endless transmit mode. After all, genuine empathy, compassion and care are precious and rare commodities.
humility…is not thinking less of ourselves, but rather thinking about ourselves less
4 Accept your mistakes
Apparently, everyone on Instagram is living a blemish-free, successful, glamour-filled and fabulous life. It must be exhausting! Now, clearly we don’t all share our mistakes, failures and bad-days-at-the-office online, but in an airbrushed culture we can be increasingly hard on ourselves if we don’t measure up to what we see. But how do we learn anything in life? By being average and working at it; by making mistakes, apologising and learning from them; by getting it wrong and wanting to get it right next time. Failing doesn’t make you a failure…if you learn from the experience. As humbling as it might be, we all make mistakes, and it really is OK to not be perfect.
5 Embrace servant-heartedness
If we want a model for living with humility, we will always learn from Jesus – who was in very nature God – but humbled himself, living, serving, washing dirty feet and giving himself fully for others. Every time we consider Jesus, we are reminded that an abundant life is not defined by fame or fortune, but rather by humbly living out God’s kingdom purposes wherever we are, and whoever we are with each day. What a humble but high calling that is!