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Humility: Giving Up
The Heroic Image

In my quieter moments I often think of the sun as an image of God's love. On warm sunny days when I am out for a walk I can feel the warmth of that love on my skin. On cold winter mornings I think of the sun as that which sheds light on me revealing to me both light and shadow. Even on cloudy days I think of the sun high above the clouds shining down on me in love no matter what I am experiencing.

I have to admit, though, that in the midst of my everyday busy-ness I often forget the sun and God's love. I get so caught up in my daily routines and the clamoring of my ego that even if I chance to look at the sun I am thinking about something totally different. It is a matter of faith for me to trust that even in the midst of my preoccupation, my failure and my sin, God loves me. It is also this experience of seeing both Light (God's love) and shadow (my failings) that puts me on the road to humility.

Humility Paves the Path Toward Love

The desert monks of the early Christian period believed that it was the virtue of humility that made love for God and for others possible. If love was the goal of the Christian life, then humility was the path that made that love possible. In their minds it was not great feats of renunciation or heroic feats of virtue but humility that was the mark of the Christian.

Roberto Bondi, in To Love as God Loves, describes the nature of this humility: "It is the living out of the conviction that all human beings are beloved creatures of God. As humans we are limited, limited by our physical conditions, our emotional needs, our proneness to sin. As God's creatures we are each one loved by God in our frailty, sin and all."

One way to embrace humility is to abandon the heroic image of the self and to give up the belief that we need to do something great to be accepted and loved by God. Instead, we need to take up tasks that are appropriate to our moral and spiritual development. The desert monks warned that the danger of taking on something too grand for us is to despair of ever achieving it and then to give up the path completely.

Laying Down Your Life

Someone once asked one of the desert fathers, Abba Poemen, what it means to lay down your life for your neighbor. Abba Poemen replied: "When a person hears a complaining word and struggles against himself, and does not begin to complain; when a person bears an injury with patience, and does not look for revenge; that is when a person lays down her life for her neighbor."

Humility has no problem believing that God loves us and will not reject us, damaged by sin and weakness though we are. In light of this love we can give up the need to be above reproach. We do not have to be perfect to perform the small acts of loving service that are right in front of us. Since the person with true humility has no self-image to maintain they can be free to do whatever God asks of them, nothing is beneath them. Humility, however, is not low self-esteem. It is actually a more objective appraisal of our selves, because it acknowledges both our gifts and our weaknesses.


Ultimately, humility is only possible when we have a deep assurance of the reality of our forgiveness. Without forgiveness we will always try to squirm away from knowing the truth about ourselves. We will run from the light of the sun rather than welcome its warming rays. With a sense of our forgiveness we can enter our lives anew.

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