Exercises in Humility

*Translated by John Koon

With each attempt to write about humility, the first thought that would come to me after finishing almost half a page was to give up, to run away and of course to write nothing more. I know and admit that I’ve made this mistake many times, and I don’t think that the pattern has yet come to an end. Then, I began to remember the innumerable exercises in humility that I’ve been practicing for some time. It’s just that, paradoxically, they in no way have made me greater, stronger or more known, nor have they helped me to affirm myself. On the contrary, they have taught me how to see myself as smaller, to lower myself and to make space for others, always keeping in mind that we are made for communion with God and that I can live out this communion fully to the measure in which I set myself aside.

But how can I do this successfully without humility?

Out of the long list of exercises in humility, I think that the most valuable are the ones I’ve practiced in community, day-by-day, for a year and a half. Paul in his epistle to the Philippians, chapter 2, urges us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” To look at others and to not look for defects, but for the positive qualities that they posess, to see beyond appearances, to be able to see with God’s eyes, with mercy. From countless trials I’ve realized that only when I harmonize myself with God in humility am I able to give priority to others. By noticing good things and appreciating them I give evidence of my submission and respect. I want to be preoccupied by my own introspection and as a sign of humility to be gentle and loving…but how? I am human and my strength isn’t enough, I fall down so many times and no nutritional supplement can help me in practicing these exercises. When I look, however, at God’s sacrifice, the greatest and most loving act of humility, it’s hard for me to understand from a human perspective. This attitude of God challenges and motivates me even more, and what feeds me are God’s words, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).

In going to the children with whom we work, I’ve practiced other exercises in humility. Each day that we end our time with them, I have feelings of revolt and of rebellion against the injustice that is still in this world. Isa*, a frail 9-year-old girl, washes her own clothing, is alone and is learning the lesson of survival. Vonne*, a 9-year-old boy who is also orphaned, barely allows himself to be loved out of the fear that he will be betrayed again in this life. Four brothers left alone never leave the place where they learn and live. Tannen*, a 15-year-old girl no longer waits for her mother, who left to work in Greece ten years ago. From these children I learn day-by-day the most dramatic lesson in humility—to submit myself to the will of the Lord. Even if they have nothing and no one, these children give us their love, telling us countless times how beautiful we are and sharing their bread with us.

I wouldn’t be able to go through all of these things alone as I am helpless and weak, but these exercises, being truly exercises in brokenness, make me even more vulnerable. All of them, however, give me a feeling of hope which movites me so that I might not give up but instead press on with full trust, reminding myself that God embraced humanity through Jesus’ brokenness so that we through humility might return to the image of God.