By Danny R Von Kanel
Once you begin to think you’re humble, you’ve lost it. Humility is a quality hard to grasp, difficult to explain, but easy to see. Many of us struggle to know exactly where to learn such a virtue. In recent years, God has taught me about humility in a variety of ways.
Humility in the Mundane
As I was kneeling in the doorway of a school restroom tying kindergartners’ shoes, a teacher I knew opened her door next to the restroom and said, “Mr. Von Kanel, what are you doing?” I laughed and said, “This is God’s way of keeping me humble.”
Though we both had a good laugh, the reality of doing mundane things like tying shoes, washing dishes, or cleaning bathrooms can lead to a spirit of humility. It boils down to how we view doing routine tasks. If the mundane falls in the area of your responsibility, see it as your duty. Jesus said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
The act of performing routine tasks is often good for us. Katie Boone says, “Mundane, repetitive work teaches humility. You are not too good for it. In fact, you will be quite good at it. I saw how my work made worship and discipleship possible, but it never felt like I was actually using any real gift. What I did not see was that the work was good for me.”
Humility in the Unexpected
I sat before my principal knowing I’d had a good year at the school. She began, “Mr. Von Kanel, I am very sad to have to tell you this, but we will not be renewing your contract. You did a great job but because we are going in a new direction and will not be offering music next year, your position has been eliminated.”
I left her office stunned. Because this happened at the end of the school year, I missed signing up to attend job fairs. Subbing was my only choice the next year.
It was a humbling experience to go from a secure and respected position as a music teacher to unemployment and then to subbing. I never dreamed I would face such an unexpected turn of events. In humility, I now had greater appreciation for having a job. In my search to be rehired, my ears were attentive to people who said, “I hate my job.” If only they would be grateful for what they have.
Humility often occurs naturally when we’re forced to move from a place of prominence to one of obscurity. In my new circumstance, I began appreciating what others do in relative anonymity. Before, I functioned in a tunnel, not seeing those around me, not recognizing their contribution to my success. If humility comes your way because of unexpected events that tear at your self-esteem, look around and listen to what God is saying. Watch others. Be grateful. Humility that follows pride often opens our eyes to a life pride cannot see.
Humility in the Unforeseen
After speaking at Pepperdine University, Terry Gardner admitted, “I was feeling very good and perhaps a bit too pleased with myself.” Then he added,
Not long after my talk, as I left another speech, I made a hard right turn directly into a floor-to-ceiling plate glass window. If you’ve ever seen a bird fly into a window, you have some idea of my reaction to being stopped cold by a barrier I never even saw. The impact points were my face and my right knee. I was walking but still fell to the ground . . . stunned! As I sat there for a moment or two, I was trying to discern how badly I had injured myself. My right knee was bruised but not too badly. The skin inside and outside my nose was broken and bleeding but not profusely.
I made my way to Lectureship central doing my best to keep from bleeding on people. I picked up several bandages and made my way to the restroom happy that at least I had not seen anyone I knew. As I washed blood off my nose, Robert Hooper, a friend and long time history teacher from Lipscomb University, came into the men’s room, looked at me rather quizzically, and inquired if I needed any assistance. “No,” I replied. “I am fine. We’ll not exactly fine, but not in need of any assistance.”
Mr. Gardner learned firsthand that pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).
When something unforeseen happens, check your pride quotient. If you feel humiliated, embarrassed, or annoyed, pride has taken root. Seek forgiveness and learn humility through the experience.
Humility in the Crucible of Life
Some circumstances we face subject us to forces that test and often change us. During such times, we can react with a spirit of anger, pride, and bitterness, or accept it in humility with a desire to learn and grow through the circumstance.
Jonathon Edwards said, “Use trials to increase . . . humility.” Learn from past mistakes when crises come; pursue others’ interests before your own.
Abraham Lincoln faced a crisis of a nation at Fort Sumter. L. Gregory Jones says,
Lincoln’s mindset and activities both shaped and were shaped by his exceptional character. Well-known then and now for his courage and truthfulness, Lincoln exhibited two additional traits in the Fort Sumter crisis that had been formed earlier in his life: humility and interpretive charity. Lincoln’s humility was not primarily the folksy simplicity for which he is known; rather, it was his willingness to learn from mistakes and put others and even his country above his own interests.
Life’s crucibles should direct our thinking to the grace of God. As we consider what God has given us that we don’t deserve (salvation, mercy, and so on), we lessen the current crisis, circumstance, or difficulty. Pride blames God or others. Tim Keller observed, “Humility is only achieved as a byproduct of understanding, believing, and marveling in the gospel of grace.”
Humility in Every Age
Keller adds, “Peter gives wise advice, ‘Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.’ Then he continues by encouraging respect both ways: ‘All of you, clothe yourselves with humility
toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”’ (1 Peter 5:5). Young people and senior citizens must both guard against pride.”
I heaped a lot of responsibility on April. She taught all the choreography to our youth choir. Only a junior in high school, she never complained, sought credit, or backed down from the criticism heaped on her from other choir members. She was a picture of grace and humility. April knew her Lord and grasped the big picture. She saw her role, understood her place, and put the choir above her own interests.
Linda, a very gracious senior adult, modeled humility. She and I worked closely as we provided short-term classes for our seniors. She never took credit for anything she did. Her sole interest was meeting needs.
As you have opportunity, observe seniors and teens who model humility. What sticks out about how they carry themselves? How do they treat others? Sarah Chana Radcliffe says, “Only the biggest among us can acknowledge the bigness in others.” How do they react to praise?
Both April and Linda demonstrated meekness through strength. Both carried themselves upright. Both had authoritative voices. Radcliffe adds, “A humble person is not someone who thinks he’s nothing. A humble person knows he’s something, but he recognizes God as the source of his greatness. Thinking one is something without recognizing God as the source leads to arrogance.” Both April and Linda were secure and confident. Both understood that if they were anything special, it was because of God.
When experienced through the lens of God’s grace, humility will grow in us.
Danny R. Von Kanel is a freelance writer in Franklinton, Louisiana.
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Humility: True Greatness
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The Practice of the Presence of God
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Brokenness, Surrender, Holiness:
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The Blessings of Brokenness
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