Friday, May 29, 2009

Humility and Patience Taste Better Than Robitussin

Patience and humility seem like outdated words. They are listed in popular baby name books as Nearly Extinct Early Puritan Names. Modern Americans generally do not like these words. The media does not use them often to sell products. As a society we have to wonder:

Is moving away from these words doing us good, or are these virtues good emotional and spiritual medicine for us?

Humility equals modesty. It is the opposite of arrogance, assertiveness, egoism, pride, self-importance. In Judaism, humility is considered the highest ideal.

" do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with God" (Mic. 6:8); according to the rabbis (Mak. 24a), this verse epitomizes the whole Torah."

The importance of humility and patience is carried through into The New Testament. It is reflected in Jesus' actions toward those who persecute him, and it is a quality that all saints possess. In fact, I think quiet humbleness and trust in God are the most important virtues of a saint.

As part of The Sainthood Project, I start reading Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. It seems that people living in his time (1567-1622) were comparable to modern society in thought and action. The book is so dense, so chock-full of ideas, that although it is not that long, I begin to feel a bit overwhelmed. I skip to a few chapters on patience and humility, since I think I'm lacking in those areas.

Last week I wrote about my interest in Gandhi, and how a few years ago after reading Gandhi's book My Experiments With Truth I decided that the road to being great at my roles involved "reducing myself to zero." St. Francis makes it clear that what I was doing was seriously trying too hard to be humble. In working toward perfection in my role as a mother, I was actually becoming more prideful.

For example, I would not ask others for help. I had to do it all myself, while deep in my heart I felt resentment that others were not helping me.

St. Francis says bluntly,

"When we humble our hearts; never seem to desire to be the lowest unless we really desire it."

The danger in taking the world on your shoulders so to speak is that this rejection of human connectedness ultimately leads to rejection of God's friendship. Songwriter/singer Jewel's song "Hands" says it eloquently:

"We are God's eyes, we are God's hands, God's mind..."

We need to be in relationships with people, lean on them, seek them out for help. It's through other people, strangers, acquaintances, friends and family that God sends His Graces to us.

"He pretends to have an extreme reverence for God, and excuses himself, under color of humility, from aspiring to that grace which divine goodness offers him; but does he not see, that when God desires to give us His graces, it is pride to refuse them?" (102)

Humility is accepting that we are flawed; we need help; we don't have all the answers. St. Francis suggests there is a balance. Perhaps I should not "reduce myself to zero" as Gandhi sought to do, but rather, give and take help from others. Use the gifts and talents God has given me to help others when they need it. Be more patient with relationships.

"Patience emphasizes calmness, self-control, and the willingness or ability to tolerate delay."

Patient with relationships? I don't have a whole lot of patience. This is a hard concept for me. Relationships are tricky and layered in emotion. I'm not talking solely about romantic relationships, but parent-child bonds, friendships, sibling and extended family connections. These close ties can be the hardest to deal with. St. Francis acknowledges that patience in some situations can be more of a test than others.

"To be despised, reprehended, or accursed by wicked men, is only pleasant to a man of good heart; but to be blamed, accursed, and ill-treated by our friends and relatives, herin true patience may be shown." (92)

St. Francis compares this hurt to "the stinging of bees," whereas personal attacks from strangers and those to whom we are less attached are like "the bite of a fly." The bee sting goes deeper. This is where the self-control comes in on my part. He suggests I delay words or actions that might further deepen the rift in a relationship and be humble in seeking to repair these bonds. I must humbly acknowledge the faults in myself that I believe after reflection, are accurate.

I say: "Yuk. I don't want to do that." But I know it's good for my soul to follow this advice.

Wait a minute, I think. Sometimes people berate or insult me and they are truly wrong.

When the "charge is false" St. Francis shows us how to act. He suggests we excuse ourselves from the encounter, do not try to "be right." Disagree in defense of yourself, then walk away from the situation and let go of it. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to stand up for a cause in order to be a person of integrity and conviction. Prayer can help with discernment in cases where one is unsure of how to act. Having patience and not "flying off the handle" is certainly wise.

Petty issues can drain our mental energy. In these cases, it is a good idea to step back from the disagreement. Patti Digh wrote a wonderful essay in her book Life is A Verb called "Let it Be a Barn." It addresses the energy that is lost in having to win an argument. Digh suggests that we "stop arguing and start listening." (98) When you pause to mentally walk in the other person's shoes, sympathy and understanding can bring you closer to forgiveness.

Patience and Humility. I think I need to take a good dose of this medicine. These are just two topics in Introduction to the Devout Life. I didn't give you full picture of these chapters, only what I pulled from them for my own use. I'm sure I'll be posting about other chapters to share what I learn with you.

Picture is of St. Francis De Sales statue at St. Peter's Basilica


Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Wow, I see so much of myself in what you wrote here. I guess I'll have to read this book too!

Putz said...
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Kimberly said...

Hi Loren! I just wanted to let you know that I nominated your blog today for an award! Thanks for such an outstanding blog!

jen said...

How wild. I'm just making it over to this post after writing briefly about modesty and humility today. It is something i want to instill in my kids. I do value you it so much.

jen said...

One more thing - you might consider downloading the stumble upon toolbar. It's a great way to build traffic to your site. I stumbled this post in particular b/c stumble upon readers (they have a religion/catholic category) like well researched posts.

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


Loren Christie

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