Wednesday, November 9, 2016
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” ― C.S. Lewis
Thought today would be a good day to talk about humility, especially since Christ not only spoke of it, he practiced it. In 2001, I co-led (with Gary Lunsford) a mission trip to the Peruvian Amazon to build a church in the jungle on the banks of the Amazon. It wasn’t easy as everything had to be brought to the site by boat and then manually hauled up the steep bank. When we were planning the trip, a man showed up eager to volunteer until he learned there would no place to plug in his Skil saw in the rain forest. We all learned a lot that trip, and our first lesson in humility came when we told the villagers how we planned to build their church. Of course, we had not consulted them about anything and were building a church we liked. What a blow to our egos when the headman told us they didn’t want a floor in their church. It was at that point that we reluctantly stopped everything and asked the villagers what they wanted. It was a far cry from what we had been planning, but it was everything they wanted—and they got it the way they envisioned it. It was also a lot easier to build, and a lot of the supplies were available in the nearby jungle. I still remember seeing Dr. Whitaker walking out of the jungle with one end of a long tree trunk on his shoulder and a big smile on his face. The church plan was simple: no floor, no windows, just a low wall to keep the large animals out and a high, thatched roof so lots of air could flow through. When the rains came in that part of the Amazon, they came straight down, so the high roof kept the worshippers dry—as they knew. When the church was finished, one of the group (not me, sadly) had the great idea to begin the very first service in the new church with a foot-washing ceremony. All of the members of the mission team (most of them from Central UMC in Fayetteville, AR) would take turns washing the feet of every single villager as they entered the church. Several of the villagers brought their large cooking pots for us to use for the foot washing. This made some of the younger children very afraid because they thought we were going to cook them as we put their feet in the pots. I think there were a couple that simple wouldn’t allow their feet to be washed, their fear was so great. Another lesson learned. Still, it was a beautiful way to begin the life of that church and it touched every member of the village and every member of the mission team. Foot washing is one of the oldest forms of showing humility there is, and it is one Christ practiced Himself.
The night of Last Supper, Christ performed an act usually performed by the lowliest of the servants of the house. Jesus got up from the meal. He wrapped a towel around His waist. He poured water into a large bowl. Then He began to wash His disciples’ feet. He dried them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. In those days, foot washing was needed in every home. The streets were dusty and dirty. Roads even had garbage and waste from the animals that traveled up and down the same streets. People in those days wore sandals without socks, and their feet could become very dirty.
Usually, the lowest servant in the household was expected to wash the feet of guests. Having your guests’ feet washed was a way to show honor to your guests. Christ wanted to show His disciples that He was not placing Himself above them but was there to serve them. This was the Son of God, so naturally Peter protested, but Christ told him that if his feet weren’t washed by Him, then Peter had no business being with Him. How hard it is for us to accept our true strength which lies in our humility.
In her book “The Joy of Loving” Mother Teresa gives several examples of how to show humility which we should all carry with us the next few days. She said we should: “speak as little as possible of ourselves, mind our own business, not want to run other people’s lives, avoid curiosity, accept contradictions and correction cheerfully, to pass over the mistakes of others, to accept insults and injuries, to accept being slighted and forgotten, to be kind and gentle even under provocation, not to stand on our own dignity, and to choose always the hardest path.” I will add another under the circumstances of an election: winners should not gloat and losers should not harbor resentment and hate.
We all know people in high places who are humble, and we almost uniformly admire and respect them for it. Jascha Heifetz, whom some regard as the greatest violinist to ever live, used to walk onstage to thunderous applause, and he would always look over his shoulder to see who was getting such a great response—never thinking it was for him. Oh to have such humility. Christ doesn’t want you to hog the spotlight, He wants you to shine it on the good works that have been done in His name. And please, don’t judge your own importance by the way your dog reacts to your coming home. Dogs, being better humans than humans, love you in spite of everything. Not everyone can love so unconditionally, but boy, is it good to have a dog wagging their tail when they see you. You be humble all day long, and I pray you get to go home to a dog that loves you (sorry, cat people). No matter what folks won the election and which ones lost, all their supporters still have to live in harmony and peace with each other, so let’s help make that possible with actions of great humility over the next few days, eh? It’s what Christ would want.