The other day, I was driving home from work and pulled up alongside a pickup truck at a red light. A woman was driving, accompanied by a couple guys in the cab. Nothing unusual, right?
Moments later, the light turned green, and I gave my car a little extra gas, since I needed to make a left turn shortly down the road. Much to my surprise, the pickup gunned its engine and proceeded to keep up with me, threatening to subvert my handy little plan to make a left and head home to Columbus, rather than north to Cleveland.
In that brief instant, my shock at being in an impromptu drag race crystallized into a clear choice: should I accelerate further and make the pickup truck eat my dust, or back off?
By way of background, there is at least a hypothetical possibility that seeing a red light turning green unleashes a primal need deep within my being for quick acceleration and the ability to turn left if I darn well want to. Oh, there was a time not all that long ago when the possibility might have been slightly (just slightly) more than hypothetical. Prudent planning for my mid-life crisis, now in life’s rear view mirror, resulted in a couple Corvettes and an ’05 Pontiac GTO (with the 400 hp LS2 Corvette engine). They’re gone now, replaced by a doleful sense of fiscal responsibility and a dreadfully responsible sports sedan that seats five.
The dreadfully responsible sports sedan is no rocket ship, much to my chagrin, but I was pretty sure it could make rust flavored mincemeat of a Silverado. So there I was. On the one hand, an alleged propensity for trying to win life’s little red light battles, and on the other – a slight whisper about growing in an obscure virtue known as humility.
See, I’ve been working on becoming more humble. If I told you that I was fantastic at humility, you’d probably tell me it was time to start all over again, right? Well, there’s no need. Since becoming aware of the concept, I can honestly say that I have much to learn.
For anyone else who needs some help in this area, let’s begin with a good definition. Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary says humility is:
The moral virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and leads people to an orderly love of themselves based on a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and their neighbors. Religious humility recognizes one’s total dependence on God; moral humility recognizes one’s creaturely equality with others. Yet humility is not only opposed to pride; it is also opposed to immoderate self-abjection, which would fail to recognize God’s gifts and use them according to his will.
So what does this look like in daily life? If you look around, examples of “unruly desire for personal greatness” seem to abound, no? An appreciation of our own position with respect to God and neighbors sounds like a similarly foreign concept.
Here’s just one, modest suggestion in order to build a pinch of humility into our day. It’s not even my idea. A very wise friend told me “If you want to grow in humility, perform acts of humility.” In other words, don’t just want it. Do it. Stupid. No, he didn’t really say that last part.
Given the fact that we are presented many times a day with an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back, take a swipe at someone else, or even give in to “immoderate self-abjection” (being overly hard on ourselves), perhaps one of the best things we can do to improve is to take baby steps. Yes, towards the goal of humility. The fact is, most of us can use a little development in this area.
Oh, it’s probably worth mentioning that God hasn’t been shy about proclaiming the importance of humility. It would be difficult to cite all the verses in scripture about the rewards for the humble of heart, the stories Jesus tells illustrating why humility is necessary to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and the foundational nature of this virtue in our lives. So let’s resolve to be humble today. Take a baby step. Then take another.
You know the end of the story, right? I let the pickup win. It was just one more baby step along the path of humility.