Humility and Humiliation

Friday 31 October 2008

You rescue the humble, but you humiliate the proud.
Psalm 18:27

Urbanmonk was talking yesternight about how mopping the floor in the nurses station at his new hospital job was flexing his humility muscle, with the nurse unit manager and head/hot nurses - the professionals doing the important stuff - looking on while he was performing his rather less sexy role :)

I guess sometimes it feels humiliating when our humility puts us as it does behind decidedly unsexy mops and gross human behaviour. But humility is so terribly sexy that it compels us to stand there nevertheless, shaky though we be :)

I began thinking off on a tangent (as I am apt constantly to do), about humility versus humiliation. They are so closely linked in our minds that sometimes they are mistaken for each other. But the more you think about them the more they occupy such completely different headspaces as to almost seem the opposite to each other. And yet, despite that, when you begin rolling around in the sweet scents of humility, even humiliation can become something of a complementary bedmate, heady spiritual territory though that be. Even humiliation can be redeemed. Is there no limit? :)

Some people think that someone with humility gets about feeling humiliated all the time. Of course, sometimes they will because everyone feels humiliated sometimes. But it seems to me that the first is an understanding and experience of the true spaciousness and radical okayness of things (of God), so that you have room to breathe, and you don't need to be putting yourself out there all the time, proving yourself, proving that you deserve to occupy the small space of earth that you do. Humiliation, however, seems to me to come so often from places of woundedness, and unhealing, or at the very least pain. I walk in both of these spaces. I am learning to sit in the midst of the second space, though I hate it, only because of the first, and only because I hate the second and the first will eventually overcome the second.

I remember years ago when I read the words of Jesus, I would be bewildered at times at the lengths he would not go to to defend himself. Wasn't he taking it just a little bit far? He so often allowed himself to be misunderstood, misappropriated, used, slandered and despised, and sometimes I would get worked up about it. I was thinking out of my own woundedness, which so often in those days (and still now, in certain cases, unfortunately) manifested itself as defensiveness, as a tough girl exterior that would brook no harassment. I pitied those women who allowed themselves to be browbeaten and pushed around by men. It took many years for me to separate the differences between some women I saw. Some allowed themselves to be humiliated because the voices of previous perpetration had made ruts in their souls, and they allowed people to just roll on down the same numb tracks with very little resistance. Now, that's humiliation. Other women, in certain situations, would allow certain humiliating things to be done to them but somehow it was different, like water off oil. People would do bad things to them, but the distinction and the dignity somehow remained. I envied them because I didn't understand it. I couldn't stand in a position like that and allow myself to be treated that way because I was wounded and humiliated and unhealed. (In some ways I still am). The first type of woman operated out of broken cisterns, the second operated out of something much fuller, and the taunts and bad behaviour of others did not detract from their dignity because the bad behaviour was about the other person.

I think it is true you become like the God you worship. It's why some expressions of Christianity in the past who have had the giant heavy handed schoolteacher view of God, they will see nothing wrong with caning children and locking them up in darkened rooms and humiliating and shaming them into performance. But that is not the way that God uses humiliation to teach humility. In fact, I don't think he uses humiliation as such, as in from first instances, at all. There is enough humiliation in the world that he doesn't need to. She will take what is there, and causing pain, and wield it all properly. It will still cause pain. That is the purpose at times. It is necessary, to stop us from going on into becoming something so horrid that we wouldn't recognise ourselves. He must delight in such things - the ultimate recycler - but I think he will allow humiliation to come upon us when our pride and deceit and hardness has become out of control. And it is not until you know a taste of Love that what first seems so abhorrent to you, this hard lesson, becomes a most amazing thing. Love will not let those things go on living in you forever and ever. She loves you far too much for that.

Yesterday I was listening to a woman speak who was a carer of a profoundly disabled adult child in her house. She was talking about how foster carers are accorded a great range of helps from the government, whereas family carers are given nothing. As I listened to her, I began thinking about how many families must be out there with children who require some sort of respite. I began thinking, wondering, whether it would be possible to find a family who could do with a few hours of help each week, maybe? Today on the train trip to work I glanced out of the window into the street of Footscray to see the building of Carers Victoria slap bang in my line of sight. Was this one of those funny little synchronous things that happens and makes your heart beat faster? I am humble enough to believe that God will speak to me. He does all the time. Those thins make my heart beat faster. I think they are worth listening to because I think they have inherent meaning. And so I am thinking further about maybe calling this place and seeing if maybe I could volunteer a few hours a week somewhere helping a family.

How humiliated I feel to acknowledge that my number one concern is worrying about how I would perform in such a situation, rather than focussing outward on helping other people. And I wonder if doing such a small thing would have any point to it at all. I think love can also do wonders with this sort of self-absorbed narcissism too. It's done wonders with other crusty parts of me. There are no limits :)

Interesting that the semantic root of both humility and humiliation is humus - earth. Humility grounds us in the truest sense, like trees planted beside water. In that place things get very simple. Sometimes I am there :) Humiliation makes you feel literally like dirt. But Love will use even humiliation to draw us to Herself, and He will tie up and heal and bless those wounded places, but we must first enter in.

The person who is able to be misunderstood and rejected and slandered and looked down upon and does not fight to maintain their status is considered a coward in this world but they are in fact of the strongest stuff, and standing in a position of the strongest rock. Humility is always learned, and always comes through pain. It is not a place that you can stand until you have learned to wear the yoke, I don't think, which is why some people should not be standing in certain places of humility until they are ready. Timing is everything. Somehow I think the places that we learn to stand in, though still uncomfortable and scary but not humiliating, are places that Love has reached through and loved (or healed), in some small way, to some extent. I don't think you can be truly humble until you are truly loved, in some kind of crazy cosmic God way because contrary to popular opinion, humility doesn't come out of weakness, it is just strong enough to display it. Humility comes from the most potent force that ever lived ~ Love.



    Thought provoking and important thoughts. Like the exposition on the roots of the two words. Very enlightening:)

  2. Ta, Monk. Thanks for the links, too. I didn't know there was a L'Arche in Melbourne. I love their vision.

  3. Wonderful post, Sue. This is such necessary stuff... And ditto what Monk said!

    Sorry to have been slow to pick up on this - I've been a bit busy this last week or so...

    Blessings on ya!


  4. Mike - no need to apologise for having a life :)


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