I recently stumbled across a relatively new book on an old subject of lasting interest. I purchased it with real enthusiasm. I am not disappointed. The book is Humility: The Quiet Virtue, by Everett F. Worthington, Jr., a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. I knew Worthington from his numerous books on marriage, forgiveness and unlimited love.
The most valuable little work on humility, a book I have read several times, is Andrew Murray’s classic: Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness. A professor of spiritual formation at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (FL) once told me that he read this book fifty times. I asked why and he said, “I needed it I guess.” Because of my interest in practicing and teaching spiritual formation I am always on the lookout for a book like Humility: The Quiet Virtue. I frequent the Wheaton College Bookstore before each academic term to see what various professors use for textbooks. One of the professors who teaches a class in spiritual formation assigned this Worthington book and thus I found it and made my purchase.
Being humble, then, is like trying to catch air in our hands. The faster we close our fingers around it, the faster the air spurts away. The slower that we close our hands, the slower the air spurts away. But if we hold our hands, palms up, arms outstretched, then air will come to rest in our hands. To experience humility, then, is not to grasp or to strive toward it, but to rest as we seek to bless others. When we are moved from within, a humble spirit can descend upon us like the air resting in the open hand.
Aspiring to humility is forcing the hand closed and clenching the fist. Aspiring to achieve humility is King Kong with his fists clenched, beating his chest, bellowing and calling attention to himself.
However, humility is a spiritual activity. It is opening the hands in love, extending the hands outward to other people, extending the open hands upwards to God, and receiving in an open heart the spirit of humility. Humility is letting that spirit come into us and energize our hands to be helping hands. Humility is inspiring. It inspires us as we intake the spirit of humility. And humility within us can inspire others (103-4).
Worthington rightly says, “Humility is not something we achieve but something we receive” (104).
T. S. Eliot once wrote: “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility. Humility is endless.”
Worthington’s excellent little book, Humility: The Quiet Virtue, will help in your pursuit of deep and Christ-like humility. I think I will keep it nearby and read it often.