“…all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:2b – 7 (NIV version)
Ever since I discovered the Litany of Humility prayer (note: this prayer is easily available on the internet), I have been praying it regularly. In fact, this prayer and the Prayer of Abandonment of Blessed Charles de Foucauld (also available on the internet) are my regular set prayers in addition to my extemporaneous prayers. Together, they summarize the ongoing goals of my personal tenure in Love School: growing in humility and trust. I dare say, perhaps these represent most people’s challenges in the spiritual life.
Humility is of course key, for pride has always been regarded as the legacy of our fallen natures, and the root cause of all our sin. It is, as Scripture tells us, the sin of Satan and it stinks of hell and death. C.S. Lewis opined that, “Pride is spiritual cancer, for it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment or even common sense.”
The reason the Litany of Humility is so powerful is that it lays out the threefold aspect of pride. The first section delineates the “fleshly” (to use St Paul’s term for our ego-driven, sin-wounded prideful selves) strivings for acclaim, applause, recognition; for lots of “friends” and “followers” (to use the modern day social media vernacular), or to belong to the in-group. They are the things that make us “people pleasers”, addicted to the good opinion of those around us, and therefore not free to truly love others.
The second section describes the soul wounds that we carry around inside that are the engines of all these prideful strivings: fears of censure, rejection, exclusion. These are the things in us which need not the false salve of public affirmation or reassurance, but rather the healing love of God. It is only by deeply receiving and experiencing this love – undeserved, unearned, reliable, familial – that the profound yearning within us has any possibility of being remedied.
The last section of the prayer refocuses us (me) on the qualities of the self emptying love of Jesus – the humble, generous, trusting love described in Phillipians 2:5 – 11. Only the grace of the Holy Spirit can move me to even ask for this kind of unselfish love, let alone choose to act on that love!
Some might ask: what’s wrong with wanting to be loved, esteemed, honored, etc.? Those are surely “normal” desires, aren’t they? Well, yes, they are – but they are normative to the manner in which we are broken. For surely Jesus (or Adam and Eve before the Fall, for that matter) never worried about if he were truly loved. He showed a profound ability to hear the Voice of his Father, affirming and leading him, and thereby was able ignore the lies, accusations and distortions which swirled around him and implied that he was other than who he was and is and always has been. In other words, he knew his true identity as Beloved, and needed no validation from mankind.
Unlike Jesus, I still struggle with idolatrous strivings and fears that require healing. I need to keep praying, as this Love School semester is a long one, and I am still learning.