The stillness of humility

Be still. Comforting words that we find in Psalm 46. “Be still and know that I am God.” 

For me, these words conjure up quiet moments in a sacred space or beautiful place in nature. To do “be still” I could imagine calming myself down and enjoying a heart at peace, a world at peace, relationships at peace… 

Which they are not. 

Our world is anything but in peace. Being a fallen human being not every one of my relationships is at peace. And when I try to be quiet my heart struggles to find inner rest, and my mind takes off like wild stallions. 

Why? 

At this point this article could take the expected turn toward mindful or contemplative practice or forgiveness or anger management, but today I want to turn down another path that was recently introduced to me… the humility of God. 

In his paper “Self-Love to Self-Emptying Love,” Francis George Pudhicherry, S.J. states that humility is what we learn from the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, from the way God takes the risk of limitation and rejection by the creatures God has created, saved, and continues at every moment to love and renew toward the ever-greater flourishing of holiness and abundant life.  

The humility of the Father consists in the risk God took in creating the human person free and vulnerable to the possibility of sin. The Father created us to be in relationship, a relationship that his creatures were free to turn away from when they decide to live in a manner which negates the Father or relegates God to the margin of their existence. When we abuse creation, when we abuse each other, we humiliate the Father. When we accuse God as if he were responsible for the problems we create for each other on this earth, we humiliate the Father. 

God’s respect for us in not controlling us is “a sign of humble love.”

That’s a big concept to wrap your heads and hearts around. This afternoon I watched one of those five-minute videos that show up on your Facebook feeds. The video was about bullying, but it was the relationship between the daughter and the father that caught my attention. The father had moved with his daughter to a small town in order to get her into a high school that would position her for college. Unable to pay for her tuition, he took a job as the janitor and her tuition was waived. Early in the video it is clear that his presence as a janitor becomes a source of humiliation for the girl as her two new friends make fun of her father as a failure for having such a lowly job, and begin to bully her online. The young girls who are her “friends,” knock over the bucket her father is using, spilling water all over the floor and calling him insulting names. In order to keep her friends, the daughter begins to hate her father who is causing her such embarrassment, as her “friends” harass her for having such a lowlife father. She even tells him to his face to go away and that she hates him. She contributes to the harassment of another girl just to keep her new-found friendship. 

A big breath here…. 

The father is heartbroken for what his daughter is suffering, tries to understand what is going on for her, and eventually decides he could try to find another job or two to pay for her tuition, to make things easier for his daughter in the new school. The last scene of the short video shows the daughter standing up to her friends for her father. That evening, after an embrace which manifests a love for his daughter that has never wavered, he explains why he took the job…for her. There was no angry outburst demanding that she at least be grateful for all that he had sacrificed for her. No, he only thought of loving her, waited patiently for her to grow through this experience of her life, and hopefully return to him. 

I understood the humiliation of this father. He ran up against limitations, the decisions of the two “friends” of his daughter who laughed at and insulted him, turning over his bucket, and humiliating his daughter. No matter how much he loved his daughter, or was willing to serve the school as janitor, the actions of others were out of his control. Yet he continued to be a loving person, respectful of his daughter’s freedom, patiently understanding her.  

God does that with every one of us. He didn’t create a bunch of robots that would go about keeping out of trouble, running the computer program “perfect” so God’s world would be just the way he wanted it to be. We are free. We are messy, we create messes, and often relegate God to the edges of our lives or blame him entirely for what we are going through. And yet he loves and loves and loves us even more. 

The Father then sent his Son in the fullness of time because he so loved the world, giving everything for our sake without asking any guarantee that we would reciprocate that love. He knew there was a genuine possibility that at least some of us would reject the gift he offered us in Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection, yet it is unconditionally offered. As we look at Christ on the cross, we can see the humiliation of the Father at having his own beloved Son, his most precious gift, unwanted and put to death.  

The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity and “the expression that divine love is inexhaustible and eternally new, that God’s capacity as absolute lover is ever greater, ever newer, and ever more fruitful.” The Holy Spirit is active in the world in history, silently sowing the seeds of holiness in God’s creatures, but again, we have the choice to take another path—as individuals, as members of the ecclesial community, in politics and government. The Spirit is this non-intrusive presence of God which honors the freedom he gave each of us. The Spirit’s ecstatic life-giving activity, we could say, “bumps up against” the limitations we put on the Spirit’s activity in our individual choices as well as through the unjust structures in society and in the weeds that are evident in the ecclesial community. 

5 things to help you be still

Be still. God is still. God accepts the limitations we put on his activity by our autonomous decisions and free actions, and the processes and movements of history. As the father in the video, but infinitely more so, God continues to unconditionally deal lovingly with us.  

Be still. Today at prayer I felt this intense desire to love God in return, like the daughter in the video who finally understood all that her father had sacrificed for her regardless of how she would—or would not—receive his love. 

Be still. I finally realized that whoever “puts limitations” on my plans, in their freedom, makes me one with the humiliation of God. In that space it is easier to forgive and harder to be angry. 

Be still. In eternity one day probably not too distant, I will gaze upon the Father and the Son totally united, bound together in an embrace of self-giving out-pouring ecstasy of love and complete total gratitude and obedience. I will never even vaguely comprehend the majesty of their giving themselves to each other, but I want to have lived my life at least a little from the shores of this limitless ocean of self-giving empathy and service of others in complete surrender and gratitude to God. Jesus came on earth to show me how this is done.  

Be still. Our hearts are rocked at times with reactive emotions and deep storms of fear and resentment. Our minds filled with useless, cynical, and angry thoughts that like gnats destroy our peace. I can hold my Father’s hand and bow to what I cannot change, determined nonetheless to care compassionately and see others with God’s eyes, confident that I need not prove, finish, or amount to anything to be his beloved daughter. 

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