Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Humility Lessons from an Old Saint

In her autobiography, St. Therese of Lisieux (there are various accents over the e's in her name, but I don't do French) describes a minor incident in her life with major life lessons.  She and some fellow sisters are sewing and are told that the first to have her sewing put away can participate in some other special activity, one that Therese wants very much to do.

But she knows that the sister sitting next to her wants very much to do it also.  And so, she intentionally dawdles, allowing the other to gain the honor of the coveted reward.  For this thoughtfulness and self-sacrifice, she is scolded by her superior and thought less of by everyone present, because "the whole community thought this slowness was natural."  She tried to be nice, and now everyone thinks she's lazy.

Her reaction to this?  She is reminded to be gracious in her thoughts toward others.  "What seems a fault to me may very well be an act of virtue because of the intention behind it."

More than that . . . the incident also served to teach her humility and an accurate view of herself.  "It still stops my having any feeling of pride when people think well of what I do, for I say to myself:  Since any small good deed I do can be mistaken for a fault, the mistake of calling a fault a virtue can be made just as easily."


I know I've experienced that.  I don't remember the incident, but I remember the feeling.  That feeling when I'm being praised effusively for something I've done and deep down, I know that if they knew the whole story, they'd actually be ashamed of me.  Usually ashamed of my pride -- my selfishness -- yes, this may look like a gift I'm giving to the world, but in my heart, I know I'm actually doing this for me.

I've experienced the other also -- being judged and criticized for good that I've done.  In fact, I've recently had occasion to remember some significant incidents of this in my life, and I've been stewing over them.  No coincidence, I'm sure, that this book landed in my hands right now.

"Think of yourself with sober judgment," Paul tells us.  And I add for myself, no matter what anyone else thinks.

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