“What Jesus doesn’t heal in me, I pray He uses to humble me.”
This was the prayer that stirred in my heart the other day while I was sitting in adoration. It’s true what they say, be careful what you pray for. I feel like I have been getting humbled frequently as I’ve been reflecting on one of the major wounds of my heart: the need to be perceived well.
I have a huge wound around people’s perceptions of me. I think many of us probably do. I’ve always admired the stories of the saints where they were publicly shamed or accused of something they never did and they silently bore it with humility and grace. I picture what it would be like to be so detached from other people’s judgments or perceptions (whether true or unjust). Then I look at different times throughout my life where I have frantically tried to defend myself in the face of false accusations, or correct false narratives, or tried to convince others that their perception of me was unjust. Oh if I could count the times I have exhausted myself or lost sleep because I worried too much about other people, and lost sight of how God views me.
A few years back, one of my childhood friends started badmouthing me to my best friend and spread half truths about a few different situations. Shortly after, everyone stopped talking to me and I had no idea why. Eventually when the truth came out, my best friend shared everything that had been said about me. I was deeply hurt, blindsided and angry. I remember sitting there frantically defending myself, trying to right all the wrongs that I felt were said about me so that my best friend would know the truth about me. As I drove home afterwards, I was still reeling. “Why would she have said those things about me? How could anyone have believed those things about me? How come nobody defended my character?” Over and over again I re-played the situation and found myself losing my peace, getting angry and feeling so hurt that all of these things were said about me unjustly. I was anything but humble or detached. I was temporarily shattered.
I wish I could say that I have grown so much in detachment and humility since that experience, but the truth is, I still find myself very much concerned about people’s perceptions and judgments of me at times. As I’ve been praying through this and reflecting more deeply about this compulsive need to make sure people “know the truth” about me, I see how connected it is to my pride and past hurts where I felt misunderstood. Looking back on so many of the situations I have gone through over the years where this wound of mine was pressed on, I see that the Lord was trying to help me learn how to detach in a deeper way from what people think of me. And boy am I still a work in progress….
“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”- St. Teresa of Calcutta
True humility leads to true freedom. If we want to be free, we must learn to be humble. Sadly, I realize that for much of my life, I have not lived in true freedom. I have been enslaved and shackled by the compulsion to be seen positively.
“Nothing will touch you.” What freedom! This is what my soul longs for. Isn’t this what we all long for? In these moments when I find myself so attached to how others view me, I have chosen to shift my gaze away from God. I can’t be both concerned about the world’s opinion of me and God’s. So long as I care more about being liked and loved and perceived well by the world, I am limiting God’s desire to bring peace and calm to my soul.
I know that the path to detachment and humility is to allow God’s love for me to be enough.
“He who wants to learn true humility should reflect upon the Passion of Jesus.” (267)
— St Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul
As I was driving to work this morning, I pictured Jesus on the cross. Not once did Jesus defend Himself. Not once did He try to convince everyone that what they were about to do was unjust. Not once did he lay out a case for why he was innocent. He just surrendered and accepted what befell Him. Every time I think of Jesus humbly and silently allowing Himself to be crucified I just think, “How Lord?” How did you not protest, not defend, not put up a fight? How did you endure so much injustice and remain calm and not bitter?
In my pride, I often want to withhold forgiveness until the person has acknowledged their wrong perception of me. “Once they see that’s not who I am and once they apologize for hurting me, then I will forgive them. That’s all I want is for them to see what I want them to see.”
But this is not the way of the Lord. When Jesus hung upon the cross, moments from death and he uttered the words, “Father forgive them” it wasn’t after everyone knew what they did was wrong. It wasn’t as if the guards stopped and said, “Jesus, we have treated you so unjustly and we see it now. We are so so sorry, we now believe you are the Messiah.” No, Jesus forgave them even as they persisted in their mockery. He forgave them in the midst of the injustice. He extended mercy while they were still blind.
‘If humble souls are contradicted, they remain calm; if they are calumniated, they suffer with patience; if they are little esteemed, neglected, or forgotten, they consider that their due; if they are weighed down with occupations, they perform them cheerfully.’
–St. Vincent de Paul
Does this quote not perfectly sum up how our Lord handled all of his suffering? He remained calm, patient, merciful and continued to pour out His love upon an ungrateful humanity. He withheld nothing from us, even though we treated Him so horrendously. Which of us has been wounded to the same extent that Jesus has? Not one of us. If he took such suffering and ridicule with humility, then we must try our best to do the same. If He forgave so freely in the face of such gross injustice, then we must pray for the grace to do the same.
In order for us to emulate our Lord with the same patience, humility and mercy, we need to recognize the areas of our heart that are filled with deep anchors of pride. Pride will continue to fight against the virtue of humility until it is rooted from our hearts. Living in humility takes true grace. As I continue praying for this grace, I realize more and more that it is not something I can will or muster up myself. To be little and dependent on Jesus, is the path to greater humility because only He can provide the grace we need to truly stay humble in times that our human nature fights against it.
We also need to ask Jesus to come in and heal the parts of our hearts that have been so badly wounded because of the painful experiences where we were harshly judged or persecuted or treated less than we deserved. Pride can be a defense mechanism that tries to protect ourselves from continued hurt. The problem is, pride will never heal us the way true humility can. We need to allow ourselves to feel our hurt, grieve the loss or pain that came from that experience, acknowledge our anger and ask the Lord to heal the places of our hearts where pride wants to creep in and create a stronghold. The more we allow Jesus to heal our hearts from these painful moments, the less inclined we will feel the need to use pride to protect ourselves.
We must also pray for those we have hurt through our own judgments and painful words. We are not the only ones that have been hurt-we have all hurt plenty of people over the course of our lives. This is such a necessary step to growing in humility-recognizing the pain we have inflicted on others through our own brokenness. As I have reflected on my own hurts, the Lord has gently been revealing to me all the other people in my life that I have also wounded because of my pride or the ways that I judged them. This is the painful part of growing in humility, seeing ourselves as we truly are, without any pious masks. It is much easier to focus on the ways we have been judged and wounded, than to acknowledged the ways we’ve judged and wounded others. But this is part of humbling ourselves. We have to repent of these ways, and when prudent to do so, humbly ask for forgiveness from those we have wounded.
As we begin a New Year, let us ask Jesus to give us honest, humble hearts. Let us pray that we can grow more rooted in His love for us, and shed any unnecessary defenses so that our hearts may be truly humble and at peace.
2020 Drewe DeJesus
Photo from Freely Photos by Liz Carter