What is authentic humility and what isn’t it?

I opened the door in response to the quiet knock. A timid young Thai woman bowed her head and mumbled some words. “Why was she bowing?” I wondered.

She had on a uniform with the name of the hotel embroidered on it, so I knew her to be one of the hotel staff.

I let her in and in her broken Thai/English vernacular, she said, “Housekeeping, Madam.”

I understood what she said  but still couldn’t figure out the “bowing” part.  My first instinct was to tell her to straighten up, but I knew I couldn’t make her understand what I was saying.

My second instinct was to gently place my hands on her head and lift it but I know better than to touch a stranger in a foreign country.

Over the next two weeks, I was bowed to so many times, I felt like royalty. My husband laughingly explained it was protocol for the staff at this particular hotel. I grew to like it a little too much, I’m ashamed to admit.

Fast forward twelve years later.

I’m at a motel chain in Atlanta, Georgia, a far cry from the Bangkok Hilton. On the flight there, I was reading a book by John Ortberg, entitled, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”.  It’s a book that focuses on spiritual growth and at the end of one chapter the author suggests we ask this question, “Am I becoming judgmental or exclusive or proud?”

That question is what prompted me to remember my experience in Thailand.

When my husband’s job transitioned to international travel, we knew it was important that we handle what others would view as a “WOW” in the right way. We knew people can be impressed easily and we didn’t want that.  We knew we were the same people. We knew God, not us, was what brought us to this place.

So we decided early on that we wouldn’t broadcast the bit about the travel. I remembered the times I’d heard other women talk of international travel and I remembered how it created a barrier. I always felt a little inferior. That was my fault not theirs but I didn’t want others to feel that way about me. It’s too easy to get a big head. Besides, the glamour wore off after about the third trip. People found out only if they found out. Never through us.

But humility doesn’t mean we can’t feel good about our achievements. We all feel good when we’ve worked hard on a project and it turns out even better than we expected.  I feel a healthy pride when one of my paintings turns out good.

Unhealthy pride, however, almost always leads us to thinking we’re more valuable than the next person.

 We can judge this unhealthy pride in ourselves by how we treat others.  

                           ___________      BUT     ___________

We can enjoy the fruits of our labor without feeling we’ve abandoned humility.

humility 1

Physicians make the salary they do because they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education, years of internship and often hold a patient’s life in their hands. So why should’t they feel good when they save someone’s life? Besides:

Respecting someone’s expertise is very different than elevating them just as respecting  ourselves is different than being prideful.

My husband earned every one of his frequent flyer miles the hard way: cancelled flights, long layovers, being away from his family and friends, being sick in a foreign country, having to rush every minute when he was home to see the people he needed to see and never getting any time to enjoy his own pursuits. It wasn’t easy for either of us.

At the end of the travel period, we knew we had trusted God for each step and we felt good about that.

God bless and I hope you have a good day.