I led a weekly “Girls Group” at my apartment during my junior and senior years at LSU. Each week, a different girl would present a topic and then lead a discussion on it. One of my favorite Girls’ Group nights was after I read St. Therese’s Story of a Soul and presented on the book, and particularly on the whole idea that God does not call us all to do “great things,” but He calls all of us to do small things with great love. This article is a down-to-earth, honest, and ultimately inspiring discussion of humility.
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Learning Humility: Not Every Flower can be a Rose
By Jennifer Hartline
As St. Therese put it, not every flower can be a rose. Some are wildflowers or daisies or violets.
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) – “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” Isaiah 66:2
It’s been brought to my attention lately that I have a great deal to learn where humility is concerned. As painful as it is, the joyful irony is that only a God of infinite love and mercy would bother to teach this lesson.
Here’s what I suspect: much of what I think are the evidences of humility in my life are really something else entirely. There’s an ongoing skirmish between a desire for holiness (tainted with pride), discouragement over failings (tainted with pride) and goals of using my talents in the best way possible ~ for God’s glory of course. (Also tainted with pride.) Ugh.
The discouragement part is quite seductive actually, because it can give the appearance of sorrowful humility when it is often wounded pride. Humility does not mean I must dislike myself. To speak ill of myself, to mentally berate myself over my flaws and mistakes is not evidence of humility. It is evidence of pride. It just means I’ve not lived up to my expectation of myself, or worse, my delusion of grandeur. If I fail to live up to my standard of perfection I fear that I will be less esteemed by others. So I scold myself, feel sorry for myself, and cover my pride by declaring what a weak sinner I am, wailing “dear Jesus, please forgive me!”
In this way, I can feel superior to those wretched souls that don’t even have the decency to say they’ve done wrong and ask for pardon. You see, I’m less sorry for the particular sin, less sorry that I have offended my Lord than I am for having revealed the humiliating truth that I am not nearly as grand as I’d like to think I am.
Hiding within this discouragement is the unspoken craving for distinction ~ I must conquer my failings and defects in order to achieve the reputation I seek. This is what tarnishes the desire for holiness and turns the focus on me rather than on Jesus. In my secret heart – in hidden thoughts I never utter out loud – I fear that what Almighty God has ordained for me and my life is too modest, too common, too bland for my taste, and I try to persuade Him for more glory for myself while claiming to seek only His. I want what I want, and I beg Him to want it as well.
I must ask myself if I truly am willing to take the place God has ordained for me today without yearning for something “better” or more. As St. Therese put it, not every flower can be a rose. Some are wildflowers or daisies or violets. I realize how much of my heart wants to be a rose and nothing else, because I fear that otherwise, I will not be special to Him at all. I fear He will not even see me as He walks past and will instead reach only for the stunning red rose, smile approvingly at it, and step on my tiny plain petals as He goes away. I fear being forgotten, dismissed and rejected.
Why is it not enough that He made me in His image, shed His blood for my salvation, and loves me just as I am? It’s not enough because I don’t actually believe Him; not entirely. There remains a troubled place in my heart where I don’t believe Him when He says, “Child, you are Mine,” for I think to myself, “Why? I’m not a rose. I’m just a wildflower. I can’t believe you even notice me at all.” My longing to be loved is mixed with fear and ego until it becomes a strange form of arrogance. I don’t take God at His word; I call Him a liar. And I push Him away in anger, and then run after Him to plead with Him to see my virtues, begging Him to love me. This interior storm develops over and over again in my heart, and it will never be quieted without humility.
To be humble is to be emptied ~ emptied of myself. It isn’t wallowing in my wretchedness; it is bathing in His mercy. Pride dwells on all my offenses and festers like an infected sore. Humility wastes no time in carrying all offenses to Jesus with confidence to receive forgiveness and start again.
Humility is being content to be who, where and what God asks of me today, and nothing more. I make my whole self – body, mind and heart – an empty vessel to be filled by Him as He sees fit. Whether rose or wildflower, noticed or unseen, praised or ignored, it must make no difference. Nothing I could ever do or be can compare to who He is. The glory is all His. “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” Isaiah 64:6
I am small, ordinary, and quite sinful, yes. All that is true. But I am also His! He has said so and it is true. Everything He has is mine. It’s outrageous but it’s true! He loves me forever, and for me just to turn my eyes toward His face brings Him delight. “For the Lord takes delight in His people; he crowns the humble with salvation. Psalm 149:4 I am His child and He will not reject me. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1John 3:1
It’s actually a relief to know that I am not fooling God. He knows this fearful, perverted “humility” lives in my heart, preventing me from realizing the peace of true humility. He will take care of it if I let Him; even in this I have to let go, trust Him to keep His word and wait. My progress toward holiness follows my cooperation, not my command. It will not be accomplished on my schedule; I cannot rush or cajole Him into action. Learning to wait is part of learning humility. I have no one to impress – I only have One to love.
St. Therese helps me understand, “the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy…if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers. And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.” (Story of a Soul)
A heart that is humble rests confidently in His mercy and love, and has no fear of being little or unnoticed, nor any need for adulation. He may be walking with the red rose in His hand, smelling its sweet fragrance, but He will also lie down on the grass that is covered in a bed of small wildflowers, and He will rest His head on their simple beauty, enjoying their soft comfort. I can think of nothing sweeter than to be that wild flower that’s pressed close to His heart as He lies down to rest. That is all my soul really longs for.
Jennifer Hartline is a Catholic Army wife and stay-at-home mother of three precious kids who writes frequently on topics of Catholic faith and daily living. She is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.