Thursday, July 10, 2014

Gaining Humility in a Busy and Competitive World?

Jesus told His disciples,  ‘Learn from my example, because I am meek and humble in heart and your souls will find rest’ (Matth. 11, 29)
As Christians we are called to become like Christ, meek and humble, learning from His example.  But what does our society teach us? Speaking personally, growing up I learned the opposite of humility. I was taught to be proud, to strive to be better than others in school, to win over others in individual sports, to rely on my own intelligence and will.  I entered the business world in a large corporation and quickly learned that you needed to look better than others to be promoted and to earn the better jobs. I succeeded, but there were times when the stress was so high that I had to take tranquilizers to calm my nerves.  My mind was always occupied with thoughts about how to survive in this competitive world. I was consumed by trying to be "successful." I aways feared that my livelihood and even my being might be threatened if I did not perform well.  I was seen as very successful and had to maintain it.

After I had achieved the senior management position at a young age as a vice president of a major Fourtune 500 US corporation, it dawned on me that there had to be more in this world than such worlly success. Once I had the title that represented success, that title no longer had any meaning. I didn't know what was missing, but I began seeking in different way. I was an Orthodox convert by marriage but the church at that time taught in Greek and the services were almost all Greek. I was uplifted when I attended services but did not learn how to deal with the inner conflict I was experiencing.

Elder Joseph tells us the following
Βlessed and favored people who are humble are meek, calm, serene, attached to virtue, opposed to evil, untroubled by any circumstance or threat. They live in the bosom of the faith, like infants in the maternal embrace of grace. They never live for themselves, because they’ve forgotten what that is.  
This is what I was missing, humility.  I was proud of my pride.  I believed that what I accomplished was all do to my own will. If I failed it would also be by my own doing.  But I knew there were so many extraneous factors in business success that I had no control over and many people worked for me or  with me to accomplish what we did. I carried a large burden. My superiors put the success of my organization on me and I knew they would blame me for any failure. The reality was that I was not really in control of all the factors of the success they sought. Up to now I had been lucky by the circumstances of my success.

How could I become humble and still compete in the corporate world? I definitely desired calmness, wanted to be virtuous and untroubled by circumstances or threats. But I feared I might lose my success.

Elder Joseph says,
Humility penetrates and is penetrated, it doesn’t fear, doesn’t question, doesn’t seek and therefore doesn’t move.  
It wasn't until many years later after leaving the corporate world that I began to understand what humility was and how difficult it is to attain. I was fortunate to have left this environment.

Elder Joseph says,
According to the Fathers, humility is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not merely a human accomplishment. It’s given to those who desire it, seek it and work painstakingly on the things which contribute to the successful acquisition of this blessing. 
This is a key insight. Humility is a gift of God. It's not something we can gain on our own. We must desire it and nurture it, but it is only through God's grace that we gain this Christ like state. So how do we do this?

Elder Joseph tells us,
Those who desire to be worthy of the gift of humility should know that the greatest contributory factor in this is recognition of the passionate state into which all the passions have brought us after the Fall, as well as the noxious consequences of a sinful life. 
The answer is so simple: Repentance. This is the first thing Jesus taught when He entered into His public ministry. We must come to terms with our brokenness, the sickness of our soul, and embrace the true nature of our condition, surrendering ourselves to be held in His arms to help us and guide us. 

After 70 years of life, this is still a challenge. My growth in this direction has taken many small steps and I realize that I am a long way from this ideal.  Lately, I have found great benefit from a wise and holy spiritual father who has planted thoughts that lead me and observations that I must deal with. But I now listen to every word he utters and do not question it like I used to do. Uncovering our sinfulness requires that we believe that we are broken and are therefore desire to receive thoughts and suggestions that will help us deal with our fallen condition. We become joyful when we gain new insights about our condition. We are thankful for any help we receive. We cannot see this as weakness but a necessity for our well being, a true gift of God. 

In addition to having a spiritual father whom your trust, I have found great value in the practice of the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." This prayer instantly reminds you of your need for God's mercy and your sinfulness. It also penetrates your mind in a way that brings calmness in any situation when you are able to call on this simple but powerful prayer.

I would like to hear from you about how you have dealt with this issue in our competitive society. 

Reference: Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi-On Humility and the Humble Outlook


  1. I guess you have you have read the little book about the Jesus Prayer, "The Way of a Pilgrim." Would you care to comment on that book?

  2. It's a classic. Here is a link to other books and articles on the Jesus prayer.

  3. During the last few years of high school, I found the economic systems of our world to be destructive to creation. Naturally, I avoided anything directly relevant to business education in college. By the end of junior year, after a short full-time internship at a law office, I figured ministry was the only thing worth doing in the future. The competition did not reside in being the best believer or servant, but in having the most confident, in my case, head-strong personality. Of course, this is a critical spirit in an environment meant to facilitate the Gospel message. It is when I recalled it is vice to be as a "sounding gong" without love that I made a serious reflection. Facing the truth that I was not acting confident but wicked towards fellow believers, I more committed my strength to the Father. The Holy Spirit does gradually transform. There are times I am as a child who is at simple ease, not concerned with how I project myself to a critical world. In the end, others are blessed rather than spited by my life.

    P.S. My New Blog:

  4. Wonderful article, speaks for all of us Orthodox who have to go out and make a living in the today's world. Being humble is definitely a challenge for many, and I am personally struggling with this same issue... it is a matter of being able to surrender completely to Christ, since sin comes from not doing so....

  5. I'm fortunate to have been born/made with non-competitive nature - glory to God! It does come with its own difficulties in _this_ world, such as not trying to be the star of the team at work, for example. Even in my beloved martial art - it's a struggle: as people mostly fight/go to tournaments to win over someone/get a champion title, while I only want/try to win over myself, learn, become better & stronger. So, I'm looking at it from a different perspective.

    1. Thank you for sharing with us. May the Lord continue to give you the strength.

  6. Pride is my biggest sin and competitiveness my biggest struggle. I work in a really competitive field surrounded by many angry people and it is really a constant battle not to be carried away by the storm. Often times, I am carried away and I often don't process what is happening until long after I have engaged in it and sinned. But then I'm so grateful that God forgives, I get something small which reminds me to stop and I say a small prayer and try again. Most of the time I fail miserably but I pray that somewhere in me God is doing His work and I just need to concentrate on Him and let Him do it.

    1. Thank you for sharing. You are ver courageous and are developing the skill of watchfulness. God knows the difficult environment we face is is merciful as long as we are humble and continually strive to do His Will.