I’ve always been a “good girl.” A rule follower. A straight arrow. In high school I never broke my curfew. Not once. I never drank. Never smoked pot. Always did my homework, got good grades. Visited my grandparents and other aged relatives regularly. I wrote prompt thank you notes, visited the dentist twice annually.
I was always a rule follower, always responsible. I still am.
So when I saw this week’s Blogging Benedict theme was obedience, I figured “piece of cake.” No problem – I’ve got this one nailed. I am the Queen of Obedience.
I thought wrong.
I should have known Benedict would have a different take on obedience – that he wouldn’t suggest simple rule following. Turns out, Jane Tomaine’s chapter on obedience is jam-packed – far too much to cover in a single post. So I’ve chosen one small facet of the Benedictine vow of obedience: humility.
When I read that one of the 12 steps in Benedictine humility is to believe in your heart that others are better than you, I actually laughed out loud.
Well sure, I believe some people are better than I am. Way better. Gandhi, for instance. Mother Teresa. Saint Paul. The pilot who landed the plane on the Hudson. Yeah, those guys have me beat by a mile.
But ordinary people? Grouchy people? Vindictive people? People I don’t even like very much? The guy who cut me off on South Street last week and then gave me the finger? He’s better? I don’t think so. The snippety bank teller? She’s better? The slacker co-worker? The person who landed a book deal and can’t string together a complete sentence, while my manuscript languishes in the desk drawer? That person is better?
This is the problem. Benedict suggests we need to believe everyone is better – not just the saints and the heroes. He means even the annoying people. The people who have wronged you. The people you suspect might be a little less smart than you.
And Paul meant everyone, too, when he said this to the Philippians:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5).
Pretty tough words to live by, if you really think about it. But I can think of one person who seemed to live this way – humbly, graciously, with humility (someone besides Jesus, I mean).
John the Baptist lived like this. He put the interests of Jesus before himself without a moment’s hesitation.
John the Baptist was a very important, very powerful man in his time. But when Jesus came on the scene, John was quick to point out that he was merely a servant to “the one who comes from above and is above all.” It may have been tempting for John to retain his position in the limelight, but he didn’t do that. Instead, he relinquished all control and was truly joyful that Jesus had arrived. He was willing and eager to step aside and let Jesus take the shining role:
“He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)
Think about it. That would be like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company stepping down to take a position in the mailroom. What John did was truly remarkable, truly humble.
John makes me think about my own motives. Are they as true and humble as his were? Do I willing step aside to let others shine in the spotlight? Or do I try to take the credit? Do I shine the spotlight on God through my humble serving? Do I make decisions based on selflessness? Do I regard others as better than myself?
So what’s the answer? How do we change our ways? How can we strive to live humbly and obediently? Paul gives us the answer:
“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13).
How do we change our ways? With God’s help, of course.
How do you try to live humbly and obediently?
Note: This is part four in my Friday Lenten series Blogging Benedict. I am using the text St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living as my guide. Click here to read more about the book (I highly recommend it!). Click here to read other posts in the Blogging Benedict series.
Next week’s Blogging Benedict topic: Conversion of Life.