Tag Archives: Humility

Can You Give And Accept An Apology?

One thing that often comes up when counseling couples is the issue of apologies.  I often ask spouses, “Do you apologize to each other,” or  “What is it like for you to apologize?”  A follow-up question is, “Are you able to accept apologies?”

A sincere apology requires humility because pride must be swallowed.  Some people have such an aversion to being wrong that it obstructs their empathy towards others.  They assume a defensive stance as they think only of self.  It’s hard to embrace someone through a suit of armor or a castle wall.  Apologies require vulnerability.  The armor must come off.  Knights wear armor for fear of swords and arrows.  When the armor comes off, vulnerability increases and so does the fear.  Apologizing can be difficult because one must drop the defenses.

Some folks apologize incessantly.  This is usually a sign of an insecure, passive type of person and/or an abusive relationship, not a healthy relationship.  There’s no reason for a genuine apology unless there has been a genuine offense.

Accepting an apology is another matter.  It’s even harder to drop the defenses and apologize to someone who can’t accept an apology graciously.  Some people use the apologies of others as opportunities to “twist the knife,” as in, “Darn right you shouldn’t have done that, you big jerk!”  A sincere apology is a gift.  The proper response to a sincere apology is, “Thank you, I accept your apology.”  The acceptance should then be followed up with genuine forgiveness.  One who holds a grudge, pouts or gives “the silent treatment” has not really accepted the apology.

I saw a quote once that said, “Marriage is an adventure in forgiveness.”  Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive someone seven times.  Jesus told him, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:22)  Of course, the point is not to forgive a person 490 times and then quit.  The point is to always be forgiving.  Forgiveness is not necessarily a onetime event.  Often we have to say, “Oh yeah, I forgave them for that yesterday, so I need to stick with it.”  Similarly, marriage is a choice we make every day, not just on our wedding day.

Forgiveness is not the same as trust.  If someone whacks me with a stick when I walk past, I can forgive that person.  That doesn’t mean I have to trust that person to cease the stick-whacking.  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  If the person displays sincere remorse and proper behavior over time, however, trust may be reestablished.  One forgives in order to avoid carrying around a cancerous grudge, not in order to “let the person off the hook” of responsibility.  I can forgive someone for stealing my car, but the car still needs to be returned and/or jail time must be served.  This, by the way, relates to the Catholic understanding of penance, indulgences, Purgatory and the temporal punishment for sin that remains even after we have been forgiven of our sins.  Of course, Christ forgives our sins.  We are still responsible to make amends wherever we can.  That’s the fruit of true repentance.  Scripture tells us to avoid the altar until we have made amends.

So, if a marriage is rocky, each spouse can benefit from asking, “What am I not forgiving my spouse for?” and “What am I not apologizing for?”  Making amends is a sign of true friendship, spiritual humility and a happy marriage.

On Drumming And Holiness: Getting Out Of The Way

I remember Neil Peart (the famous drummer of RUSH) talking about what he learned by taking drum lessons from the old master teacher Freddie Gruber.  Neil had already achieved great fame many times over for his drumming, but he was willing to learn more.  So he took some lessons.  He learned a new approach to playing that involved more circular, fluid movements and less aggressive “striking down” on the drum for every beat.  As a result, his playing gained a more natural feel.  Neil described it as “me getting out of the way of what the sticks were naturally trying to do.”  I liked that description because it put words to something I had experienced in my own playing.  There are times when I feel I am working for every beat. Then there are times when the rhythm flows naturally.  In those natural moments, it is almost as if the sticks know where to go and I am following them.  My grip is relaxed enough to allow the sticks to rebound as they want to, yet firm enough not to drop them.  I, the drummer, am not “in the way” of the sticks.

Tonight, I was listening to Fr. Larry Richards being interviewed on EWTN about his new book on surrender.  There were a couple things he mentioned that resonated with me as he commented on the meaning of holiness and surrender.

Surrender is not “giving up.” Surrender is laying down one’s life for others.  It involves placing oneself third on a list of priorities.  God comes first, then others, then me.  Surrender is spiritual strength.

About holiness he said that deciding to be holy and then setting about to accomplish the task of holiness is heresy.  Such an approach is self-centered as it becomes all about me and my holiness.  Holiness is not something I can accomplish.  Next, he said something that immediately called to mind the drum lessons of Neil Peart.  “Holiness is me getting out of the way so that Christ within me can work.”  As a drummer, if I get in the way of the sticks, my playing suffers.  As a Christian, if I get in the way of Christ, my holiness suffers.  As a drummer, I have to relinquish just enough control so as to not interfere with the natural flow of the rhythm.  As a Christian, I must surrender all control in order for the holiness of Christ to work through me.

Then Fr. Larry mentioned the following verse:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.  I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness comes from the law, then Christ is dead in vain.  (Galatians 2:20-21)

Lord, help me to get out of your way, so your natural holiness can flow.

Closing Thoughts: Holiness, Humilty and Apologetics

I find myself being challenged daily by The Litany of Humility.  Letting go of certain desires and fears is not easy.  A daily dose of God’s grace is a must.  The phrase in the prayer that struck me the most was, “That others may become holier than I, provided I become as holy as I should.”  It took a while for that idea to sink in.  As a Christian, I’m supposed to seek holiness.  Asking “that others become holier than I” felt like I might be slacking off on my own pursuit of holiness.  Then a thought occurred to me.  Perhaps this phrase is another way of saying, “Don’t let me become a ‘holier than thou’ Christian.”

Godly humility seeks the best for others.  This means that my motivation must be rooted in a desire for others to have the best of what God has to offer, in this life and in the next.  In other words, my desire must be for others to become saints.  Consider the Works of Mercy, for example.

The corporal works of mercy are:

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

The spiritual works of mercy are:

  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences      willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living      and the dead.

How easy it can be to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful or admonish sinners in ways that are not merciful or charitable.  Apologetics of the Faith, for instance, seeks to defend the Faith, yet can so often come across as uncharitable or arrogant.  If I speak the truth, but not in love, I am serving myself, not others.  Faith, hope and charity.  The greatest of these is charity (love) (1Cor 13).

I left Catholicism in my twenties after encountering Fundamentalists that used Scripture to show me all the things that were “wrong” with my Catholic faith.  When I finally realized the error of my ways and returned to Catholicism, I had to be careful not to have a chip on my shoulder.  It was easy for me to have an attitude of, “Now I’ll show them how wrong they were to pull me away from my Faith.”  I lacked humility on more than one occasion.  I had a “holier than thou” attitude that sought not the holiness of others, but the self satisfaction of “winning an argument.”  Many of those Fundamentalists were holy, loving people who knew Jesus and meant well.

I do believe that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Jesus Christ.  I believe that Catholicism contains the fullness of the Faith in her teachings, her authority and her sacraments.  There are lots of folks that attack Catholicism, from within and from without.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There are perhaps a few hundred people that actually hate Catholicism.  But there are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be Catholicism.”  I want to be able to defend my faith with Scripture, with Apostolic Sacred Tradition, with reason, with love and with humility (1Peter 3:15).  Most of all, I want to live my faith with humility.  If I’m not doing that, what good is my faith to anyone?

Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.

Part 6: Grant Me The Grace To Desire It

The last section of The Litany of Humility takes the desires from the first section and shows that it is not enough to be delivered from them.  Once we are delivered from a self centered desire we could easily slip into a state of self satisfaction and miss the point.  We are delivered for a reason beyond seeking our own comfort.  We are delivered for service to others.

A true servant places a priority on the needs of those being served.  We all have experienced good and bad service at a restaurant or some other establishment.  Some servers put their hearts into it and leave their customers feeling well cared for.  Other servers just go through the motions to get a paycheck.  They really don’t care about customers.  Christians are called to service to God and to others.  Are we placing God and others in a place of priority?  Or, are we placing priority on making sure we are comfortable?  Godly humility seeks to be delivered from certain desires and fears in order that we may set self aside and prioritize others.

For example, “Lord Jesus, deliver me from the desire to be esteemed and the fear of being forgotten so that others may be esteemed more than I.”  All three parts go together.  The humility is a prerequisite for Christian service.  None of this can be accomplished apart from God’s empowering grace.  Therefore, the litany includes, “Grant me the grace to desire it.”  We won’t even want to seek humility without the prompting of God’s grace.  We must pray for the desire to even begin to seek true humility because it isn’t natural.  True humility is spiritual.

Part 5: The Fears

A recurring theme in Scripture is, “Be not afraid” or “Fear not.”  Yet, fear is often a powerful driving force in our lives.  Fear can often be traced to one or more of the desires the Litany of Humility asks deliverance from.  If any given desire does not have dominion over us, the fear of not meeting that desire will fade as well.

For example, consider my own experience mentioned earlier of being picked last to be on a team.  When my desire of being preferred was not satisfied, I felt humiliated.  The fear of humiliation and the desire of being preferred dovetail together.  If I am delivered of the desire, I am delivered of the fear and vice versa.  If I have no fear of being humiliated, I won’t have the desire of being one of the early picks for the team.  If I’m unconcerned about when I am chosen, I’ll have no fear of any humiliation by being picked last.

The fears mentioned in the litany, like the desires, place a focus on self interest.  Self preservation is human nature.  What the prayer seeks is a spirituality that transcends the natural human tendencies.  We are not simply animals motivated by natural drives and instincts.  We are both material and spiritual, a trait not shared by the animals (material beings) or the angels (spiritual beings).  We are created to bridge the gap between the natural and the spiritual (and will continue as such in the resurrection).  We are unique.  Therefore, it is not asking too much of us to seek a spiritual holiness that transcends mere natural drive and instinct.  In other words, we are designed to confront our natural fears with spiritual solutions.  This also means we can seek and find the ability to regard others over and above self rather than life being “all about me.”

Rather than address each fear in the prayer one-by-one, suffice it to say that fear is an obstacle to humility.  Fear prevents us from truly knowing God and placing complete trust in Christ.  Some fear is good and healthy, like the kind of fear that prevents one from stepping in front of a moving bus.  However, much of our fear gets in the way of knowing God and knowing each other as God would have us.  Our fear prevents true humility and godly love.

So, what fears are keeping me from true humility?  Deliver me from the fears, Jesus.  You who intimately knows both our material and our spiritual being, deliver us.

Part 4: The Desire To Be Preferred, Consulted and Approved

Pick me!  Pick me!  Don’t pick them!  Don’t pick them!  The desire of being preferred means that others must be passed over to make room for me, and I’m happy about it.  It is the competitive streak of the sore loser.  It manifests itself in poor sportsmanship and arrogance.  It is quite possible, however, for an accomplished athlete to be competitively successful while simultaneously exhibiting humility.  Pride and arrogance must not be confused with confidence.

There have been times in my life when being picked last to be on a team was disappointing and humiliating.  But it was the wrong kind of humility I was experiencing.  I was experiencing a self-defilement of sorts, feeling sorry for myself and placing my worth in the hands of other people rather than in God’s hands.  In other words, being picked last hurt my pride, and I thought I needed that pride to be worth something.  Additionally, focusing on my wounded pride caused my performance in the game to suffer.  It was a kind of self fulfilling prophecy.  But even if I wasn’t at all skilled in that game it had nothing to do with my worth in God’s eyes.

The desire to be consulted is another challenge.  I’m a therapist.  I’m supposed to want people to come to me for consultation.  I’m supposed to be good at what I do and take pride in my work.  So, why get rid of my desire to be consulted?  I think it has more to do with wanting to be a know-it-all.  No one knows everything.  Even consultants need to consult with others for information and continuing education.  I may have lots of answers, but only God has all the answers.  An unhealthy desire to be consulted makes it hard to say, “I don’t know.”  The person who knows it all has nothing to learn, and that can be very dangerous.

The desire to be approved is another attempt at stroking the ego.  Like the other pitfalls in the prayer, approval can be just another way of focusing on self at the expense of others.  There have been occasions when people approved of me just to be manipulative.  “Buttering people up” is a great way to influence them.  Be wary of people’s approval.  Sometimes they just want something from you.  The desire for approval can backfire very quickly.  It can also become addictive.  Know that you are loved by God regardless of other people’s approval.  There will always be people that disapprove of you.  God may disapprove of some of our actions, but God never disapproves of us.  God is our biggest cheerleader.

From the desire to be preferred, consulted or approved, deliver me, Jesus!

Part 3: The Desire To Be Extolled, Honored or Praised

In other words, deliver me from the desire for lots of attention, even posthumously.  In the movie Troy, Achilles (Brad Pitt) wants nothing more than for his name to be remembered for eternity.  He is the ultimate fighter.  He fears no one and nothing…except being forgotten.  Prior to facing an opponent twice his size, Achilles is told by a young boy, “I wouldn’t want to fight him!”  Achilles says to the boy, “That is why no one will remember your name.”  Theologians call it the fear of non-being.

We desire recognition because it validates our very existence.  What good are we unless someone else believes we are good for something?  We often feel we need an audience to offer some applause for who we are.  Such validation can become addictive.  It can also replace an awareness that our true goodness resides in having been created by God, not in our accomplishments.

Accomplishments are good, of course.  They are only possible because of the gifts and talents God provides.  Humility is not about pretending we have no gifts.  We’re allowed to recognize and appreciate the talents and gifts God gives us.  We can use them in constructive, loving ways.  That’s gratitude.  However, if the praise we receive becomes the primary motivation for using our gifts and talents, we are off track.  We have constructed a golden calf with which to replace God as our soul reason for being.  Rather than trusting in God, we have given in to the fear of non-being.  This robs us of true joy and replaces it with fleeting emotions.

From the desire of being extolled, honored or praised, deliver me, Jesus.