A friend of mine recently asked me about a very common crisis when traveling: What do you do when you are visiting a slum, or a tent city, or any area of great poverty, and your hosts treat you like a king?

It’s not an uncommon scene, being invited into a mud hut or recycled tent, being given the only chair while everyone else sits on the floor, and watching helplessly as one of the children is sent to buy you a cold soda while everyone else drinks well water (or nothing at all).

There’s not a good way to communicate how awkward this can feel. What do you say when the people you came to serve have put you on a pedestal? When the very mouths you came to help feed are giving up their food for you?

How do you stay humble when they want to serve you?

How do you stay humble when they want to serve you?

But this almost always happens, and I’ve seen all sorts of reactions: a man trying to beg off sitting in the chair, a small wrestling match resulting as he tries to sit on the floor. I’ve seen a woman accepting a soda, trying not to cry as she drinks it.

I myself have felt embarrassed and confused and just plain uncomfortable. I thought Jesus was a servant. He was humble. How in the world am I supposed to serve humbly when they’re treating me like this?

I didn’t see how humility could possibly fit in this situation. For years, I didn’t have a great answer to this question.

Then Hollywood taught me a lesson.

Humility on the big screen

Have you seen the movie Lincoln?

It’s a fantastic movie, one of my favorites, and it powerfully portrays the struggle and drama around the passage of the 13th amendment ending slavery.

If you haven’t seen it, watch it. I’m afraid there’s going to be a few spoilers here. Here’s the big one: the amendment passes.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist politician with a new kind of humility. (Photo by Dreamworks Studios / Touchstone Pictures)

Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist politician with a new kind of humility. (Photo by Dreamworks Studios / Touchstone Pictures)

There is one scene in the movie that has become my favorite. Tommy Lee Jones, playing the part of Thaddeus Stevens, has to give a speech for the upcoming vote on the amendment against slavery. Stevens has campaigned for years for the equality of all people. He believes down to the core of his being that all humans are equal in every way. But he also knows, because of the politics of Washington, that if he claims all people are completely equal, the amendment will fail.

The only way to pass the anti-slavery amendment is for Stevens, a believer in complete equality, to say that all men are not equal.

What does he do?

He gives his speech, and he says that all men are not created equal. He saves the anti-slavery amendment.

Afterwards, his supporters are furious.

“Have you lost your very soul, Mr. Stevens? Is there nothing you won’t say?” one of them asks.

And this is my favorite part. He looks him right in the eye and says, “…For this amendment, for which I have worked all of my life and for which countless colored men and women have fought and died and now hundreds of thousands of soldiers. No, sir, no, it seems there is very nearly nothing I won’t say.”

And right there, I learned what humility really is.

Nothing I won’t be

My whole life I had been taught that humility is the opposite of pride. That pride says, “I’m really big,” and humility says, “I’m really small.” I had heard that humility is the willingness to take the worst and be the least.

But now I know that humility is not simply a willingness to be small, humility is a willingness to be anything.

Humility is being willing to be treated like a king by the very people you came to serve.

Humility is letting Jesus wash your feet, even when you want to wash His

Humility is saying, “No, there is nothing I won’t be, for the sake of relationship”

And sometimes, humility is letting your hosts in a slum pull out all the stops. It’s accepting their bottle of soda, and enjoying every drop of it.

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About the Author: Brad Miller is a year-long fellow with WND. A student of Psychology, Biology, and Theatre, he's worked as an actor, teacher, balloon artist and last-minute fill-in guy for any number of projects. He loves camping and tinkering with broken and discarded things. Brad's passion in life is to unleash the potential in others.

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Comments

  1. Jon said... 

    Reply

    May 29th, 2014 at 12:04 pm  

    Brad,
    I remember this same feeling you are describing when I visited Kibera in Kenya. I was in high school at the time. This was my first experience abroad. When I was sitting in a chair in Kibera and was offered a Coke by the host, I remembered how I was raised. That is, when you are a guest in someone’s home, always allow then to be a good host to you by accepting something they have offered. Still to this day, that Coke was the best tasting Coke I have ever had.

    Thank you for putting this to words for all of us to understand.

    • Brad said... 

      Reply

      May 29th, 2014 at 12:27 pm  

      Jon – I’m so glad I could capture a bit of that moment for you!

      It’s funny how those rules about politeness we learn growing up can become so essential in other cultures. And I absolutely agree – nothing can compare to the taste of food given in love.

  2. Jim M. said... 

    Reply

    May 29th, 2014 at 11:22 pm  

    Humility is letting Jesus wash your feet, even when you want to wash His….

    But now I know that humility is not simply a willingness to be small, humility is a willingness to be anything….

    Isn’t it a beautiful to learn one of His truths half way around the world in a hut with a dirt floor, taught not by any intentional instruction, and not in any language you can understand but rather by the love of another human soul poured out for you from a simple soft drink bottle….

    Beautiful story thank you!

    • Brad said... 

      Reply

      May 30th, 2014 at 9:56 am  

      Thank you.

      I often marvel at how God uses even the most ordinary of events and humble of circumstances to teach. I’m delighted I could bring some of that back.

  3. Kyle said... 

    Reply

    May 31st, 2014 at 4:06 pm  

    Beautiful Brad! Love the idea of ‘letting Jesus wash your feet when you want to wash His.’ << Perfect picture of humility.

  4. Megan said... 

    Reply

    June 1st, 2014 at 4:44 pm  

    Typically in Kenya if you are invited to visit (versus a random stop at someone’s house) it is understood culturally that you would bring gifts of food to your host – things like tea leaves, milk, bananas and such. That is an important component of this scene you paint, and helps ensure both parties honor each other. I think a vital part of humility is taking the time to understand another’s culture and expectations and ensuring one honors the other from within their cultural framework. Thanks and God bless!

    • Brad said... 

      Reply

      June 3rd, 2014 at 12:54 pm  

      Excellent point! Taking the time and effort to understand another’s culture is crucial. Thanks for the comment, and for the insight into Kenyan culture.

  5. Sheila E said... 

    Reply

    June 2nd, 2014 at 7:30 pm  

    Call me a crier, but when I read the statement, “Humility is not simply the willingness to be small, but the willingness to be anything” I cried. I think I also just learnt what true humility is…It makes sense now why Peter’s tantrum over Jesus wanting to wash his feet, was resisted by Jesus, because He had a lesson or two to teach on true humility. Thanks so much for this post.

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