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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?
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.
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.
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.