I'd like to share two times in my life when I had a sudden understanding of what humility truly is.
I was an early reader. Since the age of three I've almost always had my nose in a book. My mother encouraged me to learn the meaning of words by context, and so my early understanding of humility came from phrases like "he came from humble circumstances" or "he cut a humble figure." I equated the hymnal phrase "Jesus, once of humble birth" to that of another song which spoke of Christ born "in a lowly manger." Hence, I believed humble to mean less than, meager, lowly, or diminished.
My first abrupt epiphany about humility came during my teenage years when I read this quote: "Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself; it means thinking about yourself less." Now I can't recall where I read it, but it struck me with such force and truth that it has been my definition of humility ever since. It brought new meaning to every scriptural reference to humility that I read.
In True to the Faith, we read, "To be humble… is not a sign of weakness, timidity, or fear; it is an indication that we know where our true strength lies. We can be both humble and fearless. We can be both humble and courageous."
Others have said, "True humility is intelligent self-respect which keeps us from thinking too highly or too meanly of ourselves" (Ralph W. Sockman), and, "Real excellence and humility are not incompatible one with the other; on the contrary, they are twin sisters" (Jean Baptiste Lacordare).
When Christ was asked which of all the commandments was the most important, he answered that it was to love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. But he couldn't leave it there; he added that the second greatest commandment, like unto the first, was to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This infers that if we love God, we will love others and ourselves. And in order to love others, we must first love ourselves. That's a commandment. And it's "like unto" loving God, which I propose means loving ourselves with all our heart, might, mind and strength.
To be truly humble, as the Lord would have us be, we must first realize that we are children of God' we hold within us the seed of Divinity; we are unique, special, beautiful, talented, and strong. We are so loved by God that he knows us intimately, by name, and he watches and cares about our every thought, word, and deed. He feels our pains and our joys; he listens to our pleas and our prayers. We are special. We are important.
And so is everyone else.
That is the key: to see in others that which we should see in ourselves, that which God sees in each of us, and to love them for it. That love is charity, and it inevitably leads to service.
President Uchtdorf has said, "Some suppose that humility is about beating ourselves up. Humility does not mean convincing ourselves that we are worthless, meaningless, or of little value. Nor does it mean denying or withholding the talents God has given us. We don't discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves."
He continues, "[Humility] comes as we go about our work with an attitude of serving God and our fellowman. Humility directs our attention and love toward others and to Heavenly Father's purposes… the moment we stop obsessing with ourselves and lose ourselves in service [we discover humility]."
The second time I had an epiphany about humility was shortly after Anthony and I were married. At BYU, wards for married students "import" bishops, usually from BYU faculty. Our first bishop was the chair of the Marriage, Family, and Human Development department. After knowing him, I had to stop making fun of the girls who chose that major, because if they took it seriously, they earned a lot more than an "MRS" degree. Every fifth Sunday, our bishop, and expert marriage counselor and therapist, taught us principles for a successful marriage and family.
When we moved in, Anthony and I were called to be the ward librarians. We congratulated ourselves for slipping under the radar of big callings, and spent the Sunday School hour watching old church videos in the library. Well, as I've said, our bishop was "imported," but he chose his counselors from the ward. A student ward bishopric counselor served for only a year. And it only took a couple months before Anthony was called to serve in the bishopric, leaving me available for a new calling, which happened to be my first teaching experience in Relief Society.
Halfway through Anthony's year as a counselor, the other counselor was released and given the opportunity to speak briefly on the occasion. He spoke of how the calling had changed him, not through his responsibilities but through the people he'd served with. He then named several people and their qualities, and said, "When I think of humility, I think of Anthony Trujillo." I think I literally rocked back at his words. "What? My Anthony? I think we can all agree that I'm not the poster-child for humility, but I'm pretty sure the only perfect example of humility is the Savior."
Then the truth came to my mind. Christ may be the only perfect example of humility, but there are many excellent examples of this virtue all around us. And yes, Anthony is one of them. After eight years of marriage, I can say that with confidence (much to his embarrassment).
We can learn from others how to serve humbly, and opportunities to do so are all around us. Socrates said, "all human virtues increase and strengthen themselves by the practice and experience of them." We have so many chances to practice humility, to practice loving and serving others before ourselves. Everyone around us has some physical, spiritual, or emotional need that we could help fill if only we'd open our eyes and practice humility. Members of our ward, our neighbors, our family, strangers in the grocery store or on the corner—each and every one is a treasured child of God, no matter what they look like or what they've done. As President Uchtdorf says, "We have no time to become absorbed in ourselves… We are tools in the hands of God… We gladly serve wherever [and whenever] we are asked."
"But," you might say, "I have so little to give." One of the great lessons Anthony's parents taught him, and which he in turn has taught me, is to give what you can even when you can't. C.S. Lewis said, "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." And keep in mind, humble service more often than not requires spiritual and emotional giving, such as a listening ear or a tender heart, instead of physical giving.
Of course, humility does not require that we always sacrifice our own needs. Our needs and pains drive us to call on others for service, allowing them the chance to discover humility. In Ether 12:23, God explains, "I give unto men weakness that they may be humble… [and] if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." I'd suggest one way a weakness can be turned into strength is by allowing us to understand and empathize with others. It has been said, "Humility is the ability to give up your pride and still retain your dignity" (Vanna Bonton), and, "Without humility there can be no humanity" (John Buchan).
The blessings that come from practicing humility are innumerable. James 4:10 tells us to "humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." D&C 112:10 says, "Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand and give thee answer to thy prayers." Mosiah 4:11-12 tells us that if we humble ourselves, "even in the depths of humility… ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true."
The poet Thomas More wrote, "Humility, that low, sweet root, from which all Heavenly virtues shoot." And Monica Baldwin said, "What makes humility so desirable is the marvelous thing it does to us; it creates in us a capacity for the closest possible intimacy with God." As King Benjamin eloquently taught, when we are humbly loving and serving God's children we are truly one in purpose with God himself.
Alma tells us that it is better to choose to be humble than be compelled to be humble. And so I'd like to close with these inspired words from President Hinckley: "We can choose to humble ourselves by conquering enmity toward our brothers and sisters, esteeming them as ourselves and lifting them as high or higher than we are. We can choose to humble ourselves by receiving counsel and chastisement. We can choose to humble ourselves by forgiving those who have offended us. We can choose to humble ourselves by rendering selfless service. We can choose to humble ourselves by going on a mission and preaching the word that can humble others. We can choose to humble ourselves by getting to the temple more frequently. We can choose to humble ourselves by confessing and forsaking our sins and being born of God. We can choose to humble ourselves by loving God, submitting our will to His, and putting Him first in our lives. Let us choose to be humble. We can do it. I know we can."