I used to think that humility meant loving others more than I love myself. I believed that true service meant giving and giving until I had nothing left for myself. Leaving something for myself would be selfish, I thought. I believed that these ideas stemmed from a sense of humility, but in reality, they came from an incorrect belief that had taken root deep inside: the belief that I was less deserving of love than everyone else. This belief worked its way into my heart, and I let it stay there because it had disguised itself as humility, a quality that God calls us to embrace. Now I realize that anything that tells me that I am not deserving of love does not come from God. In the book Tattoos on the Heart, Fr. Greg Boyle says that we tend to apply God’s love to everyone else, except ourselves. We believe that God loves everyone…but we subconsciously (or even consciously) add one constraint: we deny ourselves the love that we believe God gives to everyone else. I confused this belief with humility, when in reality I think it’s the opposite. What makes me believe that I am so strong that I can survive with less love than my brothers and sisters? How am I capable of filling in the gap left by a lack of love, when I believe that for everyone else, only God can fill that void?
God’s love has no restrictions, constraints, or requirements. It is given freely without any need for repayment. Yes, we should desire to return God’s love for us, but His love can stand on its own; it is not dependent on anything that we do or don’t do. I was not able to understand our call to humility until I accepted that I am just as loved by God as everyone else is. If I believe that God loves all of His children, then that includes me, too. Just like everyone else, I am flawed, broken, and completely dependent on Him. I do not have some special, unique power that gives me the ability to serve others fully without the nourishment God’s love provides me with. True humility means recognizing that I am equally flawed as everyone else, and therefore equally deserving of and dependent on love and support—no more and no less.
By trying to give of myself without allowing myself to be loved, I found that at a certain point, I felt empty. I tried to give all of my love away, but I hit a point where I just had nothing left to give, leaving me feeling guilty and inadequate. This is because I was giving away a finite resource; by myself, I am flawed and limited. When I allow myself to be replenished with God’s love, I find that I always have love to give, because I allow his infinite love to fill me and overflow to the people around me. So, I was only able to embrace true humility when I learned to love myself and allowed myself to be loved.
I always thought that to love myself was selfish, and I had a terrible fear of selfishness. But by denying myself love, I had less love to give to others. By refusing to acknowledge my strengths and gifts, I was not able to use those strengths and gifts for the benefit of others. When I started to love myself, acknowledge my gifts, and allow myself to be renewed with God’s love, I had so much more to give. One of the most humbling things I’ve had to do lately was admit that I was wrong about humility: in order to be truly humble, we have to love ourselves as much as we are called to love others, and we have to accept the love that God gives us so that we are free to spread this love to one another.