Saturday, May 16, 2009

Intimacy and humility

A friend facetiously asked me to teach him humility this week. Naturally, I rejected the humorous tenor of the request in favor of intense musing, "How on earth does one teach humility?" As a mother, I want above all to teach my daughters humility--the total submission of their lives to the Truth (who, we believe, is a Person). How? How can I, or even Todd and I together, teach them to the joy of humility when I myself struggle so much to be humble?

The answer is not to break the child's will. It is not to manipulate them to "do the right thing." All the parenting methods and philosophies over which we wage our little mother-wars in the end boil down to a matter of preference and personal temperaments. Attachment parenting, nannies, sleep training, bottles, breastmilk... saints have come from households practicing every imaginable parenting-style.

The one word that kept coming to my mind as I pondered humility was intimacy. In fact, my first response to my friend was that I could never teach him humility, only life with a spouse could teach him that. The problem was that he was not married, my children are not married, and I certainly hope they all learn humility before they are married (if they ever are at all). But intimacy can be pursued--and it must be pursued--regardless of anyone's state of life or "relationship status."

Intimacy is the mother of humility, because only in living with others and opening ourselves to them do we learn (ever so slowly) to forget ourselves. A life lived purposefully together with others--with God, with the saints, with the family, with others--is a life that has begun to submit itself to something outside of itself.

In the family, intimacy for my children means that a toy picked up by a younger sibling is not to be grabbed back, "MINE!" It means that at dinner we each wait until the speaker is done speaking. We share what we can afford to eat. Intimacy also means enjoying the others present as they are--not as we want them to be. It means laughing at the baby's "joke", because you love the baby, and when Mommy spills all the tomato sauce on the floor (Mommy has to laugh, too!).

I find myself thirsting, aching, to be alone during the day. Every chord in my being screams, "HERMITAGE!" I just want to do dishes without answering 500 questions; I want to spill the dinner all over the floor without four little hands splashing in it and two little throats laughing at me. But the intimacy of the life I've chosen calls me out of my impulses. It's not a comfortable lesson, but it bears more fruit than I can say.

Other lives pursue this lesson in the way the divine love has marked for them: the nun in her cell daily opens her heart to the Truth about herself, to mourn and rejoice. The single professional seeks those around him who need him, and to know those who are closer to God than him. There is an opportunity to open ourselves, to become vulnerable to the necessary death-to-self, everywhere and in every moment.

We must pursue intimacy, healthy intimacy. The divine intimacy within God himself is centripetal--drawing all of creation into its bond. Our souls were made to live only his life, and to do that we need to open our whole selves to him. In prayer, in obedience, in the daily self-sacrifice that is his will for each of us. Doing the dishes? His will. Spilling the sauce and laughing with the delighted infant? His will. A smile at the two extra pounds on the scale? His swill. The snatched moment of rest and prayer? His will. The joy in my husband's eyes? His will. 

Submission to such an intimate love can only be joy. And the measure of that joy is the measure of our humility. 


Carla said...

Thanks for the thoughts on humility and intimacy--I'm saving your wise post to come back to again. It's also just a bit encouraging to know that I am not the only one raising two little ones who craves time alone! :)

Maica Kozak said...

Beautiful. Thanks Erika.

Chad said...

Erika - Nice post. Keeping in mind that I am not a trained philosopher like yourself, I would like to offer that I wonder if in trying to teach humility one might consider "service" as a basis for future teaching. If one can be taught to focus on serving others that one is less likely to be focused solely on self.

e2 said...

Chad, yes, I think that service in the community can be a very important part of learning humility. I think that, as Catholics, though, community service is already understood as a very important part of living the faith. Less understood is the extent to which our daily life in the family is an occasion of intimacy--both divine and human. Service outside the home can only bear true fruit if the parents see the will of God (and thus, his love) in daily life with each other. The primary lesson in humility must be learned in the marriage and the children, because then the humility learned in community service will spring from a complete life, a life lived entirely submitted to God--in constant prayer, obedience, long-suffering, etc...

But, yes, this intense life of self-immolation must spill outside the home as well. :)

matthew archbold said...

Thank you for this post. I've been considering this question often recently with my five.

You've given me a lot to ponder.