In her Writers Circle article, “Reflections on Tutor Humility [by a Recovering Engineer],” Amanda Butler imperatively exhorted tutors to embrace humility for “humility allows tutors to support families in a mentoring relationship, humility permits honesty to permeate the lessons in the classroom, and humility invites the Holy Spirit to do His work in the lives of the tutor, students, and parents.” Amanda predicated this thesis on the statement, “individually, humility in the nature of a tutor is hard to obtain.”1 Humility, when viewed in the life of the winsome and vibrant Jesus Christ, becomes a most desirable trait, attractive to anyone. Along with Amanda many would argue, imperative as it is, that humility is hard to obtain. I would argue that humility is not only difficult to obtain, but it is impossible to obtain. Thankfully, humility may be attained through interventions.
Some clarification is necessary. In general terms, obtain2 means to get something; while attain3 means to achieve something. Obtaining may involve action or effort, but attaining involves growth or increase by particular motion or effort. Some thought about the word usage of these terms is required and hopefully will be made more apparent. With regard to humility, C. S. Lewis said of the humble man, “He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all”4 (Lewis 128). Another definition of humility attributed to Lewis is stated in this way: “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, it is thinking of ourselves less.” (Bold added.) For further illustration, stories of two wolves beautifully and imaginatively display motives to obtain where their end goal is not necessarily humility, but attainment of humility is accomplished through interventions from others.
In George MacDonald’s fairytale, The Romance of Photogen and Nycteris,5 the witch Watho desired knowledge above all and cared only for its acquisition. She “had a wolf in her mind” that made her cruel and greedy. Watho’s desire caused her to be controlling, stingy in sharing knowledge, and hungry to hold and possess the destinies of those in her charge. When her charges, Photogen and Nycteris, independently grew and became harder to control, Watho’s dissatisfaction howled. She conjured the wolf within to ravage without regard and dashed to kill them. Photogen intervened for he learned former hunting lessons well, had suffered at her hand, and was growing in wisdom and knowledge. He destroyed Watho—who had transformed into a wolf—and protected Nycteris. In love, he married Nycteris that very day. The next day, they traveled and surrendered to the ruling king for judgment of their futures. In summary, Watho could not obtain and it was her undoing. Photogen attained through interventions that extended beyond the scope of his skills and plans. Photogen, the proud warrior, experienced humility through suffering, love, and surrender.
In the legend of St. Francis and the Wolf,6 the wolf of Gubbio desired food and cared only for his survival. He devoured livestock, killed shepherds protecting the flocks, and fiercely defended himself against the townspeople who were menacing to destroy him. With fear paramount and hope almost gone, the townspeople of Gubbio petitioned good Saint Francis of Assisi to intervene. Saint Francis spent significant time in prayer, talked with the wolf, and then mediated with the townspeople. He learned the wolf’s behavior was the result of suffering, starvation, and self-preservation. On behalf of the wolf, the Saint ministered compassion and reconciliation to the townspeople who were filled with fear, sorrow, and unforgiveness. In summary, the wolf could not obtain, but was sustained and became the town’s protector. Saint Francis attained through interventions which fostered healing, by surrender in humility, for all of Gubbio.
Returning to Amanda’s thesis, I agree humility is imperative in the life of the tutor. Thankfully, humility is attained through interventions of prayer, interventions of surrender, and interventions of love.
First, humility may be attained through interventions of prayer. Prayer is more than a soulful cry for help although we are certainly helped through prayer. In James 1:5 Scripture assures us we can pray for and receive wisdom from God. Prayer is based on an awareness of our relationship and dependency on a good God who listens, communicates with us, and transforms our human desires to refine them for our everlasting betterment. When we pray, we grow beyond our concerns.
Second, humility may be attained through interventions of surrender. Surrender requires release of control. Surrender often necessitates a realignment of ideas or agendas. Surrender, in a situation that involves trusted authority, often opens new opportunities to relate to others. When we surrender, we reach beyond ourselves.
Third, humility may be attained through interventions of amazing love. God loves us, we love God, and we are converted by His grace-filled love for us. We are able to love and accept our weaknesses. Then, we can truly love our neighbor. When we love, we touch beyond ourselves.
It could be argued that humility can be obtained by acts of will and practices. Possessing and holding onto “humble” actions would require an intensive focus on self and motives. Such self-practices do not often achieve godly results. Think Pharisee or Eastern religions. In addition, it could be argued that obtain and attain are close in meaning, so humility could, in fact, be obtained. However, obtain, derived from Latin obtineō, implies assertion, holding on to, and gain; whereas attain, derived from Latin attingō, implies touch, reach, or concern. Attain is more harmonious with the idea of humility, that is, thinking of ourselves less and thinking of others more. Neither of these arguments support the possibility that humility can be obtained.
It stands then, that humility is attainable. Humility may be attained through interventions of prayer, through interventions of surrender, and through interventions of love. Just as Amanda purports, we tutors can embrace humility to support families and students. We can abandon ourselves to not think less of ourselves, but to think of others more. We can be honest about our work. We can invite the Holy Spirit to change us. We can freely and unashamedly encourage ourselves and our fellow tutors. This will destroy the wolfish craving that can haunt from time to time. We recover saintliness as we reflect on God’s intervention in our lives.
Just as the psalmist, King David, realized that the attributes of God were a mystery that could not be obtained, he experienced the interventions of God’s protection throughout his life and he came to know that God’s love could be attained.
Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast. How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings (Psalm 36:5-7, KJV).
1 https://www.classicalconversations.com/easyblog/reflections-on-tutor-humility-by-a-recovering-engineer Reference to read the article with support of thesis, proofs, and content.
4 Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity, New York: HarperCollins Edition 2001, Print.
5 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/macdonald/daynight/files/daynight.html Reference to read the story without regard to other extraneous webpage contents.
6 http://tamingthewolf.com/about/st-francis-and-the-wolf/ Reference to read the story without regard to other extraneous webpage contents.