A Humble Place

All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted. ~ Luke 18:14

It’s hard to be humble.

After I lost my job as a teacher, I worked for Badger Backhoe moving dirt. Usually, I worked by myself in the ditch while Darrell, my boss, ran the backhoe. On one big job laying down a new sewage line, we needed two people working in the ditch. We had to make some basic calculations and make sure the ditch sloped at a constant 3% grade. We also needed to work fast before the sewage line exploded in the ditch, not a pretty sight or smell.

My partner in the ditch who helped me move dirt, make calculations, and set the grade at 3% was a kid named Joe who was a former student of mine. Joe was a happy go lucky guy who didn’t pass my seventh-grade English class and he barely graduated from high school. Every morning Joe would greet me, “Hello Mr. Paschal.” “Hello Joe,” I’d mumble and then we’d drop down into the sewage ditch.

For some reason, I was having a tough time figuring out the grade. Darrel was holding back the sewage with his backhoe bucket, but I could not get the grade figured out. I was confused, I could not think, and about that time all this raw sewage came pouring into the ditch. Joe said, “Let’s get out of here!”

After Darrell cleaned up the mess with his backhoe, Joe said, “Mr. Paschal, can I do the calculations?” I thought great, “How is Joe who couldn’t pass seventh grade English going to make these calculations in a timely manner?”  But we had nothing to lose; I wasn’t having any success.

Joe and I jumped in the sewage ditch again. Joe made calculations, told me where to add dirt and take dirt away so we could maintain a consistent 3% slope, and then we were done with time to spare. I thought, “How did Joe do that?”

For the next three weeks Joe and I worked together in the ditch. He took the lead, pointed me in the right direction, and we got the new sewage line laid in a timely manner. (No more sewage showers!). It turns out that Joe struggled with reading and writing but he was a whiz in math. And he was a great leader; he was patient and humble. Never once did Joe say, “I can’t believe you can’t figure this out Mr. Paschal.” Or “Are you sure you got a college degree Mr. Paschal?”

It turns out that Joe was a master teacher and I’m thankful for him. I hope he’s doing OK today.

Besides keeping us out of a ditch flowing with raw sewage, Joe taught me a lot about humility.

Roberta Bondi in her book To Love as God Loves says, “Love is the goal of the way of faith: love of God and neighbor and what makes love possible is humility.”

Without humility we become like the Pharisee who is pious, responsible, devoted; and he looks down on other people. He judges them and declares himself superior. Father Ron Rolheiser says, “We see how arrogant it is for the Pharisee to say: ‘Thank God. I am not like that man!’” We can see how damaging and harmful his remarks are to the tax collector and himself. There is no love or empathy just judgement.

“But,” Rolheiser writes, “I would venture to guess that 98% of us hearing this story spontaneously nurse this feeling: ‘Thank God, I’m not like that Pharisee!’ And, in doing that, we are him. Exactly, like him.”

Do we pray like the prideful Pharisee? “God, I know I have a temper, but thank you that it’s not near as bad as Tim’s temper.” “God, I know we struggle and fight in our marriage, but thank you that we don’t fight nearly as much as Kari and Bob. At least the police haven’t shown up at our door.” “God, I know our kids aren’t perfect but thank you that they are not in jail like the neighbors’ kids.” On and on our prayers go.

“Pride is forever sneaking around our defenses and keeping humility at bay,” say Rolheiser. And judgment fills our heart instead of empathy and compassion.

What is the answer?

Father Richard Rohr reflects, “The only people who grow in truth are those who are humble and honest.” The only people who grow in inner-peace and joy are humble and honest. “No one is in a position to look down on another from a superior height. We are all vulnerable, all limited, and we each have a different struggle only God is in a position to judge,” say Bondi. And our Creator says, “You are my beloved. You are forgiven!”

So, let us all take a deep breath and help each other off our high horses. It is lonely and miserable up there anyway. Let us give thanks for Christ’s grace and mercy. Let us move from self-righteous judgment to shared empathy. With humility, we are one.

Blessings and peace,


Posted in Meditations.