A 12-Rung Ladder
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
I decided to break a pattern today. I’ve been doing a sort of review/devotional on each chapter of Joan Chittister’s The Monastery of the Heart. But the one on humility is longer, and has such great precepts in it that I decided to do a second on that same chapter.
Maybe it’s because I feel so strongly the need of true humility. In academy, we used to sing earnestly, “Humble me, humble me, O Lord.” I think I had the idea, common among many Christians (especially new or young ones) that humility, or self-denial, meant to deny the self—to deny it existence, rather than to deny it things you wanted but didn’t need, or things and ideas that would be destructive to the self or others. I thought it meant eventually not having a self. Or if I didn’t take it quite that far, it was close. That the truly good Christian would so wholly submerge herself in Christ that she would disappear entirely.
“Not I, but Christ. . .” We sang that, too, and like most 17-year-olds, I took it entirely literally. To be humble meant to always put others and their needs ahead of oneself and one’s own needs. It meant others were not only more important, but probably more worthy.
As I grew older, I learned better. I began to realize that it was to save my self that Jesus came, and that the goal was to uncover and develop that real self, the one He created me to be, the one that was buried underneath the pride and false humility and self-abasement, and was no more nor less important or worthy than any other self. But the damage was done. It took years of counseling to dig out the roots of the false attitudes I had been taught.
Now, I feel more whole, and more ready for words like these:
that person growth is a process,
not an event,
and that self-love,
the narcissism that makes us
the center of our own universe,
is destructive of the self.
Once upon a time, I would have nodded wisely, never catching that last line: that destruction of the self is not a goal to be desired! Here are the full twelve steps as outlined in the Rule of Benedict. They are all completely Biblical. And completely impossible—unless one has allowed one’s true self to sink deep into the love of God.
1. To recognize that God is God.
2. To know that God’s will is best for us.
3. To be willing to receive direction.
4. To endure and don’t grow weary.
5. To acknowledge faults.
6. To be content with less than the best.
7. To let go of image making.
8. To learn from the community.
9. To listen to others.
10. To abandon the urge to ridicule.
11. To speak kindly.
12. To be simple; to be serene.