Recently I've twice noticed the statement "I am humbled" and have pondered its usual context, perhaps a context most sought-after.
First, Tim and I went out on my birthday to see the remake of Overboard. We liked it a lot. (Rotten Tomatoes only gives one good review, by Amanda Mazzillo, but I agree with her: "Nothing will top the chemistry of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, but Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez did a wonderful job of creating a sweet and thoughtful romance.") I noticed that whenever one of the more evil characters in the movie thinks she is getting her way, she says words like, "I am deeply humbled by this." Um, sure. While you take over your dad's company at others' expense. Right.
Next, in real life, I read someone's statement regarding an honor they'd received, and they used the same "deeply humbled" phrase. This person is, I'm pretty sure, pursuing goodness and continually trying to help others, but still I think their words didn't accurately fit what was going on. In truth they might have said, "I am being exalted right now." Being honored lifted them. Almost certainly they were in a humble state along the way, before the honor arrived. But at the moment of receiving the honor, no one put them down. Nothing appeared to be humiliating or humbling them.
I think generally, in everyday life, "I am humbled" means something has wowed me; this is incredible; there are no words; I kinda don't think I deserve it. And this is a humble attitude. This is, really, expected by those looking on. It's just not often true in the moment. Speaking for myself, anyway, I know that a compliment, an award, an acceptance from an editor, or even a random gift, brings forth a quiet reaction akin to "whoa; I'm good." Life has shown me that such a moment will soon be followed by another, different sort, highlighting my anger, unkindness, vanity, and so forth. Bleh.
I ponder this uncomfortable recognition on a clear May evening, in my spotless dining room (our friend Laura came and cleaned-!- before my mom's big birthday party Saturday), the sun lowering out back and casting irresistible light and shadows between leaves and stems, lupine and camas and mint and sage and grape and borage, while baby figs sway over the deck, gaining pudgy sweetness for July. I'm far from despairing. I don't feel the need to dig a hole and live there--although in the past such thoughts have brought such feelings.
My view these days is that those times of exaltation never happen in a void, or even very often, because this way of things is healthy for those struggling along the road toward true humanity. Some people are humbled seemingly all the time, but not, by any means, because they're substandard or deserve worse than other people. If this were so, then it would apply to Jesus at the end of his earthly life: misunderstood, arrested, jailed, condemned, executed. Besides, Jesus wouldn't have taught that the "blessed" are those who, at one time or continually, get humbled.
The sunshine along this way, for me, is recognition. It highlights and encourages truthfulness--may I come to see my secret self-exaltations! and admit them in the humble times, in moments waiting for figs to ripen. Barefoot on the shadowed deck with no one watching, a bumblebee's adieu and remembered prayers.