Tom was 68 years old when he was admitted to Hospice with Lou Gherig’s Disease (ALS). He was bed bound and required total care, but he was still a big man. The thickness of his hands and fingers testified of a man accustomed to hard manual labor. His frame depicted a man who was once strong and vital. His contagious grin and stealthy wit revealed an intelligent man with a sense of humor.
According to Tom’s wife, Faye, Tom was a modern-day renaissance man. Faye, recounted, “He always said he wanted to try everything.” They’ve moved 25 times during their 50 years of marriage. Tom had been a skilled mechanic, he owned and operated tractor trailer rigs, he was a minister and pastor, he rode motorcycles, he played tennis, and Faye said, “He could have been a professional bowler.” She added, “We’ve lived in the best of houses and worn the best of clothes. But we worked hard. While we were in Wisconsin, I worked three jobs. I was a home health aide, sold real estate and was the church secretary.”
But their lives are much different now. Tom’s chronic illness has depleted their financial reserves. Now they barely survive from month to month. They have no transportation because they can’t afford to repair their van. Their home has been in disrepair. Faye said that for a few years, their living room ceiling leaked during heavy rains. “We placed buckets all around the room and imagined we were being serenaded by the rain hitting the buckets. We still had a sense of humor. And we are more thankful now than ever. We are happier here than anywhere.”
Being amazed by Tom’s pleasant demeanor and thankfulness in the midst of such disruption, I asked what helped him cope. He replied, “Staying humble. I used to think I was doing things for God, but now I realize that I did them for myself. I got ahead of God. I thought I was 10 feet tall and bullet proof and that I could move mountains. But God showed me that I’m only about a half-inch tall and that I can only flick rocks. I used to lead people, but God told me I would be led by others. I’d always done the talking, but now I’m listening.”
We launched into an exploration of the meaning of humility. We talked about the Biblical mandates to “humble yourself.” Tom proclaimed, “Either God will humble you or you can humble yourself. But if you humble yourself, there is always a reward.” He added, “To be humble, we have to see who we are and who God is.”
Tom’s insights reminded me of Charles Finney, one of America’s foremost evangelists during the 18th and 19th centuries. He defined humility as “a willingness to be known and appreciated according to our real character … to confess, and to take our place in the scale of being.” True humility isn’t an act of self-deprecation. It’s the willingness to be real with ourselves, others and before God. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “Don’t think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think, but think soberly (accurately) as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:1-8)
Until we see who we are and who God is, we’ll be tempted to steal the credit and fall prey to pride or false humility. The Apostle Paul cautioned “that no one of you may become arrogant in behalf of one against another. For who regards you superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (I Corinthians 4:6-7, NASB). In other words, there’s no such thing as a self-made man or an individual accomplishment, and thankfulness is the only legitimate human response to success.
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.