Real Life. Real Faith.

A friend and I share an invisible grace hat. It is a gentle way of reminding ourselves to be a little kinder, a little less judgmental and/or a little more loving. If one of us is struggling, the other tosses this hat over as a way of remembering to love our neighbor.

I noticed, though, that my frustrations with those around me were increasing and I was having more trouble (than usual) being kind and loving and giving the benefit of the doubt. I found that more and more I was responding to the humanness of those around me in a rather un-Christian way. I announced one day that a hat wasn’t sufficient — I needed a grace sombrero. It was both humorous and sad. When I reflected on the situation, I realized the problem wasn’t other people. The problem was me.

Despite a desire to love as Jesus loves, I was failing. Internal disquiet is a sure sign something is amiss interiorly. I didn’t like who I was becoming. Judgment is not a good look on anyone.

After bringing this to prayer, I found some advice from St. Teresa of Calcutta about humility — a virtue that asks us for a mindset that seems unnatural but can help us love others better. I am not good at this. But I am trying.

1 – Mind your own business. I reflected on Jesus’ words to Peter in John’s Gospel, “What concern of it is yours? You follow me.” (John 21:22) My need for a grace hat that grew into a sombrero came from being concerned about things that aren’t mine to be concerned about. If I stay in my lane and follow Jesus, I will be keeping my gaze on what’s important.

2 – Don’t desire to manage other people’s affairs. Humility requires me to let go of the notion that I know what’s best because I don’t. I view the world through my own sinful lens, and I don’t know the whole story, much less what is the correct path forward for someone else. I’ll take care of myself.

3 – Avoid curiosity. That desire to be in the know? That attitude of schadenfreude; a certain pleasure in knowing someone “got what they deserved”? That is not based in love. I think schadenfreude and curiosity are linked and need to go away.

4 – Pass over the mistakes of others. It’s easy to see the speck in another’s eye while ignoring the plank in my own. I know why I mess up and can offer excellent and reasonable excuses, but allowing that in someone else, especially when I’m inconvenienced, is a whole other story. I need to give others the same grace I want from them.

5 – Accept insults and injuries and 6 – Accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked. Why should I accept these things? Shouldn’t I be treated well all the time? Well, no. It’s true I am a beloved daughter of God, but Jesus suffered all this and he’s the Son of God. Jesus was insulted, beaten and killed during his Passion. Pharisees disliked him then, and many who don’t accept his teachings dislike him now. Jesus offers them love and mercy. When I experience indignity, I am in the best possible company — that of Jesus Christ, who knows how it feels and assures me of my place in his family. He told us we would suffer for love of him. He wasn’t wrong. From him, I can learn to be loving and merciful.

7 – Be kind and gentle under provocation. Deep breath here because my first unholy response is to give as good as I get. That is not what we are directed to do by St. Teresa or Jesus. We should treat others how we want to be treated, not as they treat us. This is where we see holiness in a person. Being kind to someone who is unkind takes a lot of help from God.

Actually, all of these suggestions require a lot of help from God, and I’m realizing that humility is not something I can accomplish on my own. When I tried that, I had to upgrade to a sombrero. The only way I can do this is through a giant grace infusion from Jesus. I believe a prayer like that is on the slam dunk of answered prayers list. If I desire to live like Jesus and am after his heart, I need to swallow my pride and ask for help. What he asks is big but not impossible because with God all things are possible.

So, this year, my hope is to retire the grace sombrero and lean on the Lord. I pray that I can put aside that which is getting in the way and receive from him what I need to truly love my neighbor.