Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless — that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing. – 1 Peter 3:8-9 (MSG)
In the beginning, I took words like this very literally. It was important to me to be as compassionate, as agreeable, and especially as humble as possible. Trust me, in those days, I was a gold medalist in the Humble Olympics.
As the years passed, I became more suspicious of these kinds of dictates. I realized that a person who is agreeable all the time, with everybody, doesn’t have a place of her own to stand. I noticed that the more I clenched my jaw and tried with all my might to be outwardly compassionate, the more I secretly judged. And, it began to occur to me that striving to win at humble-ness, well, pretty much defeated the purpose of humility.
These days, I approach these words with what philosopher Paul Ricouer calls the second naïveté. I no longer take them so literally that they drive me to despair. Being agreeable doesn’t have to mean just nodding my head to everyone else’s opinions; it can mean declaring my own truth with both kindness and clarity. Being compassionate can start with unclenching my own jaw and looking within for what is lovable. And, my most humble teachers show me that true humility thrives more on self-confidence than on comparison.
How about you? Are there words that you once received literally and then examined critically? Are you ready to hear them again with new ears and a fresh heart?
Brother Jesus — Make me agreeable. Grant me compassion. Help me be humble. Again. Amen.