Every few years, during the season of Lent, I pull out something called the Litany of Humility. The Litany of Humility comes originally from the Catholic tradition, but it’s prayed often by us Protestants too. No less than C. S. Lewis, the author of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, prayed the Litany of Humility and recommended it to others. Lewis wrote to a friend, “You did not know, did you, that all the temptations against which he pours forth these prayers I have long been exceedingly conscious of?” In other words, the Litany of Humility is a pretty good answer to many of the sins we tend to commit, chief among them being pride.
The Litany begins, “Deliver me, Jesus,” and directs us to repeat these words after each of the following lines, which include,
- From the desire of being esteemed
- From the desire of being loved,
- From the desire of being praised
- From the desire of being approved
It goes on. You get the idea. (Here’s more with the prayer in full.)
The Litany of Humility doesn’t make sense, not at first. What’s wrong with being esteemed? loved? praised? approved? Nothing. Read the prayer closer. “From the desire…,” begins each prayer. From the desire.
When we thirst after esteem and love and praise and approval, we are inevitably disappointed. We’re relying on the world to supply our joy. Worse, we’re relying on ourselves and our own efforts.
And, if we think we can win the esteem, love, praise, and approval of the people around us by our own effort, then we’ve committed the first of those seven deadly sins: pride. We’ve put ourselves and our own meager power at the center of our personal universe. We’ve ceased to depend on God.
I prayed the Litany of Humility a lot this past year. You see, the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023 were rough for me. I was feeling down. I’d convinced myself that working harder and smarter would fix all my problems, but of course I failed. The more of a failure I felt like, the harder I tried. The harder I tried, the more I failed.
What turned the year around for me? The easy answer is Jesus. Jesus turned me around by sending good friends who suggested I see about my health. Jesus visited me also in this Litany of Humility, which I took to praying every Sunday in the early hour before worship. The difference between last January and now is a whole lot more contentment, peace of mind and heart (most of the time), and a real sense of security in Christ.
Along the way, 2023 turned out to be a pretty good year. I published a couple of articles, my daughter graduated from college, and I spent a week in Mexico with brothers and sisters in Christ building water cisterns. I got the chance to do some fun work for our national church, and we finished the year with one of the loveliest Christmas Eve worship services I can remember.
None of it was ultimately my doing. I helped, yes, but Jesus did the real work. The Litany of Humility reminds me of this truth.
Do I enjoy being esteemed, loved, praised, and approved? Of course, and I have experienced all of the above. Funny thing, though, is that, the less I sought it, the more I found it.