The Bible tells us that God wants us to grow in humility. Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who is now a Saint, saw the process of learning to become more humble as a set of specific, concrete measures we can practice every day.
Her advice is easy to understand, but much harder to follow. Over time, though, by embracing her approach and making it our own, we can gradually learn to respond to people and events with greater acceptance and humility.
I first posted these teachings as a series of daily quotations on Twitter and Facebook. When that project was complete, I decided to draw them together, and make them available here.
Each quotation is followed by an illustrative verse from the Bible or few words of clarification. I hope very much that you will find Mother Theresa’s clear, practical advice as helpful as I do.
1. Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters:
You must all be quick to listen
[and] slow to speak
(James 1:19; NLT).
2. Aspire to live quietly,
to mind your own affairs,
and to work with your own hands
(1 Thessalonians 4:10; RSV).
3. You should mind your own business
(1 Thessalonians 4:11; NIV).
4. They have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things
(2 Timothy 4:3; NET).
5. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults
because of your love
(Ephesians 4:2; NLT).
6. Whoever learns from correction is wise (Proverbs 15:5; NLT).
7. How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove the speck
from your brother’s eye
(Matthew 7:4-5; NIV).
8. Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged (Matthew 7:1-2; NLT).
9. He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word
(Isaiah 53:7; NLT).
1o. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
yet he never said a word
(Isaiah 53:7; NLT).
11. The wisdom from above is first of all pure.
It is also peace-loving,
gentle at all times,
and willing to yield to others
(James 3:17; NLT).
NB: This doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you. It means letting others choose, and gladly going along with their choice, rather than insisting on having your own way.
12. He was despised and we did not care
(Isaiah 53:3; NLT).
13. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way
(Isaiah 53:3; NLT).
14. A gentle answer deflects anger,
but harsh words make tempers flare (Proverbs 15:1; NLT).
15. They brag loudly about themselves (Jude 1:16; NLT).
Don’t do your good deeds publicly,
to be admired by others
(Matthew 6:1; NLT).
16. Whoever wants to be first among you
must be the slave of all
(Mark 10:44; NET).
17. Do not be wise in your own opinion
(Romans 12:16; NKJV).
18. Even the Son of Man came not to be served
but to serve others,
and to give his life as a ransom for many
(Matthew 20:28; NLT).
All the quotations used here can be found by doing a Google search for: “Mother Theresa humility list”. I am very grateful to Mother for putting her advice list together, and to all those who circulate various versions of it online.
This blog is about dealing with hurt feelings. In three short articles, it charts my learning over a period of several months.
1. My dilemma – written on 19.8.20.
Image: level17-design, Pixabay
The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me
(Job 30:27; NIV).
Introduction During the summer of 2020, two people hurt me badly, on separate occasions. I decided to be direct with them, and did so as lovingly as I could. However, both reacted to my feedback with anger and blame, and neither was willing to work together towards reconciliation.
My dilemma: Should I speak out, or say nothing? This breakdown in two significant relationships left me ruminating for many weeks about all that had gone wrong, generating a constant sense of dread. Sadly, this was not a new experience. Dealing with hurt feelings has posed a serious dilemma for me throughout my life: is it better to speak out to those concerned, or to say nothing?
What did Jesus say and do? As always, when I don’t know what to do for the best, I looked for guidance in the teaching and example of Jesus. However, he taught, and displayed, both outspoken and silent ways of responding to hurt, criticism, and injustice, which I have always found confusing.
For example, on one occasion he stated: If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them, and if they repent, forgive them (Luke 17:3; NIV).
Yet he also said: If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also (Matthew 5:39; NLT).
So, what happens when I try to follow each of these two apparently very different approaches?
Speaking out Experience has taught me that when I speak out directly to someone who has hurt me, it almost always backfires. In response to my feedback, they turn on me with anger and blame, or end our relationship. I then react to their hostility with my characteristic endless sense of dread.
Saying nothing On the other hand, when I say nothing, I allow the other person to hurt me without protesting, absorbing the pain and damage, just as I did with my emotionally abusive mother. This makes me feel powerless, worthless, and depressed.
Thus, whichever approach I try, I generally end up feeling as if life is not worth living.
Forgiveness Fortunately, Jesus was absolutely clear that whether or not we speak out, we should always forgive those who hurt us. This applies even if they never acknowledge what they have done, and never apologise. Forgiveness gives me something positive to work on during the months of emotional distress which follow each time someone upsets me.
Conclusion When people hurt me, I see myself as having only two basic choices: to speak out, or to say nothing. Either way, the outcome is equally damaging for my mental health. Not knowing how to resolve this dilemma has plagued me all my life, and remains a serious problem to this day.
After writing the piece above, I began to talk my dilemma over with a few, trusted people for the first time ever. Gradually, my thinking about it began to change, as described in the next article.
2. My action plan – written on 30.8.20.
Image: Jackson David, Pixabay
If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God
(Matthew 5:23-4; NLT).
Introduction After writing the above article, I spent a long time working out how to improve my ways of relating to those who hurt me. From the insights gained, I gradually put together an action plan to follow whenever a crisis arises.
My action plan Rather than seeing my response as a stark choice between speaking out and saying nothing, I decided to tackle each situation in a series of stages.
Stage 1: Withdraw, pray, reflect When someone behaves unacceptably towards me, I will not confront the person involved immediately. Instead, I will simply tell them that I need time to reflect on what they have said or done. I will then withdraw to sleep on the matter for at least one night. Taking time out will enable me to pray, discuss the situation with someone I trust, and think carefully, before responding. This should help to prevent me from reacting angrily in the heat of the moment, with a high risk of permanently damaging the other person, our relationship, and myself.
Stage 2: Decide whether or not to be honest During the time out, if I decide it is pointless, or inappropriate, to speak directly to the person concerned, I need take the matter no further. Instead, I will work on praying for them, and forgiving them.
On the other hand, if I decide to tell the other person how their behaviour has affected me, I need to remember that they may have had no intention, or awareness, of upsetting me, and might therefore be very taken aback when I raise the subject.
Stage 3: Speak out briefly, and lovingly When I decide to give direct feedback, I will do so as briefly and lovingly as possible. I will remind the person of what they said or did, and be honest about how it has hurt me. Anything beyond this is superfluous.
Stage 4: Wait to see how the person responds If the other person reacts badly, there is no need for me to do anything further. We are all responsible for our own behaviour, and I can’t expect everyone to respond exactly as I wish. Instead, I will try to put the whole matter behind me, though I admit that I have always found this impossible.
On the other hand, if the other person reacts positively, and apologises, I will accept this immediately, forgiving them completely. We can then be reconciled, and the whole matter will be resolved.
Stage 5: Start afresh Finally, however badly things turn out, I can try to start afresh each day. Every time I find myself ruminating about what happened, I will remind myself that the matter is now closed, and that it’s time for me to move on.
Conclusion From now on, when someone hurts me, I have an action plan to follow. My overall aim will be to maintain a careful balance between being speaking out, preserving relationships, and protecting my mental health.
After finishing this article, I made further progress in dealing with hurt feelings, as described in the final piece of this series.
3. My further learning – written on 23.1.21.
Image: Manfred Antranias Zimmer, Pixabay
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves
(Philippians 2:3; NLT).
Introduction Despite my hopes, putting together my action plan didn’t make me feel any better about my two shattered relationships. I was still living with constant dread, which drained my already very limited energy. My sleep and dreams were disturbed, and I began to slip into depression. Clearly, my approach to dealing with hurt feelings was incomplete.
Then, one day, I suddenly realised that when I’ve been honest with someone about their behaviour towards me, and they have taken it badly, or stopped speaking to me, there is one more step I can take, in the hope of resolving the situation.
One more step I can write to the person concerned, saying how sorry I am about everything that has gone wrong between us. I can tell them that I’m praying for them, and for our relationship, and let them know that I long for us to be reconciled. Even if they don’t respond, I will then know that I have done all I possibly can to put things right between us.
This insight enabled me to write carefully and lovingly to the two people who had hurt me. To my delight, one responded with great generosity of spirit, though sadly the other did not reply. However, by sending these letters, I finally managed to stop ruminating about all that had gone wrong. In consequence, my abiding sense of dread slowly began to diminish.
The teaching of Mother Theresa At this point, I believed my action plan was complete. Some weeks later, though, I stumbled on Mother Theresa’s teaching about how to deal with exactly the kind of hurtful situations that had destroyed my peace of mind for so many months.
In her book, “The Joy in Loving” (Penguin Books, 2000), Mother Theresa offers brief but powerful advice on how to become more humble, and therefore more Christ-like. The wording varies slightly in different editions of the book, so I have amalgamated the most relevant points into a single list which hopefully maintains the spirit of her approach:
Do not dwell on the faults of others.
Accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
Accept criticism, even if it is unmerited.
Accept insults and injuries.
Accept being slighted and disliked.
Accept contempt, being disregarded, and being forgotten.
Be courteous, kind, and gentle, even when provoked.
Inspired by the simplicity and clarity of these teachings, I began to absorb and practice them. Not long afterwards a friend unexpectedly censured me for something which was not under my control. Feeling hurt, I began to defend myself, but quickly recalled Mother Theresa’s wise words, “Accept criticism, even if it is unmerited.” I stopped speaking, and turned away. Overwhelmed by despair, I started to weep. To my friend’s credit, she quickly realised how much she had hurt me. She approached me, apologising profusely. We clung together for a long time in great distress, comforting each other. Eventually I was able to explain how afraid I had been of her sudden anger, and how much her words had upset me. I told her that I loved and valued her, and we were fully reconciled.
Humility, acceptance and courtesy This was a deeply healing experience, unlike anything I had previously experienced. Moreover, it was not followed by dread, or depression, which seemed little short of a miracle. I therefore resolved to adopt Mother Theresa’s approach of responding with humility, acceptance, courtesy, kindness and forgiveness whenever someone hurts me.
Conclusion These three linked articles have described how I resolved my lifelong dilemma about the best way to respond when someone hurts me. I no longer see myself as having a straight, binary choice between speaking out and saying nothing. Nor do I need a complex action plan that relies on how the other person reacts at each stage. Instead, from now on, whenever I am criticised or attacked, I will use the simple, humble approach encapsulated in Mother Theresa’s teaching.
To my delight, this completely resolves my original dilemma, as it is entirely in accordance with the spirit of Christ’s own words: Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also […] Then your reward in heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High (Luke 6:27-9, 35; NLT).
There can be no finer action plan than this.
My warmest thanks to all those who engaged in discussing this issue with me, especially Alan, Dianne, Rosemary, and John. Their contributions have been invaluable. Many thanks also to Ber, whose technical help and personal encouragement enabled me to write and organise this document.
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love
(Galatians 5:6; NIV).
1. Love God, and all.
Give thanks, and pray.
2. Rejoice; forgive;
And serve, each day.
3. Be kind, and humble.
Bear your cross;
4. And follow Christ
Through every loss.
1. Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31; NLT).
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NIV).
2. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you (Matthew 6:14; NLT).
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35; NIV).
3. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone (2 Timothy 2:24; NLT).
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3; NLT).
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23; NLT).
4. God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example and you must follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21; NLT).