March 29, 2011

Christlike Attributes: Meekness

Copenhagen Church Altar Painting
In the Beatitudes the Lord teaches of eight godly characteristics, and eight corresponding blessings. These attributes have intrigued me of late because most of them would not be considered strengths by the world's standards, yet Jesus is very straightforward about their significance in the kingdom of God. Take for example the second statement “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). That is a pretty powerful promise, yet meekness is never taught as a desirable attribute if you want to be wealthy, own lots of land, or become powerful by the world’s standards. Meekness 101 is never a required course for MBA graduates, nor is it ever discussed in law school as something you should have while debating in court. One definition of meekness even describes it as “deficient in spirit and courage,” yet the Savior says “I am meek and lowly in heart.” This is ironic, as Jesus could be considered the most significant historical figure of all time, yet He teaches that He is meek.

Jesus Christ was anything but “deficient in spirit and courage,” so what does it mean to be meek in the way the Lord is teaching it. It is difficult to answer this for sure, but allow me to try by first defining pride, the antithesis of humility and meekness. It is best defined, I feel, by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. He states: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.”

In other words, the sin of pride is lifting ourselves above another by seeking to be better than them. Humility and meekness could then be defined as seeking to lift others, even if it means they may become as great as you, or even greater. In fact, when we are truly meek, our efforts to become great are focused on knowing that by becoming great we may be able to have a greater influence for good on others. We seek to be good that we can help others to be greater.

In my opinion, this is exactly how Christ showed His humility. Christ was never worried that we might become perfect like He is, in fact this is His very desire, as He taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He shows His humility by desiring us to become like Him, AND doing all within His power to lift us to that level.

Though it is hard to know the exact feelings and thoughts of the Savior when He taught, rebuked, and admonished, I feel that He did each of these with the single intent of lifting the individual, and not with drawing attention to Himself. For example, when teaching the multitudes the Sermon on the Mount, He did so with the intent to draw people to God, not to make the people just think He was a great teacher. When rebuking the Pharisees and Sadducees, He did so to show them how they could improve, not to lift Himself up above them (showing He was perfect and they were not). All the Savior did was focused on others.

Even the very act of the atonement (which made the Savior the greatest of all) was not to make Himself greater than all, but to make us greater by enabling us to be lifted from our depths of sin and sorrow. He did not think, “Wow, by suffering for their sins I will be able to be greater than everyone else; all will worship me because of what I will do.” Instead He said “I will do this for their benefit, not my own.”

He had no thought of Himself. He always looks outward towards others, not inward towards Himself.

So how do we gain this attribute of Christ? It is not easy. We must pray for this gift, we must seek for it, and we must practice having it. Practice is perhaps the most difficult and most important in my opinion, for as we practice, the Lord, through His grace, will help us achieve perfection.

It may help to remember these thoughts as you practice meekness: First, all that we do is to draw attention to the recipient, not to ourselves. Second, our top priority and desire is the betterment of others, not ourselves (if we do become better, it is for the benefit of others). Third, we never think we are too good for any task, no matter how insignificant or difficult it may be. Forth, we are lowly, in that all we do is to lift others (we are willing to stoup to a lower level to lift someone to a higher level). Fifth, as in the words of Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves. It comes as we go about our work with an attitude of serving God and our fellowman.”

It is my prayer that we each may seek the Lord’s face, and follow after His ways be being “meek and lowly of heart” by always seeking to bring out the divine in others, lifting those around us, and thinking of others before ourselves.

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