“Hang down your head, Tom Dooley, poor boy, you’re bound to die.” Those lyrics came from a folk song made popular by the Kingston Trio in 1958, written about the events surrounding the 1866 murder of Laura Foster, in Wilkes County, North Carolina.
The convicted murderer’s original spelling of his name was Tom Dula (the last “a” was often pronounced like a “y” by Appalachians, thus the spelling change). Some believe he was protecting a former girlfriend, thought to have murdered his current sweetheart, Laura. Standing on the gallows before his hanging, he reportedly said, “Gentlemen, see these hands, they never harmed a hair on that girl’s head.”
Today, a wrongdoer, during an arrest, often ducks his or her head to avoid having their face shown by a television camera. The turning away from a camera or lowering of the chin could be from real remorse or rebellion because of their capture. Let’s consider another way one lowers their head. Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-1667) second rule about living humbly mentions that the outward appearance and posture doesn’t necessarily show humility. Following is the rule in the language of the 1600s:
“Humility consists not in the railing against thyself, or wearing mean clothes, or going softly or submissively; but in hearty and real evil or mean opinion of thyself.” The rest of the rule, “Believe thyself an unworthy person heartily, as thou believest thyself to be hungry, or poor, or sick, when thou art so.” I’m uneducated in language of that era, and I had to read the rule several times and research before attempting an explanation.
Taylor tells us that the outward show of humility isn’t true humility. Only when one acknowledges unworthiness does one move toward humility. The apostle Paul captured the essence of rule number two when he said, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23).
Paul didn’t pull any punches. We all sin. Taylor said we don’t wear our humility. We live our humility. We don’t “act” humble. We embrace humility by recognizing our frailties and leaning on Jesus to help us be more like him. I’m never perfect at loving others, even on the days of my best behavior.
Humility involves the realization and acknowledgment that temptations to become jealous, prideful, selfish, or entertain ungodly thoughts assault us daily. Far too often, I give into the temptations, but I don’t want the focus of this column to be on failures, I want us to center on our successes because of God’s help.
Coach Jimmy Johnson revealed to “The New York Times” what he said to the Dallas Cowboys before they took the field in 1993 Super Bowl. He told his players if he laid a two by four on the locker room floor and asked each of them to walk the length, that each player could do that because they would focus on the length of the board. However, if he placed that same board between the tenth floors of skyscrapers very few could walk the length because they would focus on falling. He asked his team to focus on each play of the game as if it were a good practice session. The Cowboys won 52-7.
This week, instead of humility pretense, focus on each interaction with others. When you present yourself, it’s possible for the outward person and inner person to be very different. We can shake someone’s hand and seem friendly while our mind conjures up criticisms of the other person. Ask God to make you aware of when the two are mismatched. The very best thing occurs when humble behavior and humble thought accompany each other.
Hunger for Humility (5): “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.” (Psalm 25:8-9)
Cathy Messecar welcomes comments or ideas at writecat at consolidated dot net