Learning Humility, Richard J. Foster. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2022.
Summary: A journal of a year-long journey of learning humility including notes from readings, reflections, prayers, organized around the Lakota calendar.
Richard J. Foster was pondering at the turn of a year whether to set any resolutions for the new year. He sensed he was hearing from God the words “learn humility.”
Over the next year, he read a number of spiritual writers to glean their insights into humility and recorded his insights, quotes, and personal experiences in a journal organized according to the Lakota calendar. He thought a calendar rooted in nature and one from a Native American heritage similar to his own might be helpful.
The Lakota influence extended beyond the thirteen colorfully named moons of the Lakota calendar (for example “The Moon When Trees Crack from the Cold”). Each moon after the first opens with one of twelve Lakota virtues. During the course of the year, Foster also reads a number of works on Lakota history and culture. In addition to the connection of these virtues to humility, Foster’s study is a journey in humility in a couple other ways. He learns from Lakota spirituality while recognizing the ways it diverges from Christianity. One example is the vision quest involving solitude, nature, and fasting, practices also found in Christian tradition. He also grieves the broken promises and atrocities committed by the United States against the Lakota, culminating in the massacre at Wounded Knee. Perhaps this calls us into corporate humility, repenting our corporate sins and broken promises toward the First Nations who occupied the land before us.
He also shares insights from writers throughout church history from Augustine to Benedict to C. S. Lewis. He records personal experiences from momentary anger to impatience while on hold for a phone call to an insight into humility from a walk with his son. Often a subheading will consist of one or a few paragraphs with a few subheadings for each week. Rich fare but not heavy going. In many instances, his reflections end in questions or matters on which Foster wants to reflect further–not neatly packaged conclusions.
Early on, Foster reflects on the starting place in our journey being meditation on the life of Jesus, our supreme example of humility. He writes a simple prayer to which he recurs though the year:
Loving Lord Jesus, I humbly ask that you would... Purify my heart, Renew my mind, Sanctify my imagination, Enlarge my soul. Amen
At various points he focuses on the various ways we learn humility, often in the everyday life of our homes, and often in the instances that expose our propensities to pride, vanity, self-importance, and selfishness, as we recognize the opportunities to renounce these and to prefer others interests to our own. Foster asserts that progress in humility comes from God. The most we can do is orient our will toward God. God often, then, takes us into situations in which we may choose the way of humility.
Toward the end, he proposes several questions I found challenging that help us discern our own progress in humility:
- Am I genuinely happy when someone else succeeds?
- Do I have less need to talk about my own accomplishments?
- Is the inner urge to control or manage others growing less and less in me?
- Can I genuinely enjoy a conversation without any need or even any desire to dominate what is being said? (p. 163)
The reflections in this work come out of a year of journaling (and a longer writing process). This is worth a slow reading, reflecting on the quotes and observations and questions Foster raises. Instead of a treatise on humility offering a merely academic understanding, Foster invites us to walk with him and learn humility with him as a fellow traveler. He points us less to answers and more to the one who will teach us and wants us to become more like him. Foster believes God is eager to grow the grace of humility in each one of us. The question is, are we willing to learn? Settling into this book is a good place to begin.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.