What’s the difference between a humbling experience and humility?

A humbling experience is something that happens to you when you were expecting something else,

while humility is something you choose to do when no one is expecting it.






We’d lived in Brazil for less than a month, but the honeymoon period was now drowned out by the soaking rainy season and a very leaky bedroom roof.

Every night when the rains began sleep was interrupted by us dodging the continual spattering of raindrops oozing through the ceramic tile roof. We jostled the bed from one side of the bedroom to the other hunting for dry ground.  There wasn’t any. We slept with an assortment of bowls and buckets between us jostling to stay dry to get a few hours of shut-eye. Then I had an idea. It was brilliant.

I would string an assortment of empty soup and vegetable cans from the rafters to catch the drips from the late night rain. Once the rain catchers were in place I invited my wife into the bedroom to admire my handiwork. “Don’t you have a clever husband?” I asked.

That night as we laid down to sleep I felt confident this night would be different than the dozen ones before it. And it was. Once the rains started I hadn’t calculated the liquid capacity of each strung soup can.  It didn’t take long before the first one filled and overturned its contents down on the sleeping genius. Smiling her sweetest smile my wife rolled over and said, “Don’t I have a very clever husband!?” 

That was a humbling experience.


 Before you fall off your chair in uncontrollable laughter let’s move on to describe humility.  In my opinion, when someone displays humility most of the time no one is expecting it.  No doubt one of the greatest examples of humility in the holy scriptures is found in John 13. 

Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;  Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;  He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?  Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.   John 13. 1-7.



Most of us are familiar with this story. It was Jesus last meal with his disciples before the events that surrounded his crucifixion. He longed to have this meal with them.

The room had been secured by prior arrangement for its privacy and security. The owner had done everything to make sure the men would feel safe amidst the turmoil that surrounded Jerusalem and the mounting tension of Jesus presence in the Holy City. 

The owner of the house provided everything – the table, the reclining spaces, the tableware, the Passover elements, the customary bowl, basin water and towel for cleaning their feet. Everything except the hired mud washer. Usually, a houseboy was designated to clean the filth that accumulated on the feet of the guests as they entered the house.  

The city was overflowing with out-of-town visitors, 3 or 4 times its normal capacity. Besides that there was an innumerable array of anxious animals tagging along behind their owners. They were chosen to be offered during the annual Passover sacrifice.

The narrow cobblestone streets were lined with an excess of dung from the animals who walked its streets. Picture a barnyard floor filled with farm animals and you catch a glimpse of the street scenery. Washing up before the main meal was not only culturally correct but absolutely necessary. The odor rising from the men’s feet would have been nearly unbearable and emitted a distinct scent. No one’s nose was exempt.

One-by-one as the disciples filed into the room jostling for a position close to Jesus as possible. Each man silently walked past the basin of water, the pitcher, and the towel draped over the bowl. How could they stoop to take on the role of the mud washer boy?  Someone had dropped the ball.  


With that said, I call your attention, to three phrases.

“having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” 

Jesus commitment to the disciples was deep and heartfelt. It crossed all borders. They were still a half-baked band of followers with quirks and inconsistencies. But His love for them was undeniably evident.

“And supper being ended…” 

Jesus had waited to see if any of his men would catch the hint and take up the towel and basin of water. It was to no avail. The better part of their meal was now over. It was time to prepare for the upcoming events, and yet they all still had not cleaned up properly.  Without any fanfare or judging looks Jesus simply stood up, stooped to pick up the bowl and moved toward the first disciple embracing the humblest of tasks. Tonight he would be the mud washer boy.

“What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” 

The Lord was not giving the disciples a lesson in “Foot Washing 101”. He was demonstrating true humility.  It was an act that no one expected to see or experience. No doubt it stunned, silenced and left them deeply puzzled. Like us, we don’t necessarily expect to see humility displayed like this because…

Humility is something you choose to do when no one is expecting it. 

Why not look for a chance today to do something in humility. Its effect may even surprise you. 







Pin It on Pinterest

Share This