In our discussion of the "poor in spirit" in the Beatitudes, one of the possible synonyms we considered was "humble." Humility is a virtue I have thought about many times, but my seeking of it has been mostly avoiding its opposite, pride or conceit. I have had no better practical definition to work from - which I now see is stunning evidence of how little I know about this. I do not dare to give up what reputation I have.
There is a woman in our church community who has had a very hard life. Recently she has had catastrophe descend upon her. She has handled that difficulty only moderately well, and at one juncture, made a terrible decision and handled it badly. She was surprised when people from the congregation rallied 'round, as she felt undeserving. We mostly felt embarrassment we did not come earlier. She still feels undeserving, and has difficulty accepting that we remain fond of her and are not condemning of her. With the amount of condemnation she has received in her life, it is hardly odd that she should expect this of us. When she talks about what she did, why she did it, events from the past that relate to this, she shows complete candor, humility, and woundedness. She is at the moment textbook definition of humility. Each Christian must learn humility. I don't think there is anyone else in our fellowship who can teach it except this woman. I mean no accusation against any of my friends in this, but it is true. She acknowledges weakness to me that I would not dare confess to her - perhaps not to anyone. She is humble before so many of us now, but even with her as an example, the rest of us will barely dare to humble ourselves even a little more. We likely need a dozen more of her in the fellowship to be able to break down the icy aloofness of reputation in the rest of us. We have no one else to teach us. If she does not teach us and lead us in this, we won't learn it. When I think of the Christian example of those who have tragedy, I usually think in terms of admiring their endurance, or their ability to praise God in all circumstances, or their faithfulness, or even the gentleness and compassion they have learned from their difficulties. From what I have heard of testimony and biography, those qualities are what other Christians think of as well. Those are fine; those are good virtues. But only the broken can teach us humility. We depend on them, and they don't know it. It likely won't occur to them unless someone asks Teach me humility. What do I need to know? That's sort of the deal with humility, after all - you don't think of yourself as having much to give. The unbroken have to ask the broken for teaching. The broken must not fear to teach.