Editor’s Note: Maggie Van Roekel, current missioner in Bolivia, reflects on a moment that invited her to embrace humility and cast aside shame.
“¿Quién necesita carpicola?”
What I thought I had asked was, “Who needs toothpaste?” I stood in the kitchen with several kids who were about to brush their teeth before going to class. There was a fit of giggles from the younger girls and the older boys looked at each other with smirks on their faces. Confused, I repeated myself. “Vamos chicos, quién necesita carpicola?”
Luciana, one of the younger students ran up to me with a giant grin on her face. She slapped her hand to her forehead and groaned, “Maaaaggiiiie…”
I stood there for a long pause with the tube of toothpaste in my hand before realizing my mistake and bursting into a fit of giggles myself. The word “carpicola”…means glue. I had just asked everyone if they wanted me to put glue on their toothbrushes. The kitchen rang with fits of our laughter.
A year or two ago, I think I would have been completely embarrassed by my mistake. I would have hidden it well, but I would have felt it, nonetheless. In that moment, however, I was much too wrapped up in the joy and love which filled the room to even think about being embarrassed. Even when one of the kids recounted the story with the teacher, all I could think of were the big smiles we were able to share.
I’ve always liked to think that I was a humble person. After being on mission, I’m no longer sure I ever was. I’ve spent much of my life faking humility, mostly by lacking self-compassion, by claiming to lack skills, and tearing myself down. I make plenty of mistakes, but with those mistakes I often felt embarrassment rather than seeing the potential to learn or the opportunity to rely more on others, to enter more deeply into relationship.
Here in Bolivia, I am less sure of what I am doing than I have been at any other point in my life which I can remember. I have to rely more on others, ask more questions, and make so many more mistakes.
I can’t pretend that I have this whole humility thing down yet. I still have a lot of growing to do, which I imagine will last a lifetime. But through moments of letting go of my pride, admitting I don’t know, of asking questions, of allowing myself to make mistakes, I have allowed myself to experience true humility. It is through humility that we truly learn to rely on those around us. When we allow true humility, we open the space to grow more deeply in relationship.
Reflection Question: In what way is God inviting you to let go of embarrassment and instead lean in on your community?