A Dose of Humility

All of us have our humbling moments. Whether by way of a workplace mistake, or criticism from a colleague, or losing a foot race to someone we once outran with ease—the list is endless. Our ultimate and unavoidable humiliation comes with aging and death—something creams, workouts, and medications can’t fend off for long.

The problem of hurt pride may make us twitchy. We might fight back; or go away and hide; or curl up in shame. Or maybe all of these and more!

We’re also quirky about what humbles us. One person may stake his pride on what he cooks while another thinks burnt toast makes a fine snack. So comments about a meal might devastate one but be brushed off by another. Some people may treasure social events while others look for peace and quiet. So not being invited to a dinner party might shatter one and relieve another.

Doses of unwanted humility, we soon learn, point to our core identity: things that touch our self-image are the most painful. So a criticism that touches our identity may feel like an attack when a friend is actually unaware, or even trying to be helpful.

Given the place of self-perception in managing life there are few among us who are honestly humble. Most of us, in fact, are motivated by pride in the strengths we bring to the world. So the only question about us is where our pride has the most acreage!

We may rely on intelligence, knowledge, appearance, humor, management skills, creativity, reliability, talents in sports, dance or music, and so on. We’re all proud in some arena of life. And whatever drives us most is where we’re most sensitive.

So given how much we all hate moments of unwanted humility why is there so little coaching on the topic. Shouldn’t we have “Humility Avoidance” courses, seminars, or sermons on the problem?

The silliness of the suggestion reminds us of our love-hate ties to humility. We like humility in others. We may even be proud of our own pretensions of humility—at least until someone asks about the odd mask we’re wearing!

As I just noted, humble people make better companions than proud folks. They aren’t self-inflated and we aren’t forced to dance around the various weaknesses or limitations they deny but still bring to the room. The humble have a comfortable grip on what they offer and don’t offer.

What’s odd about our distaste for our own humility is that humility doesn’t limit or damage us. It doesn’t undo our intelligence, knowledge, creativity, talents and the like. It only changes the way we view and use those qualities. A physician, for instance, needs to be bright and knowledgeable but he or she remains a servant to the patient.

I mentioned the idea of a seminar on humility. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all! If I were ever asked to speak at one here are some topics I’d love to explore.

First, in God’s plan for mutual dependence in Christ’s Body he gives abilities and limitations so each of us has a distinct role to play. Second, we must not either understate of overstate the importance of the gifts we receive; or covet the gifts he gives to others. Third, with Christ as our lead, we use our gifts to be givers—and not to be status collectors. Fourth, our forefather Adam turned from God to the worship of creation: and he made his role in the creation central. He and his serpent mentor, then, were the pioneers of pride. And, fifth, the humility of giving God thanks in everything overturns that sin. Sin, in other words, is self-love; and salvation brings about a release to love others. Humility starts with an identity in Christ, not in self.

So in very simple terms the solution to humiliation is to say, thank you Lord! We will never face Christ’s ultimate humiliation—what we find in Isaiah 53—but we can at least rejoice whenever we experience his confrontation of Adam’s soul-destroying pride.

The apostle Peter is a great guide for us here. This is the man who had to be rescued in his failed water-walking venture. He’s the one Jesus confronted with, “Get behind me Satan!” He’s the awkward figure on the Mount of Transfiguration. He’s the soft touch Satan asked to “sift.” And, we recall, it was Peter who denied his affiliation with Jesus three times in succession after making proud promises of faithfulness.

Now let’s read 1 Peter 5:5-7 to see where Peter finally arrived after his doses of humility.

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

This is so helpful! He underscores pride as the devil’s turf. We also learn that our anxieties are linked to pride—to our efforts to play the role of a god. God’s care is our antidote to all this: so enough of living by our worries, self-protections, and fears!

Instead let’s go out and enjoy our humility whenever and however it comes. The solution starts with Jesus and makes for great relationships!

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2 Comments

  1. Gretchen

    Just yesterday I was thinking about how we pray that the Lord will make us more like him—and then complain profusely when he uses the circumstances in our lives to wash, mold, and transform us. May we learn to rest in His love for us, even when it means learning humility the hard way. And may we then, as humble people, love others without the ugliness of pride marring the picture of Christ we are meant to share. Thanks, Ron. This was really helpful.

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