“True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.C.S. Lewis
True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness
I am far from a humble person, for I am filled with thoughts of myself. Sometimes these thoughts are driven by an insecurity that, while having lessened over the years, remains a part of me. It’s as though I can still be that scared, afraid to be unnoticed, stuck-on-the-outside-looking-in adolescent boy. This is the inner-sense of feeling like I don’t belong or fit in.
On top of that, I am also aware of an inner pride. Of how in subtle ways I can regard myself as better than others. It might not happen through conscious thoughts, but rather that I will occasionally “feel” myself to be–intellectually, spiritually, etc.–above others, or maybe this person in this moment. But I may not realize in the moment that this is what I am doing or what it means.
So, there’s my confession for the day.
The quotes from Lewis and Keller above express well what genuine humility is. Keller, in particular, articulates well how a lack of humility operates: by making everything about me. We can do this through insecurity or pride; they’re two sides of the same self-occupied coin.
No doubt many of us aren’t self-aware enough to realize this is what’s going on much of the time.
Keller speaks of humility as the “freedom of self-forgetfulness.” Imagine not only not worrying about what others think of you, but not even having it occur to you. Not because you think you are better, but because you’re not really thinking about yourself at all.
It’s almost counter-intuitive. We become more of ourselves when we’re not so pre-occupied with ourselves.
It doesn’t always help that I am an introvert. I can very easily end up living in my head. There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert, of course, except that when insecurity or pride get in the way what’s going on in my head is anything but healthy or life-giving for myself or those around me.
Put simply: I have at times in my life found myself wallowing in self-pity or worry or fear, my thoughts and emotions stuck going in the wrong direction. Not a great place to be. Though I have also found myself rationalizing it. Thankfully, in more recent years I am a little more self-aware when this is happening. Thankfully, too, I have a wife who has the wisdom to bring me out of such a stupor.
This is, by the way, why humility is not equivalent to thinking less (or poorly) of yourself. Thinking poorly of yourself is still thinking of yourself, even if poorly. And even if Jesus doesn’t want us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, he’s also not looking for us to beat ourselves up constantly. That’s not what being humble means. Being humble is not being a doormat. It’s not about ignoring our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Perhaps we could say it’s about having a healthy, honest estimation of oneself.
Humility is a fruit of the Spirit, even if it doesn’t make Paul’s famous list in Galatians 5:22. Only God by his Spirit can more and more fully free me from myself in all the ways that needs to happen. Humility is the freedom to step out into the world knowing who you are in Christ and being able, because of that, to see people for who they are. Or I think that’s at least part of it. I think humility leads to an openhanded generosity towards others because we’re not constantly playing a comparison game.
And I think it begins by taking our eyes off of ourselves and putting them on Christ, who is our life, our hope, our joy, and our peace. We don’t grow in humility by focusing on it directly. Instead, it grows in us the more we take time to let Christ into our lives and hearts. The more we look at Jesus, and the more what we see, know, and experience of him transforms us, the more we will look at ourselves and others with healthier eyes and hearts. I think that’s what it means to grow in humility.
And I know I am not there yet. But it’s where I want to go, where I want to end up.