Today I was reading from Philippians 2:1-11. Verses 3 & 4 gave me some food for thought: “3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
I do believe I am fairly humble (even though proclaiming that you are humble is inherently prideful and ironic), but I also believe that one of the burdens of our society is that it’s difficult to be humble, and is not rewarded in the short-term.
From an early age, we are complimented. “Beautiful baby!” “You’re so smart!” “What fun you are!” “You’re so creative!”. Now I’m all for the power of encouragement and positive thinking, but I have begun to see the limits of it as well. Throughout my life, I have been told I am smart, good-looking, athletic, funny, and kind. I had trophies, ribbons, and good grades. One of my co-workers referred to me as “the one with the pretty face”. Hooray for me! This has helped me build up a vast reserve of self-confidence and cultivated a positive outlook. We are pushed to build ourselves up, trumpet our accomplishments, fill resumes with successes, and compare ourselves to other “competitors” for jobs, spouses, and social standing. This self-aggrandizing behavior is rewarded, not being humble or meek (those who will inherit the Earth).
This is a struggle for me, and I consider that I do attempt a humble nature and consider others before myself. But to be honest, I don’t always do that. I have my selfish ambitions, distaste towards certain things and people, and build myself up as a success. Now, as I’m learning, this issue isn’t wholly bad or wholly good. It’s the fine line, a narrow road that requires much introspection, outside accountability, and biblical meditation. Is it good to have an inner confidence and assuredness? Of course, but when it comes from the identity God has given you and comes out of his love, not because of our feeble attempts at defining beauty, success, and social nature. I find it difficult to remain humble when so many people are telling me how great I am. I have my struggles, but I do a good job of keeping them out of sight. Those that do see them are uncomfortable bringing them up, we want to be liked and cultivate a positive relationship with others, and bringing up our struggles is quite uncomfortable.
How can we do this and change our thinking to reflect both sides of our nature? There are a few actions we can take:
- Define our successes and failures: Instead of saying “Good job!” or “Don’t do that again!”, provide the reason behind the success or failure. Did they work hard (or fail to work), care about others, be kind, what was it? Giving a label to the action is important.
- Give them context: Goes along with labeling, but showing actions within the context of the big picture will help people realize the impact their actions have.
- Be comfortable discussing them: We tend to sweep our failures under the rug, when there is so much to be learned from them. We can also learn a lot from being successful, but not handling it well.
- Embrace the Shadow: We all have our stuff that we struggle with, and being able to nod your head and say “Yep, that’s a part of who I am” is a huge step. It doesn’t excuse it in the long run, but acknowledging the Shadow makes it easier to deal with.
All of this goes back to the example that Jesus set for us in his humble nature. Coming down from Heaven to serve and show the true way to Heaven. In doing so, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” That sounds a lot better than the sand castles we spend our lives building here on Earth.
What are your thoughts on humility?