Humility – The Missing Virtue
"Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth." Christ Jesus (Matt: 5:5 NIV)
The Beatitudes reassure me that, at least millenniums ago, humility and meekness were glorified as Godly virtues—one of the few that Jesus himself points us toward. Yet, nowadays, searching for humility, even among Christians, makes me feel like an 18th century biologist traveling to the Congo to find and study the elusive great apes. Sure, like the biologist, I'd find droppings, traces of where humility used to reside, and in rare circumstances, I'd catch a glimpse of the elusive creature. But then it's gone, and I leave my search depressed, questioning my sanity, and in the case of the biologist, suffering from malaria.
Honestly, the lack of humility or, at least, the lack of apparent humility is not surprising. As a society (speaking of the United States), we've developed a cult of ego, where we glorify confidence and self-importance. Just open any one of the thousands of self-help books that litter bookshop walls (the ones that haven't gone out of business), and you'll find we view confidence the way 17th century alchemists viewed the philosopher's stone—as a cure-all. From the people we idolize—Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Robert Downey Jr. (hopefully that's not just me), to the athletes and actors we watch on television—we expect self-confidence and belittle people who lack it.
How did we get here—to a place where we idealize self-importance and belittle meekness and humility? Like most problems in life, it arose due to a miscommunication or a misinterpretation. We've given humility the wrong definition. We've associated humility with putting ourselves down, when, in fact, it's the opposite. We've advocated for faith in self, but we've advocated for the wrong concept of "self." When you read in the Bible the Beatitudes or Jesus' teachings advocating humility, you don't hear Brad Pitt in Fight Club yelling across the centuries, "You're not a special and unique snowflake."
The definition of humility that makes sense comes from noted Christian and allegory aficionado C.S. Lewis. He stated, "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less" (Mere Christianity). That took confidence to say, and it takes confidence to maintain that definition of humility.
Being humble and practicing humility doesn't mean that when you paint a great piece of art, you brush it aside as "no biggie" or "not that good." Acknowledge it! You can be confident in what you made because you are confident in the Supreme Being that made making it possible. Give thanks to God, whose greatness you are reflecting in your art, in your life.
Humility is not a question of your personal views or opinions of yourself, but it is a matter of acknowledging the talent, ability, and potential you possess because you are God's child, God's very reflection and image. Humility is being confident that you are great, that your peers are great, because God is great and couldn't have made anything less.
Being humble is:
- Recognizing your own abilities and potential.
- Recognizing the same potential and ability in others.
- Recognizing where those abilities and potential originate. (Hint: with God)
One of my favorite Bible stories on humility is Moses' journey out of Egypt and the build-up that led to it—from the burning bush to the splitting of the Red Sea. Moses had little faith in himself when he encountered God with the burning bush. In fact, when God tells Moses that he will be the one to lead His people out of Egypt, Moses asks, "Who am I?" (Ex: 3:11 NIV). After all, Moses was a shepherd, a failed prince, and didn't consider himself eloquent (or had forgotten how to speak Egyptian). But God answered: "I will be with you" (3:12). So Moses put his faith and confidence in God.
After all the trials and tribulations Moses went through to convince the Pharaoh to let his people go, Moses gained confidence, but not ego. His confidence grew in what he could accomplish WITH God. This confidence and humility were put to good use when he reached the Red (Reed) Sea. Rather than giving up, Moses followed God's direction and command: "Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water" (14:16). Then, he confidently and humbly crossed with his people, most likely praising God with every step.
As it turns out, in my search for humility, I didn't turn up empty handed. Moses expressed humility. So did Jesus. He said, "I can do nothing on my own…. I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will" (John 5:30 NLT). If Jesus couldn't do anything without God, thinking we can is vanity. Luckily, Jesus laid out a pretty good path to expressing both confidence and humility. All we need to do is redirect our self-confidence to God-confidence—realize that what we excel at, what we enjoy, and what we are capable of is only possible because of God, and direct all the credit and praise to God. That's humility.