thoughts on humility

Pondering, as always, on several things stepping softly through my mind – making the choice of writing them down, before they flee and are forgotten.

Thinking about – humility.

Humility is not an easy thing to describe, especially as we think of it as a personal attribute, within oneself. And ‘self’ is something humility slides away from. The very nature of humility means it is hard to pin down – it does not notice itself or its virtue, because that would not be humility.

Humility is a right view of oneself – but I hesitate even to say that, because I am still talking of self. Humility does not look inwards, but outwards – and not merely outwards, but upwards, using a metaphor of the divine ( we use ‘up’ to portray that which is greater, better than ourselves – ‘down’ has more negative connotations). It sees and recognises all that we are not, alongside what we are – responds in gratitude to all that we have been given, and refrains from the judgements that we so easily make of one another.

Humility sees and confesses the darknesses inside us, does not hide the stains on our souls but offers them up, knowing that no industrial cleaner will ever do the trick of cleaning our hearts. Only God can do that. After confessing, humility accepts the grace offered with joy, not with a sense of ‘this-is-how-it-should-be’ or believing in our deservability (‘deservedness’ is the one you’ll find in the dictionary, but I prefer deservability here – a slightly different emphasis). No, instead with a sense that it is God who chooses to cleanse, forgive and accept us, and not something we have accomplished ourselves.

In our minds there is a fine line between humility and low self-esteem, but in reality they are two completely different attitudes. Humility is a high calling, seeking to honour God by realising his greatness and understanding how small am ‘I’ in comparison. To be humble is to accept an undeserved gift.

Low self-esteem, however, does not look to God as its frame of reference. It compares itself with all and sundry for the sake of cementing the opinion that I am useless. I always feel like a failure. I am never what he or she is. I cannot be anything worthwhile, despite all your talk of God and his compassion and love. There is always an ‘I’ in low self-esteem, because it looks inward all the time, picking itself apart. I am not, I can not, I will never be anything.

Humility recognises that we can never be ourselves as we were made to be – without God. And it recognises that because God is with us he has given us worth, and that though we are not particularly strong, capable or wise in our own selves, through the gifts God gives us we can be part of his plan. Humility sees the privilege God has given us in spite of ourselves – and bows down in awe. Humility kneels before the giver with gratitude. There is no gratitude in low self-esteem – only bitterness, resentment, and a disguised form of pride. For who are we to tell God that what we think of ourselves is truer than what he thinks of us?

Humility looks in a straight line – towards God. Low self-esteem is a circle, spiralling inwards, all the time. Humility chooses to receive, though we do not deserve it. Low self-esteem grabs its own opinion and refuses to receive anything different.

But when one who suffers from low self esteem finally grasps the enormity of God’s blessing, finally grasps the fact that Jesus died for her own sake, she cannot dismiss such a gift any longer. She can only give over her pride and accept that God has called her loved. Rejecting this love is rejecting the most profound gift we have ever been given. It walks away from grace. But grace still exists, and delights in loving the unloved, transforming the broken, and melting the hardest heart.

What Jesus did was the very epitome of humility – ‘who, in being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!(Philippians 2:6-8)

We can cling onto our very selves so tightly, not trusting enough to let go, afraid to lose control, afraid to relinquish our own judgements of ourselves in favour of someone else’s…and clench our fists around the ‘I’ of ourselves. We try to be ‘humble’ but this is not how it works. Humility is a letting go, not holding on. Humility sees us warts and all, looks to our maker in all his glory and recognise how far we fall short – and then turns towards him.
Humility is willing to empty itself completely. Humility unclenches the fist in order to hold onto grace.

Strike through the ‘I’, and you are left with a cross.

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