On Humility

Perhaps the greatest “one-liner” I have ever heard regarding humility came from Randy Harris: “Some of you were born on third base, and you think you hit a triple.” Not only is this line hilarious, it is deeply true – often times, it is especially true of Christians. How often in human history have God’s people been redeemed by the in-working & in-breaking of God’s gracious deliverance, and then, having been restored atop the social ladder, turn and “prostitute themselves” (Ez. 16) as if it were by their own devices they have arrived?

If I am brutally honest, I must confess that I lack deep humility – by “deep” humility, I mean beyond the facade of appearing to be humble in public. Every time I read the Sermon on the Mount, which is nearly every day, I am struck in my own reflection at how I lack that quality of open-ness to God and his redemptive project – that quality we call poverty of spirit. One of the most powerful chapters to a book I have ever read is the second chapter to Thomas A Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ” – a chapter titled “Of Humble Conceit of Ourselves” When I catch myself acting, thinking, and behaving in ways that embody selfishness and arrogance, I try to remember to go back and read that brief chapter, or the Sermon on the Mount. My prayer is that, through spiritual disciplines, reflection, and a confessing community, I will be made new in the image of the Humble One who “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, rather, he emptied himself…”

I have found another gem on this oft-ignored, oft-neglected topic, in David Augsburger’s “Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, & Love of Neighbor” – I find this to be frutiful material for self & communal reflection:

“Humility is a fine balance – it is neither self-deprecating nor self-promoting. The humble person sees the self with equanimity, acts with unpretentious simplicity, assumes an essential equality of persons that makes it possible to flow with others, neither climbing abover nor stopping below. The gyroscope of sane self-worth constantly rights and leves the soul in the ups and downs of relationships, the successes and failures of one’s dreams, the give and take of commerce of community. Humility, when balanced, provides fair and just way of perceiving one’s place in the human family.

Humility consists, roughly, in having oneself and one’s acomplishments in perspective. On this view, to be humble is to understand yourself and your moral entitlements sufficiently clearly that you are disposed not to exaggerate about these.

There are no splendid human beings; none are so perfect, so balanced, so without fault that we must hold them totally in awe. There are those we admire, deeply respect, and seek to follow as guides, but each has a shadow side, all have areas of immaturity or incongruity.

Genuine humility is free of any pretense; it is not persuaded by exaggerated praise; it is not gratified by flattery or overestimation by others even when such positive evaluation is deserved and appropriate. Humility neither undervalues nor overvalues achievement or service rendered. Humility does not take the other more seriously than the self or the self less seriously than the other. It does not overlook evil done to any person, whether self or other.

What is appropriate to true humility is a genuine respect for another’s right to feel that way when similarly wronged. Believing that we are all of equal intrinsic worth, refusing to believe that one’s own rights are greater than those of others, insisting that each person’s dignity and worth deserve full respect is this point of view or perspective of balance that we are calling humility.”

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