3 Unsuspecting Faces of Humility

Posted: January 18, 2012 in Spiritual Growth
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In my last post on humility , I described false humility and it’s clever deceptions. In this post, I’d like to take a little time to describe the often unrecognized faces of true humility. You don’t have to look like Mother Theresa in order to be truly humble. Humility not always as easy to recognize as we may think.

1. The Honest Face

Honesty, in it’s various forms, is humility. Sometimes honesty can be pleasant. Other times it can be uncomfortable. Most of the time it requires some level of vulnerability. It is possible to be “real” with someone and not be humble. That’s not what I am talking about. This kind of “real” is merely accusatory and leaves no room for reconciliation. It is defensive and helps no one.

If you have had any training in psychology, you have heard of “I statements.” I statements begin with the word “I.” They usually go something like this: “I feel…. when you…” It is a brave expression of humility because it makes you vulnerable and open in a relationship. It places no blame, but opens up discourse for giving permission to another person to validate their thoughts or feelings. So, while there may be an ‘I’ in the middle of pride, there are “I statements” embedded in humility.

There are times, however, when “I statements” just don’t cut it and you have to show a little tougher love. Jesus loved everybody, but he made some pretty harsh statements in an effort to wake up the religious leaders of the day. He was doing it with no thought of himself, but that truth would prevail. He wanted to send a clear message to everyone that God did not sanction their evil deeds, that these leaders were misrepresenting him. He didn’t do it secretly or from a distance on the Internet, but he did it as he looked into their eyes, always giving them an opportunity to change.

Jesus was also honest about the value that he offered to people. We do not need to be people who hide our own personal value under false humility. I know a lot of artists, in particular who struggle with this. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The Apostle Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” If you heard these words coming from a friend’s mouth, you may be tempted to think your friend a little cocky. Acknowledging the true value you bring to a person or a situation is not cocky. In reality, it is honest and it is loving. It says, “I have something of value; come see. Come, let me help you out. I know you will be better off after you get some of what I have.”

An honest answer from one who loves is always better than a kiss from one who deceives. A humble person has nothing to gain, except the joy of giving. They act courageously always for the benefit of another.

2. The Asking Face

I heard a story about a government official who was a strong opponent of another government official. Then one day the first guy asked the second if he could borrow a book. This simple act of humility bridged the severed relationship almost entirely to where the men gained a mutual respect for one another where there had only previously been hostility. When we take the time to seek someone out and ask something of them, it implies our need for them. It implies that we are not sufficient in ourselves, that we value something in another. It also lifts others up, calling the goodness out of them. If we believe that there is no inherent good in someone, we would never ask them to give of themselves. Asking requires some level of faith in another human being– even if is something as simple as asking to borrow a book.

Asking for advice or input is an act of humility. Asking a question whether or not you have the answer is an act of humility and wisdom. Jesus used this technique masterfully. It causes the other person to think and own the answer for themselves. The lessons a person teaches himself are not easily forgotten. I once had a teacher who did this with me. She was honest about her own questions in life, and we explored the answers together. I loved her, and I learned a lot from her. I have to chuckle when I think of many years later when I was in the role of teacher I asked a student a question. He thought I already knew the answer, that I was just doing that teacher thing of asking probing questions. He was surprised when I admitted I had no idea. I wanted him to let me know when he had it figured out.

3. The Unashamed Face

I wish the word “humiliation” did not come from the root word, “humility.” Because the way we think of humiliation is more about shame than it is true humility. A person who walks around in shame or even embarrassment is not walking in humility. A truly humble person will have no need for shame. Why is it that the number one fear is the fear of public speaking? It’s because we are all tempted with an abundance of pride. Think about it. If you were totally free from pride, what could ever cause you to be embarrassed? A humble person may feel dishonored and dejected at times, maybe. But embarrassment is the pain you feel when your pride is injured. Jesus scorned the shame of the cross. He did not let it overtake him. The thing that should have embarrassed him, he embraced and transformed into an symbol of salvation.

It is so refreshing when we encounter people who seem to have no fear of embarrassment: comedians who are willing to make a spectacle of themselves, public speakers who are not afraid to risk transparency, writers who brave enough to be honest about their own thoughts. Contrast this with a self-conscious, self-absorbed teen who has lost so much of her ability to enjoy life. Thankfully, the teen years don’t last forever… or do they? For those of us who have not learned to overcome pride and still get embarrassed from time to time, those painful years still haunt us. Joy comes to those who can turn shame around by making a spectacle of it, triumphing over it. Through humility we can recapture some of what we lost in our childhood: the innocence, the way we used to get lost in delight before we were aware of our own nakedness or our own glaring inadequacies. There is hope. God wants us to be able to recover what was lost in the garden of Eden, the purity of life before we ate of the tree that brought us shame.

Imagine a people of God that were willing to be honest, that asked the right questions, that were completely unashamed of themselves and of the gospel that brings them life. Such a people would be irresistible, uncontrollable, and simply amazing to an onlooking world.

How would your life look free of shame and walking in true humility?


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