Humility is the virtue that enables all the others. It is easier to be Charitable, Kind, Patient, Chaste, Temperate and Diligent if we are first Humble. Humility starts with gratitude. To be grateful for the past that has made us who we are today, and for the opportunity ahead to be all that we can be.
What can stop us? If God is for us, who can be against us? Only ourselves and our foolish pride. Pride is the deadliest of the deadly sins. It leads to all the other vices. To Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony and Sloth. Humility is our secret weapon to defeat them all. Consistently practicing this one virtue will drastically improve our odds of becoming the playground saints we are all meant to be.
“God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
Humility is a modest opinion of one’s own importance. Modest, humble, servile, respectful, deferential.
Pride is an excessively high opinion of oneself. Narcissism, vanity, vainglory, arrogance, conceit, bigheadedness, smugness, self-importance, egotism, superiority, immodesty.
C.S. Lewis gave three reasons for labeling pride as the deadliest sin; (1) the devil became the devil through pride, (2) pride is the cause of every other vice, and (3) pride is a completely anti-God and anti-others state of mind.
Pride directly violates the Greatest Commandments, loving God and neighbors (i.e. everyone), by putting ourselves first. Lewis summarizes his thoughts on pride by saying:
“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty of themselves.”
“There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”
Pride is an overwhelming faith, belief, and trust in self. A lust for power over everyone else. To be in control. To force others to think, say, and do things your way. No compromise, no debate. You know it all and have no interest in the opinions of others. You are always right and can do no wrong. Pride says, “My will be done.”
Humility says, “Thy will be done.” We exist to serve God, and He wants us to serve others. We do that by striving to become our best self. By developing and utilizing our talents to help others. And behaving in a selfless and truly virtuous manner. This is the only way to achieve lasting peace and happiness.
“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
God’s point of view regarding pride is quite clear. But it has opposing meanings in our society. In fact, the first two dictionary definitions I found were positive: (1) a sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect, and (2) pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association. Quite the opposite of the “excessively high opinion of oneself” definition.
We are told to take pride in ourselves. To rely upon ourselves. To display confidence. To take credit for our achievements. To be self-promoters. That is how we are advised to get ahead in this life.
Alternatively, humility is often viewed as weakness. Being passive, submissive, or insecure. Nice guys finish last. You will certainly be swimming upstream in our culture by valuing humility over pride.
“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” G.K. Chesterton
Truly humble people are actually quite the opposite of what we may have been led to believe. Humility is thinking less about yourself, not less of yourself. It is a quiet confidence evidenced by:
Interestingly, we all start out humble. We are dependent on our parents for survival. Is having our diaper changed our first lesson in humility? Then we start to learn. The more we learn, the more pride we build. It doesn’t take long. By the time we are teenagers we think we know it all. Thankfully we still have parents around to tell us differently, and deep down we know they are right.
As we continue to learn we continue to grow our confidence, not a bad thing. Until the day we become convinced that we have learned all we need in order to live out our life in comfort. That is the day our pride kicks into high gear, that fateful day when we choose to stop learning. When we think we know it all. When we believe we are no longer dependent upon anyone else. The day we declare our personal independence. The day we exalt ourselves. The day God cries for us.
“Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
“When pride comes, disgrace comes; but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
This is a dangerous place to live. Trouble is, it can also be a place where you can thrive in this world. Until eventually you are humbled in some way. It will happen. And when it does, guess what? You will naturally do the things a humble person does. You will depend on others to pull you through the hardship. Maybe even to change your diaper. And you will come back to God. He doesn’t want it to have to be this way, but He will happily welcome you back.
Of course a better way is to never reach that prideful state in the first place. Place God first in your life now. Be dependent upon Him. Let him have your back. Let go and let God. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. Keep on learning. Serve others. Be humble.
“Stay gold Ponyboy,” from the classic book The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, seems like an appropriate quote to recall here. To “stay gold” means to be true to yourself, innocent, uncorrupted, and the like; basically to be virtuous. You will likely often feel like an outsider in that pursuit, especially in your quest to defeat pride with humility.
Here is a humility challenge for us all. Apologize to someone for something you have said or done that you know hurt them in some way. Admit you were wrong. Tell them they were right. Describe in detail why you are sorry and ask for their forgiveness. And tell them how grateful you are to have them in your life. Swallow your foolish pride. We all have something to apologize for, right?
For extra credit during these divisive and polarizing times, debate a friend on the opposing side about some issue. Agree to hear each other out and be able to state each other’s position, conclusions, and reasoning.
Then challenge and debate one another for as long as you are willing. Hopefully you will come to some areas of agreement, and you can understand more clearly why you continue to have areas of disagreement. You will no doubt both learn something useful along the way.
Here are questions that may help to guide your discussion:
I have no doubt we can solve all of our self-created world problems if enough of us have these honest and humble conversations with each other on a regular basis. I pray we will.
Humbly Yours, Scott