I have been contemplating humility lately. It is a quality I very much admire in people; I think it gives a great indication of someone’s character. It is also something I struggle with. I try to be humble. I know that it is good to be humble. I want to be known as the most humble person on Earth! That should give you a good idea of why I struggle with humility.
The common ways we define humility are not thinking too highly of yourself and valuing others above yourself. We need to look no further than scripture to see that God has given us these very instructions (Rom 12:3, Phil 2:3-4) Humility should not to be confused with low self-esteem; it isn’t about putting yourself down. Humility is not thinking you are more valuable than others, not demanding that others lift you higher. We all appreciate someone who doesn’t demand others cave to their every wish. Most of us wouldn’t, normally, be described as having a superiority or diva complex. So, while it is a good starting place for a discussion on humility, I believe there is something more to true humility than what we say and how we act towards others.
One way we define words is by using antonyms. We use opposites to describe what something isn’t to try to explain what it is. Simply put, we may describe a the weather on a snowing January day as “not hot”. When we describe someone who is not being humble, we may use words like prideful, conceited or selfish. If you look at the definition above, they make perfect sense. A few weeks back, the students during bible study helped me stumble onto an antonym for humility I had never considered before – jealousy.
It hit me that one can appear humble without actually being humble. When I was playing competitive sports, I wanted to be a good teammate. I also wanted to be in the starting lineup. So, when I was the understudy, I would cheer on the starter, playing the part of a good teammate – outwardly. All the while secretly wishing he would play poorly, and I would get into the game. Even though I may have said “great play” what I was thinking was “I wish you’d dropped the ball.” I played the part of a good teammate, but on the inside my competitive nature was, in reality, a stark contrast.
Humility goes beyond what we show, it goes to the very heart of who we are. Being humble isn’t just just treating others as better than ourselves, or gracefully accepting a compliment. We aren’t humble just because we say congratulations when someone else gets the promotion, a new car or recognition for great work – that, like being a good teammate, can be faked. Humility is to be truly joyous for others in what they accomplish and what they have.
As funny as it may sound, I think that self-confidence is a key element to humility. We may look at someone who is confident and think that means they are not humble, but I have found that humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive. To truly be inspired by someone else’s accomplishment, we must be confident in who we are. Again, low self-esteem is not humility – humility comes out of proper self-esteem. The humble person looks at others’ accomplishments and is impressed and inspired. To be humble is to recognize our abilities and gifts and use them, not for their own glory, but for God’s.
So the next time I catch myself envying someone, I will remind myself, don’t be jealous; be inspired.