The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, greed, drunkenness and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.
If any one would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud …. If you think you’re not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.
A truly humble person is sensible of his natural distance from God; of his dependence on Him; of the insufficiency of his own power and wisdom.
This morning during my Bible reading, my thoughts drifted off to a quote from C.S. Lewis that I had read recently:
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” (quoted in The advent of humility)
My thought drifted further to all kinds of interpretations of humility, exhortations to be more humble, accusations of not being humble enough, claims of being humble even if it is just an expression of low self value, etc.
Basically, in C.S.Lewis’ definition humility is a kind of selflessness. There are different kinds of humility and selflessness. Selflessness can be very unhealthy, for example, when it is rooted in a denial of old hurts, or a way of devaluing yourself. Those who sweep old unresolved hurts under the carpet, won’t have the foundation of self-acceptance needed without which a healthy humility is impossible in my opinion. Others devalue themselves, disparage themselves and think that anybody else is more valuable, more gifted, etc. This view is in contradiction to God’s value and esteem for us, as his creatures. All these forms of wrong humility or selflessness are rooted in a thinking of one self too often, and therefore the opposite of real humility, according to C.S. Lewis’ definition.
I believe that humility is only real humility when it is rooted in a healthy self-understanding and self-esteem. Only those who have found to themselves, who are living out of God’s acceptance and esteem for us and who know their value, can let go of themselves and thereby think of themselves less, in other words be humble. Only those who are certain of their own value, have no fear that valuing others would devalue them, be a threat to them. In addition, humility is a fruit of the Spirit, and therefore needs to be produced by the Spirit. It cannot be achieved by our own effort, nor through the exhortation of others (or to ourselves).
I think it is helpful to know what real humility looks like, so we can aim at it, pray for it, and let the Spirit do his work in us. At the same time we can resist all false claims, expectations, accusations or feelings of guilt. Of course, we can fall off the horse on the other side, for example, through an attitude of indifference and complacency. It’s a balancing act.
I have the hunch that the best contribution we can make to this transformation through God’s spirit, is to open ourselves up to his healing and learn to live out of his love and acceptance. “Living loved!” If I know that my heavenly father values my, appreciates me, loves me and provides for me, then I don’t need to think of myself as often. Then I would be humble, but I would not know, because I think of myself less. 😉