Posts Tagged ‘humility’

Hide It Under a Bushel? NO!

November 5, 2009

diggingI’ve discovered that I have an addiction. I am addicted to self-criticism. As is often the case with addictions, it was not obvious to me, the addict. It became apparent first to someone close to me, and it didn’t demand my full attention until I discovered it was hurting someone else.

Some people think more highly of themselves than they should. I’ve never understood those people. I suffer from the opposite problem. I look at things God has put in me and I downplay them like they are of no value at all. My insightful wife explained to me yesterday how that dishonors God and ultimately robs others of the benefits that could have been theirs if not for this compulsive commitment to self-deprecation.

If you have ever tried to compliment me (or the book I wrote), you probably have no idea how quickly I dismantled your praise in my own mind moments later. Without your knowing it, I found multiple reasons to discount what you said, almost as fast as you could put it into words yourself. That’s sick, isn’t it? I’ve been doing this for a long time, but somehow I had never seen a legitimate reason to curb this compulsion because it seemed to serve a useful purpose for me. I figured it can’t be a bad thing for someone to keep their ego in check. And how embarrassing it is for someone to have his bubble burst after thinking he was “all that” only to discover he’s not! I’ll explain in the next post how this came to be, in case it could be helpful to someone else. But here’s what my wife helped me realize yesterday:

It does a kind of violence to God’s creation when you excessively disparage the good things about who you are and what you do. It dishonors him because it implies that he has done a bad job in making you who you are. I suppose that’s a failure to follow the first of the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God. Then again, it fails on the second one, too: Love your neighbor as yourself. When someone gives you something, it is rude and uncaring to immediately throw it away like it isn’t worth anything. I suppose a compliment is no different.

And maybe it goes deeper than that. When you repeatedly discount some skill a person has (including you yourself), he or she learns to bury it like the money that guy buried in the parable of the “talents.” That gifting could have brought life to people, but instead you stuck it in the ground. I think I’m in danger of doing the same thing myself.

To some degree, my circumstances have led me to this point. But I don’t imagine I’m free from responsibility here. There’s a strange self-gratification in being down on yourself. It ultimately keeps your attention on yourself, when you could be asking how you could be spending yourself and your gifts to benefit others. You prefer the safety of burial. If your gifts were to see the light of day, then you would risk the exposure of your all-too-sensitive ego. Someone could find a flaw in you that you missed yourself (how awful!). Or maybe you could become susceptible to pride, which, let’s face it, would totally ruin your perfect state of humility, wouldn’t it? I suppose even humility carries with it a kind of pride in being so humble. “At least I’m not like all those other cats who think they’re something.” Whoops.

Well anyway…For the next little while it looks as if I will need to take on a new discipline. I will be attempting to check my own tendency to dismantle the praise of others. I am going to try to see me the way other people are seeing me, even if that means admitting to myself that I did something right. How else will the good things ever be reinforced? If I denied my students all positive reinforcement, then how could I ever expect them to keep doing it right? I’ll have to learn to think the same way about myself. I’m no super human after all.

Perhaps God will be honored more by that, after all. So I’ll give it a shot.

Person in progress

April 13, 2007

Sorry for the pause in posts. Sometimes you’re too busy living life to stop and write about it. I figure in the end no one loses when that happens.

Having finally finished the initial drafts of a book, I finally regained the time to start reading again. When I get free time now, I’m reading through any one of the myriad of books that friends insist I must read sometime. Making my way through them, I am reminded of how difficult it can be to expand a mind that has fallen into a groove.

I remember being in a place where I was constantly learning things. And I don’t mean just information. I mean that my mind was being changed. That’s not mere assimilation or accommodation of knowledge, it’s an alteration of the way I think. It’s exhausting but exhilarating. Like the familiar world around you suddenly becomes new again, charged with attraction and interest.

I remember days like that when I was younger. I don’t have them as much anymore. I suppose that’s good in some ways and bad in others. It’s good because a mind that’s constantly shifting and reforming can hardly hold anything in at all. Like my astute wife asked one of her high school teachers one day: “Is it possible for your mind to be so open that your brains fall out?” I think so.

But it can also be a bad thing to have a permanently fixed mental map of everything, because that means that you’ve quit learning. I really can’t imagine how that can be a good thing. I hope I’m still learning, still curious, even when my hair is all white.

Maybe the important things get settled first, then the details change over time. Every now and then you have to renovate something structural in your mind, but for the most part you keep the same foundations. Never mind the fact that it’s out of fashion these days to speak of philosophical or theological “foundations.” Metaphors break down at some point or another, but I think this one still has its merits.

What I’m trying to say is that we should always be people in progress. We should never decide that we’ve arrived and that we have nothing important left to learn. I mean that for just about every area of life. But in particular I’m thinking about my spiritual life and the life of my church.

I think we should always allow ourselves permission to not have it all figured out. I think that we must experiment… try new things out once in a while. Maybe even “play” with things a little bit.

Little children learn by play. They learn by discovery, sometimes even unstructured exploration. They’re not supposed to already know “the right way” to do everything. So they play at it for a while and try out different things. Toys, playgrounds, dress-up clothes… really everything becomes a playground for someone who’s still learning what things are and how they work.

I think that’s the way we are with spiritual things. Sure, some things are steady constants. We already know we need fellowship with each other, and communion with God, and faith, etc. But the way we work these things out is filled with potential for discovery. Let’s never fall into the trap of thinking we’ve got it all figured out. Let’s never become hardened in our own traditions, even while maintaining those things that we know bring life and reflect His nature.

And please allow me the freedom to not have all the answers, either. I tend to blog my thoughts on things that matter to me, and often I speak in answers as much as in questions (Who wants to read a blog full of nothing but unanswered questions?). But I can’t promise that I’ll always write that way. I’m discovering that I’ve still got plenty of loose ends in my own mind about some things.

What kind of things? Alright, I’ll list the biggest one for now:

What is the church’s role in the world?

I think I know what Paul thought about that. And for now it’s still what I think about it. But I find myself needing to ask if there were questions that Paul didn’t answer because his circumstances didn’t require him to ask them. Like how does the Church function within a democracy? Or how do you plant a church in an area already saturated with Christian culture and symbols? That’s just a sample. We’re gonna have to discover some things for ourselves using what we already know as our guide.

So forgive me if I sound contradictory for a while. I’m a work in progress.