Day 32: We’re Called to Serve Together – By Being Humble With Each Other

Point to Ponder: Humility is the result of knowing who you are.
Verse to Remember: “Serve each other in humility…” — I Peter 5:5a (NLT)
Question to Consider: How do you feel when you’re treated like a servant?
[Read More] thoughts on Day 32 of Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Community, regarding the nature of humility, humiliation, shame, and significance.

I’ve always been proud of my humility. In fact, I’m so humble I don’t care what people think of me — even if they think I’m proud!

Humility is a hard to virtue to describe, especially because its practitioners are the last to self-identify themselves; or if they do, they cease to be humble. Can you imagine a book title, “How to be humble like me” — Sometimes it seems easier to focus on other things and give up on humility. As my father might say, “Ah, if only I was humble I’d be perfect.”

All jokes aside, it seems hard to cultivate a virtue where you can’t know you have it without losing it. To be sure, I realize humility isn’t self-abasement, but self forgetfulness: I’ve always agreed with C.S. Lewis that “Humility is not thinking yourself less, but thinking less about yourself.” Still, how do we achieve something we can’t think about? After all, the command “Don’t think about pink elephants!” inevitably produces the opposite effect.

Maybe the solution is to focus on its complement: If I’m totally focused on the color “red”, I can’t at the same be thinking “green.” Put another way, the answer may be understanding which part of ourself we need to forget.

In that context, I’ve been thinking recently about Richard Wagner’s “The Sensation of Being Somebody” — what we might label significance — which I’d characterize as experiencing:

a. belonging to community
b. competence over reality
c. worthiness of character

We can identify humiliation as an external loss of significance — with the related idea of shame tied to our perceived inability to achieve significance. Thus, in this view, we fail to practice humility because we desire significance yet fear humiliation.

The solution, as Rick says, is to truly know ourselves (as Christ knows us), so that we are free to serve others. That is,

* being secure enough in the reality of our own significance
* to give up the external correlates of that significance (e.g., status, power, respect)
* that we might nurture significance in others
* and better experience true significance ourselves

In this view, humility is less about being concerned how others see us — or even so much about how we see ourselves — and more about building our identity around how Christ sees yus. If we focus on cultivating that, we will naturally reduce the fears and neediness which drive anti-humble behavior.

I think. Of course, that means I still have to do

Prayer: O Lord, its hard to be humble, when I’ve built up a self-image based on my own competence and worthiness, rather than belonging to you. Its easy to serve when I feel secure, yet easy to deny the very opportunity to serve when it touches on an area of insecurity. Help me to know you better, and to understand how you know, love, and value me. Teach me to pursue the status, power, and respect that come from you, rather than myself or others. Most of all, keep my eyes focused on the prize, rather than on the ground in shame or on myself in pride: the prize that is Jesus. In whose name I pray, Amen.