When I consider the various virtues that I would love to characterize my life, humility definitely falls in the top two (probably the other one sharing that spot is discipline, which ironically I would use to achieve more, probably growing in pride and thus, hurting my humility). Yet, it always seems to be elusive because just as I think I am developing a greater sense of humility, I realize it and humility retreats into the shadows again.
Perhaps you’re like me too. Perhaps, like me, you find yourself judging others or thinking yourself better than others, only to try to squash the thoughts, to make them leave your head. Humility becomes 99% about doing the hard work of thought-monitoring, and 1% an attitude towards others. Service becomes less important than the virtue itself.
This sort of pursuit of virtue quickly becomes exhausting and unsatisfactory as we realize it yields no fruit. The key to humility, I believe, lies not in forcing ourselves to think only humble thoughts, but rather in directing our gaze towards God.
In many ways it works a lot like vision. I have good vision and no need for glasses. This means that I can see the world around me more clearly than others. Unaided, I can read a sign from some distance, observe the details in a flower, make out faces easily. Comparing my vision to others, it is easy to become inflated. But what if I look at the sun? I quickly realize I’m just as blind as anyone else. The person with 20/20 vision and the person with 20/40 vision see the same thing when they look at the sun: a blinding light.
The same thing happens when we remember to look to God. When we take our eyes off of the world around us, off of our own abilities and gifts, off of the ways that others fail and fall, something changes. We realize that before God, we are just as dirty, as broken; we are just as much as a failure as our neighbor. There is no place for pride before God’s throne. We remember Isaiah’s cry and echo it with our own: “Woe to me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips!” (Isaiah 6:5)
Humility is not necessarily placing ourselves lower than all others, but it is a recognition that we stand equally before God as unclean people, who are part of an unclean people. What humbles us even more is that this almighty God who “measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span” (Isaiah 40:12) loves us all to the point that he would send his Son to lead us into life.
The key to humility then does not revolve around mindset or attitude, but around vision. When we look to God, we are humbled before him and are reminded of both our lowliness and how richly we have been blessed in Christ.
May we look to God more frequently this week.