Humility : Thinking of Yourself Less

CS Lewis was a quote machine. Here’s one of my favorites:

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

It draws a line in the sand between true humility and self-loathing, for self-loathing is just the other side of the coin of pride. How many times have I slipped an insult to myself – my appearance, abilities, intelligence or whatever – into a conversation with the hope in my heart that someone – anyone – within earshot would come to my defense? That’s not humility. It’s prideful insecurity.

But here’s the problem with taking Lewis’ cue from above: Have you ever tried to think less of yourself? It’s really, really hard. Because you begin to make an effort to think less of yourself, and you inevitably begin to think more about yourself. So you try harder only to find that all your focus is still on you.

Like the self insult, this becomes a perverted cycle of dwelling on you.

Lewis is right, though. True humility is self-forgetfulness. But the only way to truly forget yourself is to have your mind and heart and imagination captured by something greater than yourself.

To this end, I’ve heard Matt Chandler say that no one stands at the rim of the Grand Canyon and reflects on his or her own greatness. It’s because in that moment, no matter how brief it is, your breath catches in your throat. Your heart explodes with wonder. Your imagination is fixated on something that you never dreamed to be possible… and you just look.

If you’re seeking true humility today, the answer is the gospel. It’s not only because in the gospel we find ourselves cut off at the knees by our own sin. It’s because in the gospel we find the Grand Canyon of grace. We stare down the barrel of the wrath of God and are left without excuse. And then, at just the right time, we are clothed in the love of God, and our breath is gone. We stand staring at the cross and the empty tomb. And in that moment, the last thing you can do is think about yourself.

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  • Steve says:

    I wrestle with this. What’s your take on the line between repentance and self loathing? Where or better yet how do we balance these two?

  • MK says:

    Steve – This I think is a tricky issue. Seems to me the issue is one of focus. Self-loathing is focused on self; repentance is genuinely focused on God. But amazingly, even our supposed “repentance” is in need of the gospel, for it’s never truly pure, is it?

  • Steve says:

    Agreed. Is it any wonder the Spirit intercedes for us? It’s necessary in my estimation based on the fact in all my actions, I need the gospel.

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