There is a natural progression to things, or at least there should be.
Physically, we grow and change and mature and develop as we grow. The same thing is true intellectually. And emotionally. And with every other part of ourselves. We are not who we were yesterday, much less ten years ago. If things work like they are supposed to, we grow in knowledge, wisdom, and maturity over time. That means the older we are the better we can make decisions, handle money, deal with conflict, and a host of other things.
Of course, the same thing is true spiritually. The older we are, the longer we have walked with Jesus, and the longer the Holy Spirit has been at work to mold us into the image of Christ. And as with physical age and maturity, there are certain signs or “fruits” of spiritual maturity that develop over time. There are many of these listed in the Bible – love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. But these lists aren’t necessarily exhaustive in nature. In light of that, here’s one more mark of spiritual maturity that is a little more surprising:
The spiritually mature do not take themselves too seriously. That is, it is a mark of maturity to be able to laugh at yourself.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that only those who are spiritually mature can laugh at themselves, just as not only those who are spiritually mature have patience. For the Christian, though, the ability to laugh at yourself is a bit different than the rest of the aging population. That’s because our willingness to laugh at ourselves demonstrates that we are not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to. Read the words Paul wrote on that subject:
“For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think” (Rom. 12:3).
Other versions translate Paul’s admonishment to be that we should have a “sober estimation” of ourselves. What does that mean?
Maybe most simply, it means we think neither too highly nor too lowly of ourselves, and we might be tempted to do either one. This verse comes in the context of Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts and their use in the church. In that discussion, we might think of ourselves too highly when we think that the church – and God Himself – is certainly fortunate to have us on the team. That we are more important than others because of our gifts. That we are absolutely indispensable to the purposes of God. But then again, we might think too lowly of ourselves when we think that we don’t have anything to bring to the table. That if we suddenly disappeared there would be no loss to the people of God. Neither one is a sober estimation.
So what does our spiritual maturity have to do with how seriously we take ourselves? It is that growing spiritually comes through time and time again meeting with an eternal God. And each time we do, we are forced to reckon with our own frailty, weakness, and laughable smallness in light of Him. Take just one example:
Here is God, who does not slumber or sleep. In fact, in His lack of slumber, He watches over us day and night (Ps. 121:3-4). And yet here we are, so creaturely that we must every 10 or 12 hours fall into a bed with our mouths hanging open. We are, in this sense, ridiculous in our weakness.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for some kind of social irresponsibility or laughing our way through every day life, but I am saying that in faith, we can acknowledge that the fate of the known world does not rest on our next move. Furthermore, there are far fewer people thinking about our next move than we would like to think. So because we know that God is the God who makes the sun rise and fall, the rain come down in its season, and changes the human heart, we are actually free in faith to acknowledge who He is by loosening our grip on our carefully crafted personas a bit.
Now here is a trait I long to embody, for being able to laugh at yourself is a rare quality. It’s a trait I hope I don’t have to wait until I’m very old to develop. As Christians, we should be free from the need to manufacture and protect our reputations, and as such, we are free to see the absurdity of life – and to see the absurdity of ourselves.
Jesus? Oh, we take Him seriously. And yet there is a personal lightness that comes from walking deeply with Him. We know we will make mistakes, say silly things, and embarrass ourselves again and again. And yet the sun continues to come up again and again.
Perhaps here we can find, in the midst of social media, platforms, and fabricated images of ourselves, a resolution worth committing to this year. That perhaps 2021 will be the year when, by God’s grace and even for His glory, we stop taking ourselves so seriously.