Next to public speakers, writers have the best opportunity to showing off how completely self-centered and arrogant they are. Uh-hum, sorry. We are.
Granted we can read our words back to ourselves (and to others if we’re smart) before they get broadcast to the world at large. But even then, we can make enemies of our friends as we make idiots of ourselves. Makes you wish for electronic duct tape right over our proverbial lips…or fingers.
I think humility is the absolute most difficult quality to master. In fact, I don’t think it can be mastered, except by the Master himself. Its antithesis—pride—is the very thing that got us chucked from the garden. And the Serpent hasn’t changed his tactics much since Adam and Eve because why should he bother when the original sin worked so well the first time?
My husband and I have been working hard on teaching my eldest daughter about pride. She’s 8 and quite mature for her age. And every so often, words will come flowing out of her mouth that match the “I’m so above this” look in her eyes. It makes me cringe. Mostly because I know kids only imitate what they see in the authority figures in their life and I can’t very well put that ball in anyone else’s court.
So we’ve taken to quoting James 4:6 to each other (“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”) and it’s made me do a lot of thinking about exactly what that scripture means as it’s a little challenging to explain the concept to an eight-year-old even if she is gifted. So I looked up the NIV’s footnote for James 4:6 and it pointed me to Matthew 23:12.
Now when any scripture reference points you to Matthew 23, you know it’s a bad sign. NOBODY wants to be on the receiving end of Jesus’ most scathing sermon. So I looked up the passage with one eye closed, somehow thinking it was going to ease the rebuke, but alas, no: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Ouch. Kinda feels like when the duct tape is ripped off your face taking your lips with it.
I read passages like this and wonder—maybe when I’m 80 I’ll be able to live life without bragging about myself. But then I think, are you kidding? Many of us get worse as we get older. As babies, we start bragging from the moment we learn how to take off our own loaded diaper (“Looky what I did?”) and we don’t stop until after we’ve had to don grown-up Pampers (not that that right of passage wouldn’t humble anybody).
Truth be told, we like to brag about ourselves. We like to be stroked and hear, “Good job”. Hey, if we don’t tell somebody what we did, nobody will know, right? And we really do have this burning need to be recognized by our peers, our friends, and our family. When people see what a great job we do, and they acknowledge it, we feel valuable and important.
But what about God? Doesn’t he see it even if nobody else does? Why isn’t that enough for us? Maybe it’s a sign that he’s not as present in our lives as he should be. Maybe we aren’t aware of him sitting across the table from us during breakfast, or beside us on our commute to work. Maybe we don’t remember that he’s standing beside us at our business meeting or in our kickboxing class. Maybe we forget that he’s walking beside us in the grocery store or sitting on the counter as we scrub the bathroom sink.
He’s right there. But his recognition of our deeds is not enough for us.
Matthew 6:1-4 talks about our attitude when we perform a noble act like giving to the poor, that bottom line, we’ll get all our “reward” (recognition) here if we’re doing it just to look good before men. I think God probably wants us to have the same attitude about any noble deed or action we perform, to keep it “a secret” so he can reward us. And who wouldn’t rather get rewarded by God than by their boss, their family, or a perfect stranger?
I guess it all comes down to whether we trust God to make us feel good about who we are or if we believe we have to do it for ourselves.
So next time you feel tempted to brag about what an awesome job you did on something, remember you can always borrow my duct tape—it works great on a flapping jaw.