It’s something I’ve struggled with a lot over the years. Something I’m continually learning to keep in check. Something I’ve needed to learn to master so that it’s not master of me. Something I’ve therefore given a lot of thought to and explored in my writing from various angles.
I think often we assume that the opposite of pride is humility. This seems correct, right? Until I pause to realize that just as there are both good and bad forms of pride, there are also true and false forms of humility. And when not done right, what we say is humility can, in fact, be a form of pride.
So what is the opposite of pride?
This is something I’d already been exploring a bit with Margot in The Number of Love, and something people have commented on a few times since its release. Just last week, someone said to me that they were a bit disturbed at the apparent pride Margot displays. She’s a Christian woman–she shouldn’t be exulting in her own abilities.
I nod along to these observations. Because, yes, of course, Christians shouldn’t exult in their own abilities.
But here’s the thing: Christians should still know their own abilities. Otherwise, we’re not glorifying God for His creation, for His gifts.
C. S. Lewis has a brilliant observation of this in The Screwtape Letters. His demonic character, Screwtape, is observing to his nephew Wormwood that they’ve really done a number on humanity, making us think that embracing humility and denying pride looks like this: A beautiful woman saying she’s ugly; a talented architect claiming he has no skill.
When put so bluntly, we can see the lie in it…though even then, on the “beautiful” question we tend to think, “Well…” But pause to really let that sink in for a moment.
What do we accomplish by denying the things we’re good at? Do we really achieve humility? Or do we simply lie about what God has done? Do we convince ourselves of it? If not, then there’s more deceit. And if we do, then we’ve effectively bought into a lie.
Because there IS good in each of us. There are God-given talents and skills and abilities. There is beauty. He made us like this so that we can glorify Him through it and with it.
As Lewis puts it, true humility is in recognizing your talent/skill/ability/gift, using it for Him, acknowledging the thing you’ve done as being good–maybe even the best–and then thinking no more of it than you would if someone else had done it. True humility is in always striving to improve while at the same recognizing where God’s already brought you.
In Margot’s case, it would be ridiculous for her not to think she’s smarter than most people around her. She simply IS. This is fact, not opinion. It would be like one of the tallest people in the world never noticing that those around him seem to be shorter than he is. Humility isn’t that tall man saying, “Oh, I’m not that tall.” Humility is in him saying, “Yes, of course, I’m tall. But it doesn’t make me better. And unless I use it for God’s purposes, does it even matter?”
This can be hard for us–it’s a balance. We can’t tip over into thinking what we have makes us more important than someone else. But we also can’t just dismiss who we are.
Humility, joy, and glorifying our Lord lies in the truth. The truth of the world. The truth of His love. The truth of us.
Because we all have strengths, and we all have weaknesses. We all excel at one thing and fail at another. It’s okay to recognize where we’re strong–and to try to fix where we’re weak. It’s okay even to recognize that you’re stronger in one thing than someone else…depending on what you do with it. Do you come alongside them and help them? Lend your strength to them? Do you use it to make their lives better? Or do you just lord over them?
I’m a writer. I’d never say I’m the best or anything like that–for one thing, it’s entirely subjective. And for another, I know I have plenty of room for improvement. But I’m a writer. I’m good at it. It’s what God has given me. It’s one of the tools He’s put in my box for doing the work He’s called me to do. I’m a writer, and a good one. That’s the truth. A truth I’ve had to learn over a lot of years to hold only as tightly as I need to in order to keep doing what He wants me to do, and no tighter. It’s a truth that could change at any moment. It’s a truth that only matters insofar as I’m using it correctly. Beyond that, it doesn’t matter at all. Because being a good writer doesn’t make me a good person, doesn’t make me a child of God.
But if I can use it for Him, then I’m honoring His gift. I’m glorifying Him with it.
The truth of me would include these things:
I’m a decent musician.
I’m a good writer.
I’m a talented designer.
And that list is great, as long as I’m using my music to praise Him. I’m using my brain to draw closer to Him and try to understand Him and the world He’s put me in and help others do the same. I use my words to share His message of love, and I honor Him by putting a lot of work into them and making them Shine for Him. I use my designing skills to help others get their stories into the world and make a good first impression.
I could list my failings too. Those are also part of my truth, part of what I need to work on. And the working on them should be part of that continual journey in Him, trying to become the person He wants me to be.
The truth of me doesn’t lie in denial. It lies is recognition of what He’s made me and what He expects of me. Because that’s just as important as the gift, right? What we DO with it.
There’s a lie you believe today about yourself. Just as there are lies I believe. Maybe there’s a truth you’ve been told you ought to downplay or deny, and you’ve been doing that instead of using it to bring glory and praise to our Lord.
But true humility does not deceive. It elucidates. Then and only then, when humility is paired with Truth, is it really the opposite of pride.
What’s your truth? Who are you in Him?