Thursday, February 23, 2006
humility and inadequacy
A few months ago I gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting. For folks that aren't Mormons, in our church the members are asked to talk in church (as opposed to a priest or a pastor who gives a sermon) on a different subject each week. I was pretty nervous about the whole thing, but I felt like I really got something out of the talk. So, here's the abridged version.

We normally think of pride as being the opposite of humility. While pride is the opposite of humility on one side of the spectrum, inadequacy is the opposite of humility on the other. What pride and inadequacy have in common is that they are all about ourselves - whether we focus on our accomplishments or our flaws, we are still focusing on ourselves. Humility shifts the focus away from us - to God.

In the same way we need to avoid being prideful, we need to avoid giving in to feelings of inadequacy in the name of humility. True humility does not make us look down on ourselves. True humility helps us to look up to God.

Humility begins when we understand our true relationship to God. When we know that we owe everything to Him, we realize that our achievements and our possessions are not our own - everything we have is due to God. To really understand this is empowering and brings us closer to God.

Humility is an attitude toward God, ourselves and others that is positive - not negative or degrading. We can recognize our dependence on God and be willing to submit to His will, without feeling inferior or inadequate.

While pride is a refusal to submit or to exaggerate our worth, inadequacy is the other side of that coin. If we underestimate our own worth, we limit ourselves from service and concentrate too much on our selves. We are all flawed and we all make mistakes. But, if we have humility we will recognize God’s love for us and God’s view of our worth, we can also see that with God “all things are possible.” (Mark 10: 24-26)

Humility is a tricky quality. As soon as we think we might have it, we probably don’t. Focusing on humility is probably not the quickest path to finding it.

In C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, letters are written from a senior devil bureaucrat to a junior devil. Through the letters we see in negative what we should not do. Screwtape tells Wormwood “Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit, and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection 'By Jove! I’m being humble' and almost immediately pride - pride at his own humility - will appear.”

Screwtape goes on to speak of the need to “conceal from the patient the true end of humility... Let him not think of it as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely a low opinion) of his own talents and character.”

To quote C.S. Lewis again “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, cleverer, or better-looking than others. If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” So, really, pride is simply a thinly veiled sense of inadequacy.

Humility is not about focusing on ourselves - humility is about forgetting ourselves and submitting ourselves and being teachable, open and willing to serve. Inadequacy is all about ourselves - what we lack, where we fall short. Concentrating on these things does not bring us closer to God. What inadequacy and pride have in common is an inward focus on the self that is off-balance.

Last week I read a book about simplicity and the author listed questions that the world asks and questions that christian simplicity asks. I think humility and inadequacy can easily be used instead:

Inadequacy asks, “How can I get more?”
Humility asks, “What can I do without?”
Inadequacy asks, “How can I find myself?”
Humility asks, “How can I lose myself?”
Inadequacy asks, “How can I win friends and influence people?”
Humility asks, “How can I love God?”

I would also add that Inadequacy says, “I can’t do this.” And Humility says, “I can’t do this on my own, but with God’s help, I can.”

To be humble is not to be weak. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” Bishop Richard Edgley spoke of the power of humility. He said, “Humility is often misunderstood and considered a weakness. Yet as we learn about the workings of God, the power of a humble and submissive spirit becomes apparent. In the kingdom of God, greatness begins with humility and submissiveness.” The power of humility is the power to meet life’s challenges, it is the power of peace, of hope, and of love. It is the power of redemption.

Christ gave us the ultimate example of a life of humility. Jesus said, “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” (John 5:30) He humbly washed His disciples’ feet. After washing the disciples' feet, Jesus said (John 13:14), "If I then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet."

When the disciples asked Jesus “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” He answered by placing a child in their midst and said, “Whosoever.. Shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.” Christ submitted his will to the Father to bring about the greatest and most powerful event in history. Christ’s atonement for us was the greatest act of submissiveness and humility.
posted by lochan | link
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Name: Laura

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