A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all (p. 128).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
This is my favorite description of humility, because it takes the focus off of humility; which is what I think humility would want if you asked it. When I finish reading the quote, humility feels like freedom more than a standard to achieve.
Yet there is great practicality in the description. A baseline question for determining humility is, “How well do I listen to others?” Listening is an action that bestows honor on others without sacrificing personal dignity or enjoyment.
I think most people get this instinctually. When we are around someone we highly esteem and they ask us a question, we feel honored. We think more fondly of them because they would be interested in our thoughts on the subject. We simultaneously admire their humility and awe at their strength.
Which is why I find it odd that I so naturally thought of humility in the ways in which Lewis caricaturized it. I thought of humility as weakly avoiding eye contact while deferring every compliment and downplaying every accomplishment. I would have never taught it that way but I did “see” it that way.
Part of that is undoubtedly the distortion of my sinful nature. The corruption of my heart would never define something as wholesome and life giving as humility in an appealing way. Culturally, I think this is why so many people who say they want a “high self-esteem” would rather have the “freedom of humility” if they tasted both.
The question becomes what frees me from listening with genuine interest in others (a mark of true humility) rather than listening through the lens of insecurity (pride in its fearful form)? The answer is simply when someone gracious, dependable, and with a heart for the world has become the most important person in my life—namely, God.
In order to be humble the most important person in my life must be gracious. I will fail many times. After all, “nobody’s perfect.” Unless the most important person in my world is gracious, my failures (shame, anger, or blame-shifting) will kill humility.
In order to be humble the most important person in my life must be dependable. Life changes. After all, “nothing stays the same.” Unless the most important person in my world is dependable, anticipating the future (fear or greed) will kill humility.
In order to be humble the most important person in my life must have a heart for the world. I will imitate the most important person in my life. Therefore, unless the most important person in my world cares deeply for people I won’t either. In the end, Jesus is the embodiment of humility (Philippians 2:1-11) and the key to my humility.