I am very hard on myself. I still feel bad about not letting my sister play with me when I was a kid. I feel bad about baking my family a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, only to realize I forgot the sugar. I feel bad about wrecking my dad’s car and the countless times I’ve had to be rescued because I’ve locked myself out of mine.
Last month, I helped move my sister into her college dorm. My mom handed me a lamp and a lightbulb to carry up the stairs.
“Are you sure you trust me with this?”
“Sure!” my mom said.
My dad agreed. “You’ve grown up so much!”
With newfound confidence, I trekked the flight of stairs, balancing the bulb and the lamp stand in one hand, opening doors, and weaving through hallways.
I dropped it.
I have a lot of more serious regrets that seem to accumulate late at night. Living in community with others reminds me that I am not the only one with insecurities, and many are very hard on themselves. We always talk about uplifting others, but the unspoken understanding is that, in return, we must degrade ourselves. We must hate ourselves.
Because that’s true humility, right? Remembering that we aren’t so great and that others are better than us? When people tell us we did a good job, we say, “What? Me?” And their response is, “Oh, they are so humble”.
But maybe “humility” means something quite different. Maybe it doesn’t mean pointing out our own flaws, dwelling on our imperfection, or acting like we’re no good so that someone else can feel better about themselves.
In Genesis, the word “humus” refers to the dirt from which mankind, “humans”, were created.
To be humble, then, is to remember that we are dirt.
It’s a sublime thought, reminding us not only of our origins but also of our ends; to dust we will return.
But from a gardener’s perspective, I think of how appropriate it is that we are made from dirt. I think of a plot of composted soil, almost black in its richness, soaking in water and nourishing seedlings with its nutrients. This is how the decayed and dying bring life to dormant seeds. This is resurrection.
Remember we are dirt. Remember we are nothing, but that we have been given everything.
Remember that even Christ, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Christ, who was perfect, did not flaunt his perfection or consider it his right to stand over others, but humbled himself, becoming a servant.
Humility. Remembering we are dirt. Living as servants.
Beating ourselves up over past and present mistakes? Speaking lies to ourselves about our appearance and our capabilities? In the words of Paul, BY NO MEANS!
I would like to end with the words of C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity.
Lewis wrote that a humble man “will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody…He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all”.