Our church is following a series based on the book Love Over Ego which looks at the contrast between good and harmful versions of similar qualities – e.g. arrogance vs. confidence. This week we’ve been looking at “humility vs. shame.” The pastor on Sunday quoted C.S. Lewis (well, technically, Rick Warren misquoting C.S. Lewis) on humility: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” I’ve been mulling this over all week. I think it captures something true, but I also think there’s a value in self-reflection and in recognizing my sinfulness / lowliness. As I was brushing my teeth this morning, an analogy came to mind that I think captures what the quote is driving at. It involves four different ways of looking at the mirror.
- “I could look at me all day.” This is classic narcissism – the myth of Narcissus is literally about someone who becomes obsessed with gazing at their reflection. Pretty clearly tied to self-obsession, pride, etc.
- “I’m hideous. Look at all the things wrong with me.” I suspect this is significantly more common than the first one, but here’s where that C.S. Lewis quote comes in – it’s actually just the flip side of self-obsession. It’s shame rather than humility, and it traps a person rather than freeing them. (Also, if you want proof that our demons’ voices are insane: it’s possible to look at a mirror in these first two ways at the same time.)
- “No mirrors!” So, maybe you decide you’re just not going to look in mirrors. I suspect this is a much better approach than the first or second one, but it has some fairly obvious drawbacks of its own, e.g. you don’t notice the spinach between your teeth or your crooked tie. This is the danger of pushing the Lewis/Warren quote too far – some amount of self-reflection is vital.
- “All right, good to go.” This is the healthy place – enough self-reflection to see what needs to be fixed. Sometimes this might take as much time as the first or second (“OK, so what’s going on with this weird mole on my neck…”) but it’s done with a purpose, rather than simply so that we can feel feelings of love or loathing for ourselves.
So, that’s my theory. As with most theories, easier to articulate than to live. But I think the distinction between three and four in particular illustrates what that humility does and does not mean.
(Image copyright: belchonock / 123RF Stock Photo)