False Humility is Veiled Pride

Humility describes in one word our unqualified and absolute status before God. From this solid and unshakable relationship with God, we can form an analogous humility, let’s call it “modesty”, which allows us to find our proper relationships to others and our place in the world. Humility is truth about oneself through God’s eyes; what I can and can’t do, my strengths and weaknesses.

We all recognize the value and importance of this self-knowledge, but the pain that comes with learning the truth about ourselves leads us to avoid it. As a result, we talk about humility in confusing and roundabout ways. We resort to the veiled arrogance of “humble-bragging”, where casual words are used to draw attention to one’s high status or achievement: “I had a bad year and was only able to contribute [insert a very large sum here] to charity.” The veil between the humble and the brag is very thin, but apparently is a thing on social media lately. Throwing out a comment about how hard it was to complete a strenuous Lenten fast can be sham piety. Related to this is the manipulation of others for validation: “Oh, this old thing?” or “I don’t know if this is going to be any good, but here it is”.

Choosing to reject God’s knowledge of my true strengths and weakness is an act of pride which says, “I know better than God”, but the result is that I invent my own “sham status” which inevitably results in both over- and under-estimates of my true value. Rejecting limitations can lead to an arrogance of freedom to do anything and be anything and control everything. On the other hand, not knowing my true strengths opens the door to allow others to control my status inappropriately, as might happen with a celebrity who believes all the fawning publicity he hears, or one who becomes sad and anxious as the “likes” on social media decline.

I am both vanishingly small next to the infinite God and I have unimaginable potential for greatness. Humility before God reveals both potential for greatness and limitations on ambitions. In other words, humility reveals knowledge that lets me become the person that I am meant to be. Spend a few minutes every day in prayer, asking for the humility that gives insight into your strengths and weaknesses and for the courage to act on what you learn. From that will come a modesty in your daily life that will be a great benefit to you and those around you.

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I am a retired family physician from rural Iowa and have an MA in Theology from Franciscan University at Stubenville, OH. While my native language is evangelical Protestant, I am fluent in traditional Catholic as well.

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