Humility is defined as lack of false pride; antonyms are conceit and vanity. Jesus is our model for living a life of humility. He exemplified this virtue by giving up His heavenly position as Son of God to become Son of man. He gave up His ‘ego’ to obey His heavenly Father plan of salvation.
We, Chinese often have this sense of modesty that came with our culture. When people praise us, we would deny with “Oh no – I am not so and so…” Some would even go to the extreme of saying something opposite to show a sense of modesty. But we all know that inside, we are really feeling good and proud that we can be so humble. Indeed ‘Humility is something you lose when you think you have it.’ In light of this, I think humility is not presence of modesty but more the absence of pride. A humble person is never conscious of his humility. Rather he is one who is willing to forego his ego and think of others more than himself.
Pride is the cause of the fall of Lucifer. Since Adam, this is also the cause of sin of mankind – the thought of having all knowledge and being like God. Our ego prevents us from being humble. It is not really about denying our strengths, gifts and talents but more of being aware of our weaknesses that come with our strengths. Inferiority complex is not humility because we identify a humble person as one having so many talents and strengths and yet willingly listens to criticism and ideas of others. I believe it is so hard to be gifted and successful and yet stay humble. Moses is recorded as “very humble – more than any man who was on the face of the world.” Wow, that is really some humility! But if we look at the context of this description given to Moses, we know that he was being criticized by his siblings. In their opinion, it was not right for hi m to marry a Cushite woman. But Moses was humble enough to keep quiet. If it were me, the urge to defend myself would be great. Even if I kept quiet, the wounded ego inside me would take time to be nursed.
Let me illustrate this with a personal experience. I always pride myself that I smile when I sing in the choir. It is something easy for me to do – to smile and feel the song I am singing. This is not so when I am nervous. So in a musical concert that I participated, I tried to smile in spite of being nervous and tense about making a mistake. I knew that it was different from the way I smile when I sing. It was not a natural smile but forced. It hurt my ego when after the concert, a friend praised another for her smile and commented that she was the only one smiling on stage. It hurt even more when she criticized my smile after I said that I did smile during the concert. It was a humbling experience to be denied my effort and compared with another. I do not want to go into the details of how I rationalized and comforted myself for the rest of the night and even a day or two after. But our God is timely – He prepared me for that lesson of humility by feeding me with His word. I was reminded of the sermon I heard that morning – how Jesus gave us His rights and ‘reputation’ as God’s Son. In human terms, it is really a big blow to the ego to be counted as a ‘sinner’ and to die the death of criminal even when one is not guilty of any crime.
I realize that humility is a very difficult virtue to have – the more conscious one is of trying to acquire it, the more it is beyond reach. It is a virtue that becomes a part of the person – who he is, what he does and how he reacts to circumstances in such a way that he is not conscious of himself. It is attained when it does not hurt because he does not even think or know that he is humbly humiliated.