I’m a perfectionist. I like rules. I like to know what I am supposed to do so that I can do it right. I don’t like being wrong and I hate looking stupid.
So, when scripture tells me to humble myself before God, I’d like to know how to do that. Is it a posture I need to take? Or are there specific words I need to say? Is it about submitting to authority or accepting everything God does without question?
I’d really like to know how to be humble without having to be humiliated.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t think humility is something that I can form on my own. It isn’t something that I can will into being. Humility, I’ve found, is something that is wrought through fire and it’s wrought through failure. It is experiential and built into us by the Spirit of God through life events that make us painfully aware that we are NOT perfect.
This isn’t good news for me and it has been a struggle in my soul because I don’t want to face the truth. The truth is, pride has been keeping me safe, it bolsters me as I justify my mistakes. Pride allows me to deny reality. It tells me I’m ok when I’m not. It gives me permission to place blame on others thereby diminishing my personal responsibility. Pride paints an idealistic vision of who I am, a vision that I find palatable, and it’s a front for the truth.
Humility, on the other hand, carries a lot more risk as it seeks out error and exposes the truth. Humility asks questions like, who am I really? What are my true motivations? What are my limitations? What mistakes have I made and how did those impact the people around me? What do I need to take responsibility for and who do I need to reconcile with?
Pride stunts my personal growth where humility encourages it.
But the risk of humility is truly high. I’d have to be willing to fail and be ok with making the wrong choices and so the war rages on, do I live exposed in humility or sheltered in pride?
I think we all know what the answer ought to be. We ought to live humbly exposed, but it is a crushing place to live. One step into full exposure and I quickly run back to the safety of pride. I don’t like what humility feels like. Humility feels like death where pride is the familiar fortress that soothes me.
The only way that I am going to humble myself and risk exposure is if I am absolutely convinced that I am unconditionally loved by Jesus Christ. It is the only fortification strong enough to withstand the pressure of self-exposure. Rejection is inevitable. I will be wrong, I will do wrong, I am limited and flawed. Yet, if I am enveloped in the truth that Jesus loves me simply because he does, then I can step out in faith and fail. If his love is not contingent on my behavior, then it is safe to be honest. Full exposure without fear.
This means that if I lie to save face, Jesus still loves me. If I gossip, swear or am self-righteous, Jesus still loves me. If I sell all my belongings, move to another country, and hate it, Jesus still loves me. If I’m anxious or stressed, Jesus still loves me. If I yell at my kids, Jesus still loves me. If I can’t get out of bed, Jesus still loves me. If I am adamant that I know the truth but I’m wrong, Jesus still loves me.
This doesn’t mean that I am free to sin without consequence, but it does mean that Jesus himself will not reject me when I fail. I belong to him forever and always. He has set a path for me that will honor him, and it involves taking courage to look at myself honestly. It is only through the revelation and exposure of the truth that any real internal change can take place. When all things are laid bare. When we are laid bare before God, ourselves, and others, transformational change happens.
True humility, wrought in the fire of experience, where I am exposed for what I really am, can lead me into the precious arms of Christ. Arms that surround me in safety and give me the security I need to face the humiliation of the future. Pride is a poor substitute for the acceptance I find in Jesus and there is peaceful freedom that can be found in accepting that I am perfectly imperfect.
Are you a perfectionist? Do you trust Christ’s love to endure through your failures?