This Scribbled Page
I sit on my couch and flip through the pages of my clipboard. I’m looking for notes I took last month on a project.
Instead, I happen across a page of intense scribbles. It is my handwriting from a year ago. I hesitate to read my own words, but curiosity compels me.
I don’t like what I find. The written words are furious and biting and sharp.
Granted, they weren’t meant to be seen by any eyes except my own. That’s what journaling pages are for.
Would I intentionally invite anyone to read my personal journals? No way. They contain too much ugliness.
Yet in my year of exploring what it means to be human, it will also include exploring what it means to be humble.
And humility involves letting yourself be seen from many angles, not just from your preferred good side.
I just finished reading my first book of the year. It’s called Learning Humility: A Year of Searching for a Vanishing Virtue by Richard Foster, one of my favorite influential authors I began reading decades ago.
His book reads like an open journal, compiled from pages of his real journal.
Despite being 80 years old, Foster is still on a path of exploring and learning. And of humility. Thus, he allows us to peek into his journal from his year spent studying and practicing the virtue of humility.
He begins with the “supreme touchstone” of Jesus, the ultimate example of humility. From there he ventures into classic Christian texts on humility. He also uses twelve virtues from the Lakota calendar to frame his year-long adventure into humility.
Early on, Foster discovers this:
“As I talk with people about the topic of humility and read about it and seek to practice it, I find a common misconception. It is this notion that if I am truly humble, I won’t know that I am humble. That is, self-knowledge of humility actually proves that we lack it.”
In other words, the myth is “if I think I’m humble, I’m not.” By believing it, Foster says we prevent ourselves from trying to become more humble.
But how can we overcome this roadblock to humility?
Foster says one simple way is this: pay attention to humility’s opposite—pride. Observe pride in ourselves and in others, not to judge it, but to sharpen our view of seeing how different pride looks compared to humility.
“Pride is always a distortion of who we are truly created to be. Humility is so very appealing when we see it in another person. Conversely, when we watch someone consumed with pride it feels unnatural, deformed, twisted.
“Humility is beautiful, whereas pride is ugly.”
Ultimately, Foster concludes, to find humility, don’t try to attain it directly. Follow the principle of indirection.
He suggests “we simply take up those things that, in God’s time and in God’s way, will lead us into the virtue of humility. An obvious example is the spiritual discipline of service.”
Participate with God in grace-filled work, developing “deep in our soul a right relationship with others and with God.”
Foster says he learned that humility made him more human, more genuinely accessible to other people.
This is a lesson of humility—and humanity—worth pursuing for me, too.
One More Page
I look back at my page of angry writing. I consider wadding it into a tight ball or cutting it into tiny pieces and throwing it all away.
Instead, I put the journal page back into the clipboard where I found it. Perhaps I’ll stumble upon it again another day, a witness to how prone I am to fall into my own pride.
But I want to add an extra page to it, an addendum for my future self to see for the next time I run across it.
I take a sticky note and write these four sentences on it from Richard Foster about humility:
- Be brave enough to learn humility.
- Be strong enough to learn humility.
- Be courageous enough to learn humility.
- Be compassionate enough to learn humility.
I put the sticky note on my journal page. And put it all back on my shelf for now.
Learning humility isn’t for wimps. By God’s grace, may I be brave, strong, courageous, compassionate—and human—enough to do it.
I hope to be humble enough this year to share my journaling thoughts about being human in this space. I invite you to share with me your thoughts, book suggestions, article links, etc., too, about what it means to you to be human.
Which do you see more of: people being proud or people being humble? Share your thoughts in the comments.
my thanks to NetGalley + InterVarsity
Press for the review copy of this book
- What Does It Mean to Be Human?
- Assign It a Day and Time