We often think of humility as a rather dreary virtue. We know we need it, but we don’t expect it to be much fun. Kind of like going to the dentist.
C.S. Lewis argued the opposite: “to even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.” Tim Keller preached something similar: “There’s nothing more relaxing than humility.” As he explained, pride grumbles at everything, but humility can joyfully receive life as a gift.
So perhaps we get it backwards: we think humility is an impossible burden, but in reality it is as light as a feather. It is pride that makes life gray and drab; humility brings out the color. Why do we get this wrong? I don’t know, but part of the answer might be we simply misunderstand what humility is. Here are two ways we do so, in particular.
1. Humility Isn’t Hiding
Humility is not hiding your talents and abilities. If you can paint like Van Gogh, humility does not require you to keep your work under a veil in the basement closet. If you can pitch a 95–mile–per–hour fastball, humility will not encourage you to sit on the bench and never tell the coach.
In The Screwtape Letters, one devil advises another, “The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents — or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.”
If Lewis is right, then denying your talents is not humble – if anything, it is the opposite, since you are still focused on yourself, biased for or against yourself as an exception to the rest of the human race. Humility means the death of this craving, self-referential framework. It means valuing your contribution to the world alongside every other good thing in the world.
So, imagine you are part of a team of doctors working to cure a disease. You make a discovery that contributes approximately 25% toward finding the cure. Another doctor then makes a different discovery that contributes the remaining 75% toward finding the cure. Humility means you are pleased with your accomplishment, and able to speak freely about it, while simultaneously and effortlessly three times more pleased with your colleague’s effort.
To be such a person is not a burden, but a joy and freedom.