In Psalm 10:4 we learn that pride gets in the way of our relationship with God: “In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” Humility is the antidote for pride, but it’s not that easy to be humble in a world that only honors power and success.
Thomas á Kempis in The Imitation of Christ says, “True self-knowledge makes you aware of your own worthlessness and you will take no pleasure in the praises of others. If your knowledge encompasses the universe and the love of God is not in you, what good will it do you in God’s sight? He will judge you according to your actions…Nothing is so beneficial as a true knowledge of ourselves, which produces a wholesome self-contempt.”
St. John of the Cross explains that humility reduces our “aimless tendency to compare ourselves to others” and “love of neighbor is the close companion of humility where we will have no opportunity to watch anyone else’s conduct.”
But is it possible to have a “false humility” when we refuse compliments and deny our goodness? A friend from College posts a lot of pictures on FACEBOOK, but I’ve noticed that whenever someone compliments her on her dress or how young she looks, she always denies it, “Oh, I was a long way from the camera.” Or “I’m sure they photoshopped the picture.” She truly does look as young as when we graduated from College, so why the denial?
St. Francis of Assisi says, “True humility begins with our ability to recognize our weaknesses as well as our strengths.” Is it possible that by refusing compliments and denying our goodness we are claiming that God cannot love us and in fact, we are setting ourselves up to be in competition with God?”
False humility sounds a lot like pride.
We should consider compliments as a prayer for us, recognizing that we are God’s children and He has given us gifts to use for His glory. The person making the compliment is really thanking God for that gift.
Because of our competitive society we find it hard to both give and receive compliments. Giving compliments feels disingenuous or manipulative; receiving compliments feels prideful. What we need is more practice in self-examination to produce genuine humility, but also freely giving compliments to recognize spiritual gifts in ourselves and others.
Do you have trouble accepting compliments? Don’t let it be a sign of false humility.
As we head into Advent in a few weeks, we will be in a season of waiting and watching. Let’s simultaneously study ourselves and work on our humility but also look at the lives of others, complimenting them where they are strong. Sharing a generous compliment will share joy with another; it will also help us to be more humble.
Blessings, my friend,