On Humility

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Rick Warren

We live in a self-obsessed world. We have to find ourselves, figure-out ourselves, express ourselves, empower ourselves, perfect ourselves, be true to ourselves – what does it all mean really?  It means we think about ourselves constantly. What do I want? What am I feeling? How are others treating me? Do I deserve more? Our modern mindset prioritizes such questions above any other.

But are we happier as a result?  The endless therapy sessions, numerous reinventions, putting ourselves first – doesn’t seem to get us any closer to contentment. But why? Surely to solve our personal unhappiness we we must concentrate on ourselves?

Corrie Ten Boom has a quote that comes to mind several times a week; usually when I notice myself clutching at injustices or dashed hopes.

Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.

We are holding too tightly to ourselves. God does not pry our hands open because He is vindictive – but because it is the firm grasp of the thing that keeps us from receiving it. And a clenched fist does not allow us to give. Our mind and will are tools to build a life of joy – that is only achieved by focusing our talents and thoughts outward. We are made to sow greater fields than the tiny patch of dirt under our feet.

As parents we must show our children what humility looks like – they will not find it in the world, it is a dying virtue. Below are quotes on humility and self-denial from wise, and humble thinkers. I hope they prove helpful in developing a proper humility – and bringing us closer to the joy which self-obsession may be blocking us from enjoying.

“One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.”

Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him  

 If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“The door to happiness opens outwards.”

Soren Kierkegaard

“Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” 

G K Chesterton, “The Hammer of God”

He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. 

Matthew 10:39

“It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary.”

G.K. Chesterton

“Jesus tells us we must leave the self altogether-yield it, deny it, refuse it, lose it. Thus only shall we save it… The self is given us that we may sacrifice it. It is ours in order that we, like Christ, may have something to offer- not that we should torment it, but that we should deny it; not that we should cross it, but that we should abandon it utterly.”

George MacDonald

“The love of our neighbor is the only door out of the dungeon of self, where we mope and mow, striking sparks, and rubbing phosphorescents out of the walls, and blowing our own breath in our own nostrils, instead of issuing to the fair sunlight of God, the sweet winds of the universe.”

George MacDonald

“Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down” into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness… Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do… For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.”

G.K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy

“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“[God] 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 favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things.”

C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

“No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that He does so, not because He is Love, but because we are intrinsically lovable….It  is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realise for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us. Surely we must have a little – however little – native luminosity? Surely we can’t be  quite  creatures?”  

C.S. Lewis

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud.”

C.S. Lewis

“At some thoughts one stands perplexed – especially at the sight of men’s sin – and wonders whether one should use force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that, once and for all, you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another.

George MacDonald, Phantastes

“A great man is always willing to be little.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet it is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

“Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying.”

St. Vincent de Paul

“Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else.”

Madeleine L’Engle

“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

Saint Augustine
Charity of St. Elizabeth of Hungry, Edmund Blair Leighton

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