A Nail in my Boot

“For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.” – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

In my few years since becoming a disciple, humility may be the virtue that has puzzled, intrigued, and challenged me most. Maybe that’s because before I was saved I hid all my self-hatred under a veil of “humility,” or maybe it’s just because it’s something that’s hard to live out. Pride, after all, is something that I find to be at the root of a lot of my sins. 

(Wait. I’m going to slow down for a second, because I don’t want to blaspheme here. Sin, meaning the separation of mankind from God’s love, which necessitated Jesus’ sacrifice, is the root of everything that isn’t good. When I say that pride is at the root of many of my sins, I don’t mean that my actions or beliefs caused my sinful state of being. What I mean to say is that pride, the worship of the self, has plagued us since it caused the fall and tends to lead to a litany of other unhealthy behaviors and mindsets.) 

As I was saying, humility has been hard for me. My number one way of approaching humility has usually been to view myself as honestly as I could, taking in both the good and the bad. I never want to think too highly of myself, but I don’t want to disregard or diminish what I’m good at either – I wasn’t blessed with positive qualities so that I could deny and squander them. I find this outlook to be relatively easy to conceptualize, but harder to put into practice. A faithful, devoted life is a balancing act in countless ways. I get carried away loving myself just as often as I go overboard in hating myself. Overcorrection has been my enemy on multiple occasions. 

As helpful and seemingly simple as that perspective has been, something I read tonight makes me think it isn’t complete. Chesterton writes that without humility, we place too large a value on our own happiness, and lose our ability to be awed by the scale of our world – “if a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small.” Everything grand that we’ve imagined, created, or dreamt has been a result of humility, he argues. 

It hits me as I consider this that I’ve been trying to get the wrong results from my humility. I thought of it as a way to live more mildly, more meekly. It’s not. It’s an inspiration to act, to pursue something huge, to chase something new, to genuinely challenge myself. It was meant to be “a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on.” Yet that’s exactly what it’s been for me – a reason to stop. 

I struggle constantly to reconcile different pieces of theology – I’m content to analyze in parts ideas that are meant to add to each other and create something that actually matters. I suffer because of it. The Lord has plans to prosper me, plans to give me a future (Jeremiah 29:11), but I’m too busy observing to do anything about it. I live as if I’d rather observe Him from afar than walk alongside him. I’d like to change that. When I see myself as I truly am – absolutely insignificant – I want to find hope in the knowledge that my aims are true. I want to be pushed forward, not held back. I want to believe not in my own ability to achieve great things, but in the beauty of what I’m working for. I’m tired of feeling hopeless and discouraged when I realize how unimportant my life’s work is likely to be. I’m more than ready to recognize that God is on my side, and that nothing can stand in my way because of that (Romans 8:31). 

So that’s what I’ll be praying for. 

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One Response to A Nail in my Boot

  1. themtj says:

    Good thoughts here. If you ever find yourself lacking the awesome perspective of your own insignificance you may want to find your way to Job chapters 38-41 or anything in Ecclesiastes.

    I find that humility is not actually the opposite of pride but false humility is. Humility, simply put, is not thinking less of yourself but rather thinking of yourself less. Pride is the obsession with self so if you spend your time thinking about yourself (in a positive or negative way) the problem is that you’re thinking of yourself. Real humility happens independent of self-esteem however most of us think we have to get our esteem in perfect balance before we’re able to think about others but it’s a defeating cycle because until we start living for God and others we’ll never find ourselves in the right state of mind.

    The principle that I think you’ve discovered here is much larger than our command to be humble, you’ve tapped into a principle that is present throughout all God’s laws. His laws are not restrictive for the sake of killing our buzz, limiting or frustrating us but they are liberating and exist to create human flourishing. Humility, when correctly applied, creates justice and harmony in the world and with God. All of the commands in the Bible works towards that end.

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