Caroline Watkins
Caroline Watkins

I looked up this expression in a book of word and phrase origins I had given my father and then “acquired” after his death.  It is one of many colloquialisms I use every day, without thinking.  This particular phrase’s beginnings were rooted in, let’s just say, animal innards so I think I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, I have been considering what it means to be humble lately, especially after reading an article by Jon Bloom on which made me think about it in an entirely new way.

Mom always said I was “too nice.”  This was not really a compliment at all, and it has gotten me into a lot of trouble – not speaking up when I absolutely needed to and tolerating what others would find intolerable.  “Too nice” in no way translates into humility, I have come to learn.

In fact, the title of Bloom’s article is “Humility Is Not Always Nice” which is why it drew my attention. The article is divided into four sections entitled: Humble people don’t think much of themselves; Humble people prefer windows to mirrors; Humble people are authentically counter cultural (and odd, yay!); and Humble people are offensive (in a good way, that is).

Both C.S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner address Bloom’s first section. They make the distinction between false humility – or self-deprecation for the purposes of soliciting a compliment – and true humility which Buechner describes as not “thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you’d be apt to think of anybody else.”

Or as I have read: humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less often.

Ok, so I “know” this intellectually but that is, of course, entirely different from living it out.  I suppose that’s why a passage within Bloom’s second section really struck me:  “Humble people view other people as God’s marvelous image-bearers, windows to God’s glory, not as mirrors that enhance or diminish their own self-image. But this also means they aren’t absorbed by how others view them. So they aren’t worried about reading the ‘right’ books, seeing the ‘right’ movies, listening to the ‘right’ music, living in the ‘right’ home, having the ‘right’ job, being seen with the ‘right’ people, etc. That’s a mirror mindset…”

There is no better example than social media by which we display our “mirror mindset,” is there?  Our perfect lives. Or our “brand,” as I heard it referred to recently. And it’s also a place where we tell everyone how right we are about everything, isn’t it?  In the arenas of politics, social justice, religion, health and even beauty.

John Piper says true humility is not expressed in a “life based in its perceived rights.”

Kathryn Schulz in her amazing TED Talk “On Being Wrong” takes this idea a little further. She speaks about the tragedy of the “attachment to our own rightness” and argues that making mistakes/being wrong is the whole point of being human. Indeed, that it is the birthplace of ingenuity, problem solving, creativity and wonder.  The miracle of our minds, she offers, is not that we can see the world as it IS but that we can see the world as it ISN’T.


Perhaps the most powerful things we can say actually – as a parent, spouse, teacher, employer, pastor – are “I don’t know” and “I was wrong.”

The most critical thing I need to remember, however, is what a dear friend said to me before speaking in public (yikes!) at a local high school about Gap Years: “It’s not about you, Caroline.”

Author Glennon Doyle Melton sums up that important bit of advice beautifully: “Life and art and work and love: they’re not about showing off, they’re about showing up. They’re not about saying: here I am! They’re about saying: there you are. They are not just about being seen by others – they are about truly seeing others.  People don’t need you to be amazing — but they do need you to be amazed. People don’t even need you to be interesting — they just need you to be interested.”

She concludes her post (on yes, Facebook) with a quote from one of my favorites, Rumi: “Wherever you are, be the soul of that place.”  Amen.

And for this, my friends, you know what we need far more than even a serving of “humble pie”?

A heaping helping of… Grace.

Caroline Watkins