Friday, November 11, 2011

Confidence and Humility

It's amazing how much garbage can float around in a person's brain, and they don't even know it's there.  I mean garbage in the form of flawed thinking and erroneous assumptions.  I'm speaking for myself, but I sincerely hope that you, Dear Reader, have at some time discovered that there's garbage floating around in your brain.  After all, misery loves company.

In a recent Bible study class, we were discussing confidence and humility and the importance of having both these qualities.  Immediately, one of those garbage cells in my brain said, "You can't be both confident and humble, you have to be one or the other," implying that that these two things are polar opposites.  "After all," the little garbage cell continued, "confident people aren't humble and humble people are not confident."  At this point I told the little garbage cell to shut up and let me think.

On the drive home I started to wonder if I knew the meaning of either of these words.  When I got home I went to the Merriam-Webster app on my iPad.  (I still have a dictionary, but I'm not sure where it is since I never use it anymore.  All this information is literally at my finger tips on the iPad.) I'll let you go to the dictionary or app of your choice for the full definitions of these two words, but Merriam-Webster gives these as synonyms for confident: trustworthy, dogmatic, contentious, presumptous.  In other words, a mixed bag.

When I looked up humility, Merriam-Webster directed me to humble.  Synonyms for humble include: insignificant, mean, base, unpretentious, meek, modest, lowly.  Wow!  Another mixed bag.

Based on these definitions and synonyms, it appears that our culture is not sure what either of these words mean.  I started to wonder if our ancestors were as confused about these words as we are, so I hauled out the modern reprint of the American Dictionary of the English Language, originally published in 1828.  (Remind me to see if this 6+ pound book is available on the iPad.)

In case you don't have a large, hefty 1828 dictionary, here's what it has to say:

1.  Having full belief; trusting; relying; fully assured
"It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in man."  Psalms 118
2.  Positive, dogmatical; as a confident talker
3.  Trusting; without suspicion
4.  Bold to a vice; having an excess of assurance

1.  In ethics, freedom from pride and arrogance; humbleness of mind; a modest estimate of one's own worth.  In theology, a deep sense of one's unworthiness in the sight of God, self-abasement, penitence for sin, and submission to the Divine will. 
"Before honor is humility." Proverbs 15
2.  An act of submission

Are things clearer now?  I don't know.  I think our ancestors would agree with Merriam-Webster that confidence can be positive or negative.  But I think it's safe to say that our ancestors had a higher opinion of humility than Merriam-Webster does.  They didn't equate humility with mean, insignificant, and base.  By the way, our ancestors were such believers in God that they peppered their dictionary with excerpts from the Bible.  God bless them!

So.  How does one go about being both confident and humble?  This is a tall order.  If you are confident, it's hard to be humble when other people question what you're confident about.  Your ego kicks in and, if you're not careful, you end up going over to the dark side of confident.  In other words, you become contentious and presumptious.    But if you're too humble, the ungodly confident people are apt to run over you with a steam roller. 

I have a terrible cold.  As I hundled under the covers in my bed this morning, barely able to breathe, I had a long conversation with God about this dilemma.  How, Lord, can I be both confident and humble?  I don't claim to hear voices, but sometimes things are so strongly impressed on my mind that I have no choice but to think God is doing the impressing.  

My first impression was that God doesn't want me to expend a lot of energy trying to figure out how to do this.  He gave me the same answer he often gave the disciples when they asked him how something difficult could be possible.  He said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God."  (Mark 10:27)  In other words, I think God was saying, "Stop worrying about it.  I'm going to help you."

The second impression had to do with my struggle to define humility.  And here's the definition that was impressed on my mind - "To be humble is to see and acknowledge the truth even when the truth does not favor you.  To be humble is to be teachable.  Without humility, learning is not possible." 

So - what can I say?  There it is.  I know this definition is not in the modern Merriam-Webster or in the 1828 dictionary of our ancestors, but I think it's a pretty good definition of humility. 


BellaFitz said...

In cases like these, I defer to the gospel of Mac.... "O Lord, it's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way."

Judith B. Landry said...

Ha! I thought about that song as I was writing this.