Humble Pie

7:30 AM

We were practicing Christmas songs, we being the only musical ones in the reach of our Sunday school -- "we" being us Bergmann ladies and two of our favorite adopted sisters. The girlies ran off to imbibe mocha. We mature women? We got down to business. My friend began to practice an offertory for our church Thanksgiving banquet that evening -- "Maybe you want to sing along with me?"

Sure, why not?

That began a disaster. Neither of us knew the song very well -- in her case, the arrangement; in my case, the song and the arrangement. Things were looking bleak. If my friend didn't stumble over the piano keys, it was me squinting and squirming at the notes I couldn't sing right or the wording I bumbled.

Looking to rectify the solution, my friend asked, "Why don't you try to play it?"

Sure, why not?

Well, to put it mildly, that didn't work either. It was rather disastrous and I almost lost my temper a few times at my miserable sight reading. If the first time around was bumpy, this time was just diggin' more potholes. But we plunged on, she creating an alto descant in about five minutes, me learning the arrangement in about thirty.

We sang it at church that night and received a standing ovation. Not really. But it, to quote one young admirer, "almost made me cry." (Hat tip to Bethany for such quotableness.)

The point, however, is not perseverance or practice makes (almost) perfect or even some things can sometimes be pulled off in a half hour. The point is that from the minute we learned the song, my friend and I constantly praised the other's abilities and deprecated our own: You did it much better than I did -- oh, no, it was terrible when I first did it -- you play so much better than I do -- are you kidding? -- ad nauseam. The whole rest of the evening we did this, cringing at our praised talent, applauding the other's.

It got to be ridiculous. But it was catching; we couldn't stop. We tried to one-up each other in humility. We had such a twisting rope of half-truths that we couldn't find the end -- or the truth. I don't, to this day (five days later, to be exact), know fact from fiction.

I think we get this strange idea that being humble means being untalented, unspecial, unpretty -- basically focusing on a list of things we're not. When someone compliments us, we shrug and piously note that "it's nothing." Humility, after all, is denying we do any good. It is never (to anyone's face, at least) acknowledging our talents. The usual accompanying feeling is "boy, am I so humble!" or an almost-smug knowledge of how wonderful we are.

Very humble, indeed.

To get straight to the point, false humility is sugarcoated pride. It's meant to draw attention to ourselves, to our "humility," to our sweetness. But self-deprecation is an easy route, a quick little by-pass of true humility. True humility is so much harder, for it takes the praise directly off us and focuses it on God. Any time, I think, we do not give proper acknowledgement of our talents and gifts, we show unbelievable pride. It is (to the falsely humble's mind) deflecting praise from us, but in doing so we deflect praise from the One who rightly deserves it -- namely, God. If He has given us gifts and specialness, we should be eager to point others to the Author of it. Not waste it in shrugs and pithiness.

And it gets so annoying. Some people genuinely have talent -- they just exude an understanding or a perfection of something, so much so that you're excited to merely be in the same room. It's a strange, prideful blow when my praise is met with, "Eh, I'm not really that good." What part of my innocent generosity did they not understand?

Give me the truly humble person, the person who can accept praise and glorify God without denigrating the compliment or puffing herself up.

I was talking to another dear friend of mine, and we were appraising each other's faults. I think we were specially focusing on mine at the current moment. In any case, she found one: I would always shrug off praise. I had to admit, it did get pretty annoying. It always produced two responses: (1) a continuation of the praise, which turns genuine love into flattery; or (2) a sort of uncomfortable awkwardness that only comes from being rebuffed.

I was properly chastised, especially since I had done it five minutes before the topic came up.

I don't think it's very humble to shrug off sincere compliments as flattery. It's very self-centered. It is, as I said before, the easy way out. It's not truly building others up or deflating one's ego. It's not truly humbling.

Humility. That would be swallowing a flush of self-centered false humility and sincerely saying, "Thank you so much. God gets all the glory for this." Anything less is a cop-out.

To God alone be the glory!

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2 impressions

  1. Well, I'm glad your song turned out well....the Pyatskowit's have done things like that before... *shudders*.

    I agree - the best thing to do is just say "Thank you," and tell the complimenter where the gift comes from.

    I hope you're having an awesome weekend!

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  2. In which I insert the quote from Sarah R,

    "Forget it, we both can't be humble."

    What should one call the "humbleness" where you actually don't believe you are bad at doing something, but you say you aren't to be humble. Humbly smug? :)

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