Humility in the Humiliating

When I think about the word “humility,” I am almost immediately drawn to its application to areas of my life where I’ve been puffed up with a self-promoting pride. I picture snapshots of time when I was so convinced of my own strength and abilities that I was blind to the One who sustained me and blessed me along the way. I am convicted as I remember a tacitly obnoxious aura about me that, although not overtly arrogant, was the kind of attitude that seeps under the cracks of the doors to our soul and clings to every good thing its vapors touch. And it rots us.

It’s against our nature to give God all the glory when we are the ones down here gritting our teeth and grinding out 14-hour days. We deserve a little credit, right?

The quest for humility when everything is in order is challenging to navigate. In reality, we have so much to be proud of when we achieve our goals and we are “living the dream” and our lives look good. But pride is the opposite of humility, isn’t it? Achieving the balance as child of God is hard when life’s going even better than we imagined; a struggle that necessitates a near daily reminder to be humble in all we do. It’s common and it’s talked about and it’s preached about. (I mean, how many times have you heard a sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Micah 6:8?)

But there’s another type of humility, isn’t there?

Aside from the kind that calls us out and grounds us when we scale mountains of pride and think we’re God’s gift to the earth—there is a type of humility that doesn’t get much air time. Just like the humbleness required of us when we’re at the top, there is that same expectation when we are looking up from the bottom.

As I navigate this post-college, quasi-adult state of my early twenties, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to a friend who’s expressed a feeling I’ve gotten a little familiar with myself.

“Diana, I just feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath me. I feel like I am at the bottom of the bottom.”

I’ve been there, too. And it’s humiliating.

Maybe it’s a lost job. Maybe it’s a shattered dream. Maybe it’s a broken relationship. Maybe it’s a personal disappointment. Maybe it’s a relapse of an old habit. Whatever it is, the unexpectedness and contortion of your expectations brings you to an unwelcome state of default humiliated humility. At least, for a time.

But then, if you’re anything like me, that default humility can wear off and, from the depths of the filth that’s innate within us, self-pity emerges.

While it’s the opposite of pride, self-pity is the other opposite of humility.  

When we wallow in an attitude of pity, we ignore the sovereignty of God in our lives as we think up all the ways our situation would look better and walk through a million, “If only this…” quick-fixes. When we sit and give credence to self-pity, our problems and our rock-bottoms become the center of our lives, instead of just trials we are promised in the Bible (James 1:2). The focus is taken off of God’s unchanging glory and directly shifted to our perceived inability to give Him any credit in our despair. Our problems become bigger, our situations become overwhelming and we are all but consumed by the immediacy of what is going on in our own worlds.

And all of the sudden, self-pity looks an awful lot like pride.

Humiliating situations are not just ways for God to humble us; they are opportunities for us to practice humility. In this, we are promised grace (1 Peter 5:5) – and if you’re anything like me, you crave grace every day… rug underneath you or not.


Diana Palka is a Charlotte-based writer, runner, lover of words and life-long learner. She has a passion for brave vulnerability that exposes the ugliest of impurities in the light of His perfecting grace. You can read more of her writing on her blog, On The Heights or at the Good Men Project where she serves as the Associate Editor for Education, Humor and Gender.

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