In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis said that “perfect humility dispenses with modesty.”
This statement seems counterintuitive at first, but it’s not. Modesty is an act. It is me acting humble concerning my achievements or merits. Humility is a state of being. It is a lack of arrogance or pride. One can act modestly, yet still be proud or arrogant. One cannot be humble while continuing to be proud or arrogant.
I say this as a man whose arrogance, pride, and modesty nearly destroyed himself.
I learned early on in life that I could rely only on myself. I do not know all the reasons I learned this lesson. Perhaps it is because I’m the oldest of eight children, and I became a third parent for many of my siblings. Perhaps I learned it from the books I read, or the fact I was scrawny and awkward as a child, or because I experienced the loss of loved ones beginning early in life and continuing through young adulthood. I’m sure a good therapist could explain the “why” to me, but it hardly matters now. What matters is that I learned it.
For many years, this attitude served me well. It propelled to perform. Good grades, good performances in athletics, good deeds, and an amazing wife. Yet, eventually, the burden of life becomes too great for me to bear and remain healthy. It ground me down and eroded my spirit. One day, I looked around and realized that the joy of living had disappeared. The things I used to love no longer brought me joy. My wife, children, work, faith, books, sports teams, and work had all become burdens. I felt that I lugged them around on shoulders that appeared strong and broad. In truth, those shoulders were not strong and broad. They were a facade produced by my pride and arrogance.
Outwardly, my modesty hid my arrogance, but in reality, my arrogance had isolated me. I was bearing the burden alone. In my arrogance, I bore all my burdens on my own. I rejected the love and help that was readily available to me through family and friends. My days were spent performing tasks I hated. My nights were spent seeking relief from my depression and loneliness.
Finally, in my desperation, I admitted my many failures. I opened up to trustworthy men about my moral state. I exposed my long captive emotions. I sought help from older and wiser people. I exposed my pain and fear to my wife. In short, I dispensed with modesty in favor of humility.
What I found were freedom and friendship. I began to find joy in giving. I appreciated my work and found enjoyment in it. I ceased to punish myself with anxiety regarding outcomes. I could focus on engaging in my life as well as I could. I was able to walk the path of life with a peace that I had not known since I was too young to worry about tomorrow.
If you are isolated and alone, humble yourself and dispense with modesty. Release your false ideas of self-sufficiency and masculine perfection. You will find that you will fulfill your roles as a man more perfectly when you quit seeking to perform for others. Instead, welcome others into your life as fellow passengers on the road your destiny has set in front of you. You will no longer be an actor seeking the praise of those observing you. You will become a man.
Seek the wisdom of others. Confess your failures to those you admire. Immerse yourself in encouragement. Love correction. These are the qualities of a humble man, a man who can enjoy the fruits of his labor and the love of those who surround him.
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