Everything is Not About You: Some Thoughts on Humility

Everything is not about you.

Stated as a quote from a quirky movie, anytime someone in my family starts getting a little too self-centered, another is likely to diffuse the tension by comically blurting out, "Everything is not about you!" While the phrase borders on humiliating, it usually serves its intention of putting the guilty party in their place. Unfortunately this practice doesn't translate so well outside of our family, but in recent dealings with people who I would love to apply this phrasing to, I’ve been pondering and studying a lot about the importance of humility.

Like most attitudes, humility isn’t a one-time decision, but a series of small choices.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but here are some such choices I’ve uncovered that may help you in developing a humility habit.

Know Your Strengths

This may seem contrary to what you would expect about the humility process, but is actually quite integral. Keeping yourself in the dark about your abilities or vaguely defining your strengths is not only poor stewardship of your God-given gifts, but leads to the ambiguity of merely avoiding arrogance rather than the intentionality of choosing humility. When you take the time to identify what you are good at, you give yourself the opportunity to specifically thank God for his creation in you, while highlighting the areas that arrogance or envy will be most likely to tempt, so that you can be cautious about not letting your gifting overpower your identity.

At the same time, the process of uncovering your strengths serves the dual role of exposing your weaknesses, which is inherently humbling as well as a complimentary exercise in identity.

Acknowledging the areas in which you are weakest, reminds you that you can’t do it alone, roots you in your need for God and others, and gives you advanced notice about potential points of insecurity. It can also provide opportunities for service that are detached from any personal agenda (more on that in a moment).

You are more than your greatest talent or largest weakness! By detaching your definition of self from your talent base you will lay the foundation for true humility in your life.

Start Being Helpful

The gifts and strengths you've learned about yourself aren't intended for just you. The most effective way to humble yourself (and the purpose for doing so) is to take on the life of a servant. This is more than volunteerism, which can be reward-motivated and often allows us to function in our comfort zone. Servanthood is about being attentive to and meeting needs for others regardless of position, acknowledgement, advancement, or sometimes, even skill.

It’s an attitude of “how can I help?”

Whether it’s leveraging your greatest ability entirely for another’s benefit, or performing a task that is completely detached from your skills simply to meet a need, servant-hood gets you out of your head/world/problems, and invests you, your energy/resources/prayers in the story of another.

Learn to Take a Compliment

While it can’t be the motivation to serve, gratefulness and praise are often pleasant bi-products of being in the service of others. The practice of graciously receiving a compliment is often a delicate balance between the two extremes of seeking out compliments and refusing them altogether, both of which are versions of arrogance. When praise is not your lifeline to identity, it is free to be an expression of connected celebration and blessing rather than affirmation that you seek out as a source of worth. Refusing to accept a compliment, which often reveals itself in the form of self-deprecation, is false humility, which is a twisted form of arrogance.

As Rick Warren put it, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

While there are lots of things that God just gives us, humility is something he commands us to choose. The process of discovering your purpose, serving others, and learning how to handle praise will require wisdom, grace, and courage that only God can give. As he becomes your everything, it will be pretty clear that everything is not about you.