Proudly Humble?

A snippet of ongoing mental dialog inside my cranium runs something like the following:

Brain Voice One: "I am a talented (logician) (thinker)(writer) (analyst) (kisser) (etc.)"
Brain Voice Two: "Wait a second.  What makes you think you are talented?"
Brain Voice One: "Well, I've had people tell me that I do task 'x' well, and I've often been satisfied with things that I've produced or accomplished."
Brain Voice Two: "Surely there are better talents out there than you!"
Brain Voice One: "Well, sure.  But do I really need to compare myself to other people to validate my talents?"
Brain Voice Two: "How do you evaluate if you are good or not unless you measure it against other people?  Isn't goodness/badness relative?  We are either better or worse than others.  Or, at least our work is better or worse than other work."
Brain Voice One: "This is getting off track.  It makes me feel guilty for desiring talent if the goal is to view myself as better or worse than others.  Can't I be good in and of myself?"
Brain Voice Two: "What other standard would you use to know if you are 'good'?"
Brain Voice One: "Oh, I don't know.  Maybe I could use how I feel about what I've created?  Or, maybe even how I feel about the process of creating?  If it brings me peace and satisfaction, then it is good enough for me."
Brain Voice One: "Is that true?  Is it good enough for you?  I ask because it seems you are reaching for something more than an internal feeling of satisfaction.  You thrive on external validation.  It seems like maybe you 'want' the process itself to bring you satisfaction, but in reality, it doesn't."
Brain Voice One: "Well, I do enjoy positive feedback and acclaim, but I think my deeper motive is to simply do something that is in line with my values and in line with God's plan for me.  To make a positive contribution to the world.  To make some kind of difference.  To connect with people.  I guess I'm hoping, in faith, that if I was doing these things then I would experience more satisfaction."
Brain Voice Two: "What's stopping you? You are 44 years old.  How long do you think you are going to live?  How much time do you have left?  If you want to make your mark on the world, time is running out."
Brain Voice One: "I know.  But, I'm trying to learn to live more in the present, so to speak.  Also, there are examples of people that have tapped into greater potential later in their lives.  These examples give me hope that I can continue to grow."
Brain Voice Two: "Not to complicate matters, but, are you sure you are qualified enough to make a lasting impact on the world?  That sounds like a big job!  Don't forget, no matter how good something is that you create, there will always be people indifferent to it, and some even bemused or antagonistic toward it.  Others will probably laugh at your earnestness.  You want reactions to what you create, but are you prepared to accept the negative or indifferent reactions?  Isn't it safer for your psyche if you simply don't place yourself 'out on a limb'?"

A tension stretches me between positively acknowledging my own gifts and achievements, such as they may be, and either doubting them or denying them due to a call toward a value of authentic humility.  Are the talents that I perceive real or imagined?  Do I possess a particular strength, or do I merely wish that I possessed such strength?  Clearly, desiring a talent is not the same as possessing one, or I would be recently retired from a major league baseball career.  If I happen to cross the threshold of doubt and actually acknowledge a talent, I seem to immediately enter into an internal debate related to pride and humility.  I feel dirty for desiring to take personal credit for any talent or achievement instead of or alongside of acknowledging God.  Unhealthy pride motivates me to bask in glory, while humility pulls me toward denying my own value.  Is there a happy medium?  

An example:  Some people have told me that I write well, but I am uncomfortable declaring myself a good writer, even to myself.  [NB: I've internally debated making this particular writing public for some time.  What are my motivations for doing so?]  I wonder, am I good 'enough'?  If I am tempted to think of myself as 'good', I am reminded that there are many people better.  A desire for recognition creeps in, and I begin to think of myself as being motivated by the unholy alliance of selfishness and vanity.  Comparisons with others can quickly morph into envy or arrogance.  These overlapping thoughts and feelings cloud my ability to see myself as I truly exist.  When I'm feeling particularly religious, I equate this concept of nebulous 'true existence' with the way that God sees me.  When I slip toward nihilism, I wonder if there is even such a thing as a 'true self' and I'm tempted to see myself as a blended construct of what I make of myself and what I perceive others make of me.

I value selflessness and humility.  These moral qualities are among those that most attract me to and inspire me about Jesus and his teachings.  I feel a call toward humility.  I want to be more like Jesus in this regard.  At the few distinct times in my life when I've felt truly in the presence of God, I've experienced a sense of radical selflessness and humility.  

In overthinking mode, I wonder if maybe I'm making a virtue out of necessity.  I ask myself: since I don't have the talent to the level that I desire, am I avoiding the disappointment that comes along with that acknowledgement by trying to convince myself that I'm humble?  Put another way, I think, since I don't have the talent, I might as well settle and take credit for being humble.  This mentality seems less than righteous, to say the least.  It seems to me this would be an example of false humility. 

The phrase, 'to the level that I desire', is playing a pivotal role in these internal deliberations.  What level of talent gives me satisfaction?   And, how would I measure it in any case?  What, exactly, raises something to the level of a 'gift'?  Is there a way to bring objectivity into this self-assessment?  Is there some demarcation point for any particular talent that moves me from dissatisfied to satisfied?

Pride.  Someone once suggested to me that there is such a low chance that I would become egotistical because it is so out of line with my values.  Do I dare take that as a compliment (see how this works?)?  They asked if I have ever really felt prideful or arrogant or conceited?  Upon reflection, I don't think I have.  [And here a voice creeps in--"What reason would you have had to be arrogant?  What do you have to be proud of anyway?"]  Even though I crave and enjoy positive attention, when it occurs, a vague discomfort comes along with the good feelings.  I worry that I don't deserve such attention; or, that I've fooled somebody; or, that I won't be able to repeat whatever it was that I did, and I will be seen as a fraud.  I feel as if they knew the real me, they wouldn't be so quick to give me positive acclaim.  I try to receive positive feedback with humility.  But I think that my humility is often motivated by fear.  I've never really been one to explicitly boast, but I can remember times where I would try to make myself or my works known because I wanted the attention.  At these times, I'm usually worried that someone will perceive that I am looking for attention or trying to promote myself.  It seems to me like it reduces the value of anything I create if it's not able to receive acclaim on its own merit, but instead depends upon me to promote myself.  I don't like the idea of selling things in general, least of all myself.  On rare occasions where I may have crossed into boasting territory, my conscience is right there to pull me back toward humility.  Or, is it fear pulling me back toward a false humility? 

I can remember a few times in my life when I have felt confident about my talents.  These moments could be fleeting, and I have trouble even coming up with any specific examples.  But, I'm certain they exist.  I remember the feeling.  Self-doubt seems to melt away, along with all concern about being 'good enough', or of becoming too conceited.  What is this positive feeling?  Is it pride?  If so, is it a healthy and wholesome kind of pride?  Are there different 'kinds' of pride, one healthy that leads to a fuller life, and one unhealthy that leads to spiritual vacancy, discord, sin and death?  Can one be proud without being arrogant?  The question arises: can pride exist alongside humility?  It seems such a contradiction on its surface.  But, if I look deeper, I want to believe that God desires me to experience a type of healthy pride.  God wouldn't want me to be continually doubting myself, would he?  When I hear those voices in my mind telling me things like 'you are not a good enough father' or 'you are not a good enough writer' or 'you are not a good enough (fill in the blank)', it doesn't feel like the way that God would use to push me forward, because this type of questioning leaves me perpetually guilty.  Guilt is not very inspiring.  Though it is an important check on my behavior, and an aspect of my conscience, I like to think that it is not God's primary tool.  Ultimately what I really want to do is live God's plan for me, and I want to believe that whatever his plan for me entails, it would come along with a sense of peace and joy.  Could I go through the discernment process not so much using guilt as a touchstone, but instead using a notion of healthy pride?  It's a more positive and optimistic way of looking at things, which I am not overly familiar with, given my history of pessimistic thinking.  It seems like there is a dangerous and thin line between discerning what God wants me to do and the voice of Satan tempting me to follow my own desires.  I am constantly questioning the purity of my motives. 

I remember hearing or reading somewhere about Bono talking about U2's song: "Pride (In the Name of Love)."  It seems he was touching on this idea of a healthy type of pride.  Pride in the name of love.   I imagine Bono, being an authentic seeker, probably struggled with the allure of rock-and-roll fame and achievement existing alongside a Christian call of humility.  Perhaps this song was his way of trying to work out that seeming contradiction.  Maybe it's his way of believing and suggesting that pride can live alongside humility, as long as it doesn't morph into arrogance.  Of course, the wrong kind of pride is never far from us, calling us toward it's false promises.  But it's presence doesn't mean that we shouldn't pursue activities that lead to experiencing a healthy pride.  

Ultimately, if we feel we have a good understanding of the will and love of God, isn't that something to be proud of?  I always struggle with the notion of giving glory to God.  I've never been inspired by famous athletes, for example, being interviewed after winning the big game, and proclaiming above all they want to thank their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It's as if they are drawing a causal effect between their faith and their athletic success.  This in turn seems to imply that their opponents did not have enough of the right kind of faith.  I guess it just doesn't seem authentic.  But, who am I to judge the authenticity or the motivation of somebody else?  Conscientiously judging somebody else's motivation seems to me a very example of the type of arrogant pride I'm trying to avoid!  If I believe gifts are given to me by God, there is no shame in acknowledging their origin.  The shame would be in not using them (like that dude in the Bible that buried his 'talents'), or in not acknowledging their origin.  Remembering that these gifts, such as they are, are not exclusively a result of my own creation could help me remain authentically humble while also enjoying a sense of contribution and creation.  Acknowledging any fruit that comes through these gifts as being made possible by God is humility.  Even if this acknowledgement is not necessarily a loud or public declaration, it can still be genuine.  It's a different way of looking at things--at least, different than I am used to--seeing my gifts and talents not as 'my' gifts and talents, but as God's, who has entrusted them to me for a purpose.  In the end, my understanding of pride and its relationship to my spiritual and emotional health is an outgrowth of my personal spiritual beliefs.  These beliefs are a work in progress.  I hope and pray that I continue to gain more clarity through discernment and faith.           

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