Were this written specifically for, say, me, it would read, “For the natural Fishies is an enemy to everyone.” When I succumb to myself, I’m an enemy to God, of course. The natural me wants to think that this doesn’t matter—after all, I don’t have to interact with God directly on a daily basis; I’m not trying to impress Him. (The subconscious thinking goes, So what if God thinks I’m a jerk? He’s not in my potential friendship/dating pool.) The thing is, though, that when I’m an enemy to God, I’m an enemy to everyone else, too.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I’ve moved into a new apartment, as I’ve had an incredibly painful conversation with someone I cared about very deeply, and as a new roommate is moving in—a roommate who already has multiple graduate degrees from Ivy League universities and is a noted scholar in her field. The natural Fishies does not respond to new or potentially stressful situations (“stressful” defined as “anything that she doesn’t like”) with much equanimity. The natural Fishies is fraught with insecurities that engender prideful resentment; resentment builds walls faster than all the trumpeters of Israel can tear them down (with or without the six days of pre-musical marching).
Thus there’s little hope for the natural Fishies. However, the verse goes on to say that the natural man/Fishies can overcome this enmity toward the world at large if he (or she) “yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” Of these qualities, I tend to zero in on “humble” as all-encompassing. Someone who is humble is submissive, meek, patient, et cetera.
So, to be humble = kill multiple birds with one stone. Great! I can totally do humility. I think I suck at a lot of things. Drawing, for one. (Except cartoon rabbit heads, at which I am very very good.) Math, for another. And I can’t fix anything.
But the problem is that this isn’t humility. C. S. Lewis defines humility not as a “low opinion” of oneself but “self-forgetfulness” (see Screwtape Letter 14). The natural me rails against this idea; after all, if I forget about myself, who’s going to take care of me? (Or, rather, who’s going to make sure I get what I want?) Or worse—if I forget about myself, does that mean I’ll have to, like, pay attention other people? To see them as real people, with real feelings, who are just as important as I am?
It’s a tough order, to be sure. Humility as applied to daily living is really, really hard work. Pride creeps in everywhere—when someone else makes my brilliant comment in Sunday School and I become frustrated; when the conversation turns to international travel and I feel the need to mention visiting Zimbabwe; when a less-popular ward member strikes up a conversation and I desperately start thinking of ways to escape. If I want to have humility, I’ll have to actively seek the Spirit so that I can catch feelings and thoughts as they arise. I’ll have to remember to relax during church—do I really think I’ll miss out on a life-changing friendship or relationship because I missed my one chance to make an impressive comment? I’ll have to remember not to drop names of people I know or countries I’ve visited unless the conversation actually calls for them. I’ll have to actively change my train of thought from “how can I get out of this conversation?” when I’m talking to someone I don’t particularly like (or “yeah, but I bet she can’t do x” when I’m talking to someone more educated, talented, or attractive than I am) to “how can I show God’s love to this person?” I’ll have to forget about myself and seek to help others.
Holy cow, this will take a lot of work. Which means that the most humble people I know have probably worked extremely hard to become so. I don’t know if I’m that diligent, or sometimes if I even want to be. But these are also the happiest, and, not a-tall coincidentally, the most Christlike people I know—which helps them to serve others effectively. In my better moments, that’s what I most want too.
*One of my favorite quotations is from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead:
When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me… you are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.