The heart of humility

Before they were Olympic champions, the rowers known as “the boys in the boat” had work to do to “subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole.” This quote from the book The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (p. 241) gets at the heart of the humility that was required to enable these athletes to find greater success than they had initially thought possible. The author claims that “no other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does” (p. 178).

Humility was key to the rowers working as a cohesive team. And while most of us don’t have our sights set on an Olympic victory, still, the practice of getting ego out of the way is integral to success in any worthwhile endeavor. Often, though, it can feel as if just the opposite is true: that it is the assertion of self—of personal desires and abilities—that propels us to the top. Yet, ultimately, that personal sense of self and competence is grounded in limitation. Our abilities can seem to fluctuate—to come and go, sometimes without a discernible reason. So relying on what we think we’re able to do ourselves, even if it’s exceptional, eventually leads to our coming up short.

Christ Jesus’ life presents a more effective model. He claimed no selfhood apart from God and no personal distinction, but said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27, New International Version). Yet his demonstration of healing power is unmatched in human history. Looking at his example, we can begin to understand that living with humility—setting aside a limited or material sense of self—actually illumines true, full individuality as the expression of God, Spirit.

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Overcoming the Goliath of self
June 10, 2024

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