Many Christian writers avoid addressing the sin of false humility. False humility in its most destructive form is the prideful suffering of one who is lost in a victim mindset. This week thousands of women have shared their stories of sexual abuse online. See the link: ME TOO Sharing these terrible secrets is empowering to victims and breaks the prideful victim mindset of false humility that festers in isolation.
Living life with false humility and a victim mindset waters a deeply entrenched root whose only fruits are self-destructive behaviors. This kind of pride begins with the seed of childhood abuse and neglect. My own spiritual journey is littered with false humility.
As a child, I was raised in a Catholic Church community with a sexually abusive priest who taught us that suffering was holy and only by suffering abuse could we come to know the path to God and heaven. Unfortunately for me, my own mother also believed this lie and lived her own life with a victim mindset. She never realized her potential. She could not share her many talents with others. She seemed to believe that allowing her light to shine in the world would prevent her from going to heaven. On the refrigerator door of my childhood home my mother had a cartoon that said, “If I take a taste of heaven, I know I will go to hell.” Suffering was the ultimate virtue in my home and in my psyche.
As a young adult, I followed in my mother’s footsteps. I worked hard and suffered to complete a master’s thesis; but, I was unable to publish my work in a professional journal. I could not allow other people to see me as successful. I left two different lucrative professional jobs when people started to notice my talents. I felt incredibly self-conscious and ashamed of the good in me. In order to please God, I wrongly believed that I had to be like the Virgin Mary and “hide these things in my heart.” I was outwardly focused, always trying to make sure that no one saw me for my true self. I was a sinner who was called to suffer. I could not allow the right hand to know what the left hand was doing. All my service to others needed to be done in secret. If others did notice, I needed to reject any compliments or affirmation that came my way. I felt genuinely ashamed of the light of Christ alive in me.
Fortunately for me, Christ won this battle for my soul. But the journey towards humility for this prideful victim was an awfully painful journey. As a young mother, my self-destructive childhood theology opened me up to accepting more abuse from a Catholic priest. He noticed my youthful beauty. He would stroke my hair after mass and look at me with hungry, needy eyes. He offered to hear my confession. I lacked the ability to set boundaries and I truly believed that I was called to suffer his groping advances no matter how bad I felt inside. Feeling bad about myself was somehow “holy” in my mind. I allowed this priest to ask me very intimate probing questions about my marriage. Because of my prideful victim mindset, I chose to engage in an emotional affair with my parish priest instead of accepting the genuine Christ-like love of my devoted husband.
I was blessed to have many caring friends who God sent to intervene in my life. Instead of shamefully hiding my talents under a bushel basket, I learned that I could write. So, I joined a non-denominational Christian writer’s group where there were several wonderful and supportive Christian writers. I learned that people felt peaceful and at ease in my presence. This I knew was a pure gift from God because I was a rather anxious, fearful person. I never considered myself to be peaceful. By living in community with other supportive Protestant Christian friends, I learned to break free from the lies of my childhood and embrace a new way of living. Over time, God developed this gift of peace that He planted within me. First, I became a hospice volunteer and later a hospital chaplain.
Wisdom comes from owning up to the mistakes we make in life and learning from them. I will never go back to hiding my light under a bushel basket again. For many years I was like the servant who buried his talent in the Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30. The master said to this servant, “You wicked and slothful servant!”
Now I know that privately ruminating about how much of a victim I am due to the circumstances in my life does nothing but bring about death and destruction. Now I know that I serve a life-giving God and a loving God. My God is merciful to me whenever I put myself out there and take risks to allow my light to shine. My God will never punish me for giving Him glory as I attempt to make good use the talents He’s given me.
My God continues to provide me with avenues to serve others. Sometimes, we need to break free from destructive environments where our childhood wounds can be triggered in order to find healthy avenues to be fruitful. Jesus Christ embraced a wide variety of people. As we grow to be more of a reflection of Christ, we too can welcome a wide variety of people into our lives. The Christian life is about God making good use of all our imperfect efforts to serve Him. The Christian life is about community and relationships; it is not about self-absorbed fear and shameful isolation. Today I know that God has called me to be a light to the world. When I think about my mother’s life, I come to appreciate the gift of God’s amazing grace acting in my life.