Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.C. S. Lewis
I’ve always loved C. S. Lewis. When I was younger, I knew him solely as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. But, as I grew older, I soon learned that there was so much more to this man, and his literary career, than just those well-known fantasy books for children. My understanding of this Christian titan has increased even more so over the past few months as my family has just recently finished reading a biography of his life together. When the book came to a close, there was one thing that stuck out to me more than any other aspect of Lewis’ life.
Amidst all the public esteem and accolades, Lewis was a man of constant service and consideration of the needs of those around him.
As a young man, Lewis served as a soldier in World War I, braving the horrific conditions of the trenches as he led his men against the enemy. Even after the war, Lewis served his students as he taught at multiple colleges throughout his life. After a full day of teaching, studying, and speaking, however, Lewis wasn’t done being a servant. All throughout his middle-aged life and into his elderly years, Lewis was the personal caretaker of an old woman by the name of Janie Moore. Janie Moore was the mother of one of Lewis’s closest friends who died in the war. With her son gone, Lewis stepped up to take care of the single mother and her daughter.
Though the Moores had been kind to him, it turned out that as an old woman, Janie Moore would be very demanding. Living with Lewis and his older brother, Janie’s needs and requests were as constant and consistent as the beating of Lewis’ own heart. From her bedroom upstairs, Janie would yell commands, needs, and often Lewis’ own name, down the stairs. In her mind, she required constant attention and assistance, and if she didn’t get the kind of meticulous care that she thought she needed, then her complaining and grumbling was fully justified. Janie had Lewis cleaning, cooking, nursing, and doing everything that she desired. But it wasn’t just chores that Lewis had to undertake. This brilliant theologian and author was doing the dirty work too. This is what Lewis came home to every day. Yet, he never stopped serving, and he never stopped putting Janie’s needs before his own. He was patient when the old woman complained, and compliant with her demands even when he knew of all the work and writing waiting for him downstairs.
Even after Janie’s death, Lewis nursed his wife and was constantly at her side through all her stages of sickness, sudden healing, and relapse that led to her death.
To say that Lewis was a servant is an understatement. He had first hand experience with the sacrifice that is so often required when we step out in faith and truly obey God’s command to love others. He was a humble man.
Now, I know what you may be thinking, what does being a servant have to do with humility? I used to ask the same question myself. You see, I am a very prideful person. To some extent, I always knew that, but this fact has been impressed upon me even more so over the last few months. I am often self-righteous and legalistic, which leads to a graceless judgement of others and an over confidence in my own abilities. All of this makes for a nice boiling pot of sin that I know is not pleasing to God. In Proverbs it says:
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.Proverbs 16:5
Of course, as a Christian, I know my sins are atoned for through Christ’s death on the cross, but that doesn’t mean my pride is any more pleasing to Him. So the question came up: How do I actually fight pride? I want to be humble. I want my heart to be beautiful in God’s sight, but what should I do when the prideful thoughts rush into my mind or when I’m tempted to boast?
With all these questions, this quote from C. S. Lewis was a breath of clarity, and a nice reminder that fighting pride isn’t all that complicated. For the longest time I thought of humility as some self-deprecating attitude where you kneel on the floor chanting “I am nothing.” But I’m coming to realize that that just isn’t true. Humility is active. It isn’t just a war you fight in your mind, it’s a war you fight with your actions.
The problem with pride is that, by its nature, it turns your eyes inward to yourself. When pride is present in your heart you think you are awesome, you compare everyone to you, you compare yourself to everyone else, you boast in your abilities, you put your trust in what you can do, you deserve to be treated better, you are the best topic of conversation, you can do no wrong, your thoughts are enraptured with you, your heart is captivated with you, your eyes can look nowhere else but at you. Are you noticing a problem? There’s way to many yous in that description. If you’re prideful, then your problem doesn’t stop there. Pride really comes from extreme selfishness. It’s a dangerous form of self obsession that has poisoned many a Christian, and led to other potent sins like jealousy and hate.
C. S. Lewis clearly saw the true heart of pride, and he wasn’t afraid to point it out. If you want to fight pride, (and I say this to me more than anyone else), then the best thing you can do is cultivate a love for others by nurturing a love for Christ. This is why Paul says,
…love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant.1 Corinthians 13:4b
Biblical love thinks nothing of ourselves.
The way to fight pride is not to degrade yourself, highlighting your flaws and staring at them with a laser focus– if you do that, you are still thinking of yourself, which brings you right back to where you started. Instead, think of others. Make serving a priority in your life. Or, as Lewis put it, take a real interest in what people say to you. Don’t think about humility, don’t think about yourself at all.
If you do, if you strive to be a humble man (or woman) then you will be rewarded, and you might just find that you’ll enjoy life a little bit more too. As it says in Luke:
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.Luke 14:11
Lewis wasn’t perfect, but he was ready and willing to lay down his own needs for the sake of others.
What are you willing to do?
Note to the Reader: All information on the life of C. S. Lewis in this post came from “C. S. Lewis” by Janet & Geoff Benge from the “Christian Heroes: Then & Now” series.
Picture of C.S. Lewis from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/C-S-Lewis