When someone insults you, belittles you, or stirs up insecurity through their comparative success, how do you usually respond? When your confidence is threatened, what do you do?
That is a question I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks. Writing online is not for the faint of heart, and I’ve been the target of more than a few harsh words. I’ve also watched as other writers have experienced greater and faster success than I have. Combined, these two elements can instill me with a lot of self-doubt and jealousy.
I would like to say that I always respond with humility and grace. But I don’t. Rather than find comfort, peace, and strength in God’s love and perfect timing, I sometimes seek solace in a different kind of refuge: by looking down on people.
Over the years, my condescension has taken many forms. Here are just two examples:
Fake sympathy: When someone is a jerk to me, I belittle them under the guise of grace: “No one leaves a comment like that unless he is a really angry person,” or “She acts that way because she probably doesn’t know any better,” or “He must be a really broken person to say those things,” or “She’s just jealous.”
Whether or not these statements are true is really beside the point. Each one is an attempt to put the other person down, to show how I am smarter, wiser, godlier, or happier than they are–which makes me feel better about myself.
Invalidating another’s achievement: When someone is more successful than I am, or their life somehow seems better than mine, I struggle to simply be happy for them. Instead, I find something to critique: “She is a successful writer because she tells people what they want to hear” or “He may have a lot of readers, but he hedges on his theology, which I would never do.”
Or, when Facebook inundates me with photos of elaborate nurseries, parties, play-dates, and antique DIY furniture, I wave away my feelings of inadequacy with, “That woman is way too concerned with looking picture perfect all the time,” or “That mom is far too obsessed with her kids.” As if I could possibly know their motives.
In a nutshell, I tend to fight insecurity with condescension. Like an elementary school child, I build myself up by tearing others down. This condescension may only happen in my mind, but it is still very real. And I don’t think it pleases God at all.
As I thought about how God would have me respond to those who hurt me, or those of whom I feel jealous, I landed upon this challenging word in Philippians 2:3-4:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
The ESV translation says, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Instead of putting others down, as I tend to do, this verse instructs us to do just the opposite: “value others above yourself.” But what exactly does that mean?
First, I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. It does not mean that your are inferior. This verse does not require us to self-deprecate or belittle ourselves. Nor does it require a false humility that exalts the gifts of others while ignoring our own contributions to the Kingdom of God.
If we want to understand what Paul means when he exhorts us to count others as more significant than ourselves, we need only look at the passage that follows: the Christ hymn. When it comes to putting others before ourselves, this is the Christian’s paradigm:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (2:5-8)
Jesus was not inferior to those for whom he died. His contribution to the Kingdom of God was not less important than any others. In fact, Jesus was not “less than” any person who has ever lived on earth. In every way, he is greater.
And yet he passed over his rightful seat on the throne to take his place on the cross. And in doing so, he showed us what it means to count others as better than ourselves. It means serving. It means doing what is in your neighbor’s best interest. It means desiring good for them. It means loving them.
In the disembodied world of the internet, I’m not totally sure what this practice always looks like. If you don’t have a relationship with someone (or if, in the case of abuse, physical separation is necessary), how do you embody Jesus’ servant heart? What does it look like to consider another as better than yourself, when you don’t/shouldn’t have contact with them?
The best solution I can come up with is to pray for them. Instead of putting others down, I can lift them up in prayer. Not by praying that God would open their eyes to what a jerk they are, or that God would humble the person who makes you feel insecure. Instead, pray that God would work goodness and redemption in their lives. Earnestly desire their best, for the glory of God.
As we head into Holy Week, I can’t think of a better passage of Scripture to meditate on than this. On Good Friday we will mourn Jesus’ death, but we will do so with the knowledge that he chose to die. He did not die because he deserved it, or because he was somehow less. Jesus’ death was a willing act of love, and we are to love just as radically.
In your own life, what do you think it means to count others as more significant than yourself?
Great, honest post. And, this is only sort of related, but I think a lot of the time people post mean things on news articles and blogs in the comment section because they don’t personally know the author or people involved. A lot of times people write things they would never speak out loud or would be more generous to someone they had a personal relationship with. Maybe? Not sure if that is still condescending thinking about negative commentators…
You make some very valid observations. I also think that writers sometimes take the criticism of their words as criticism of themselves – which are two different things. If I don’t agree with something someone writes, I’ll express my opinion, sometimes, in the comment section. That doesn’t mean that the person who wrote the original blog/article is somehow seen as a deficient in some way by me, it’s that I disagree with what they’ve written. To disagree with a person isn’t “mean”, necessarily. I think it’s when attacks do get personal, that people cross over the line. Even amongst the commenters, you’ll see personal attacks, which is kind of silly. Though, honestly, I’ve shaken my head at some peoples’ expressed views and absolutely think they’ve got a skewed view of things.
In real life, the only people that I have a really difficult time “loving” are those that have hurt others whom I care about and are seemingly unrepentant. I’ve been praying about this a lot lately, and don’t know how to overcome this judgmental distain I seem to have for them. If I’m honest with myself, I really don’t feel any love for them. Fortunately, I’ve only got a couple of people in my life like this – but I realize it’s a huge obstacle to overcome.
Sharon, this is the best reflection on and application of that Philippians passage I’ve ever read.
Sometimes on the harsh criticism, I remember to look to Jesus first (Heb. 12:1-2 style) and ask what he thinks about them. Seriously, that’s kind of how the prayer goes: “So God, what do you think about that? And what do you want me to think about that?” I don’t get there as often as I should, though. Sometimes I just go with belittling and condecension, sad to say.
P.S. Re that false humility/self-deprecation stuff you mention, Jon Acuff just ran a guest piece I did for Stuff Christians Like that touches on it a bit: http://www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2013/03/over-spiritualizing-self-deprecation/
Amazing post. Thank you so much! Blessings.