Eric Youngblood: The Virtue Of Talking Too Much

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - by Eric Youngblood

How do you reckon GK Chesterton could say, and mean, a thing like this?

“For he was a sincere man, and in spite of his superficial airs and graces, at root a humble one. And it is always the humble man who talks too much; the proud man watches himself too closely.”

The humble man talks too much? The proud man is the reserved one? Watching himself too closely?

As usual, the rotund contrarian proves uncommonly insightful as he exposes a misnomer regarding humility.

It’s frequently pictured as a sort of modest fiction. CS Lewis, envisioned, what would normally be a virtue of self-forgetfulness, as a devilish tactic of perversion for luring us into having low regard for our abilities and character, no matter whether they are or not. You know that switcheroo which’ll compel a handsome man to describe himself as homely and an intelligent girl to believe herself stupid.

But of course, God doesn’t value humility because of the falsehoods it cements in us. But rather, because it is the virtue that causes us to be, as Dallas Willard insists, “realistic about who we are.” It isn’t, after all, thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.

Unguardedly Chatty

And if we are indeed thinking of ourselves less then one of the natural fruits of that fertile condition will be that sometimes we might just find ourselves becoming unguardedly chatty.

Being emancipated from our native concern to “manage other people’s esteem and admiration” we can easily yield to a child-like interest in the subject, moment, or people at hand and get carried away with silliness, yappiness, or even uproarious laughter.

Listen attentively and without agenda sometime to an excited, but verbally able toddler, and you will have a delightful “sermon in shoes” of the beauty of humility in action; a virtuous state of being that is completely absent of the ubiquitous but deadly tendency to “walk alongside” oneself and watch one’s life as if it were a reality tv show, spectating one’s own footage, as it happens.

And children do not frequently suffer from “shame-hangovers.” Their humility inoculates them from it.

Dallas Willard who had a keen interest in teaching folks how to have an “interactive life with God” by showing the “availability of the life of the heavens right now” gave some counsel on developing a life of humility.

One, feature: “Never Pretend.”

Knowing how intent we are on projecting certain versions of ourselves, and how adept we all are at self-editing to manage the impressions of others, he insisted that the practice of refusing to pretend would have a formative effect.

When we pretend, we are being overly concerned with ourselves. To cease pretending is to agree to be who we are. To dwell in reality, not in our fragile imaginings, afraid of being discovered, and aware that we have just tricked others.

More Ohio Than Ohio Itself

John Gorka, my favorite melancholic-baritone folk singer,  apparently discovered the profound relief of not pretending in a ballad that reckons with the blue-collar toughness and alarming ordinariness of his home state, New Jersey:

I’m from New Jersey. I don’t expect too much, if the world ended today, I would adjust.

I'm from New Jersey. It's not like Texas, there is no mystery, I can't pretend.

I'm from New Jersey. It's like Ohio, but even more so, imagine that.....

He has wishes for his state like we might have for our lives. O that NJ were grand, and had a certain mesmerizing aura, or an alluring mystique, but alas, it's just New Jersey. More Ohio than Ohio itself.

But though he’s unimpressed. He is at ease. Because he, like any who refuses to pretend, is dwelling in the relief of who he actually is, and not playing charades.

And we’re certainly all expert charade players. Pretending to know more than we do, to have more than we have, to be busier than we are, or better too.

Practicing Not Pretending

So how do we NOT pretend when it is our native tongue?

We could start with practicing honest replies, and then acquaint ourselves with the statement, “I don’t know” when we don’t. Or it’s cousin, “No, I’m not familiar with that.”

Let’s try it: At dinner, someone you want to think well of you asks, “Have you ever read Shakespeare’s Macbeth?”

You are tempted to say, “Oh, yes, back in high school, but I remember little about it. But I do love Shakespeare.”

Of course, the truth might be something more like that you haven’t heard of Shakespeare and would rather read the back of the cereal box.

Well, then, here’s your chance. Choke down the pride lodged in your throat, and say clearly, “No, I haven’t read it.”

Then see if the world continues to turn--if you are still existing in the seconds following.

Your integrity will be in tact. You will not have put on airs. And your inquirer will have moved on to the remainder of their lecture. You will be, in the moment, not worrying over whether you just lied or not! And you will be free.

In realms where you are supposed to have some level of expertise, and are asked the type of question you presume you ought to be able to answer definitively, but just can’t....gather yourself, and instead of bluffing harder than the gambler in the Kenny Roger’s song of the same name, try, "I don't know.”

Gateway Drug to Self-Forgetful Humility

“I don't know” might be the gateway drug to begin to enjoy self-forgetful humility for a great number of us. It opens the way for us.

Want another rarely considered spiritual discipline for forming humility? It is rarely in the books on the subject. But it is exceptional. It’s called, “be willing to let yourself be embarrassed” for the sake of love, hospitality, kindness, or truth-telling wrapped in affection.

The next time someone drops in unexpectedly, or there is an unplanned chance to invite someone over, just do it and feel the momentary gag and burn of them seeing your home like you really live, like swigging down a glass of apple cider vinegar-water mix. The pungence will evaporate quickly as you focus on your guest, and not on your guests presumed opinion of you and your home.

AND they might just feel relieved. You know, to discover that other people live in their homes. They may have erroneously concluded from their entire lives of research that no one actually conducts family life in their actual house based on the fact that all the homes they visit are so pristine and perfected. What a gift your mess might be to their sense of well-being!

Accepting Acceptance

Of course, to have the courage and wherewithal to do any of this, you will need to gain the rare, but needful companion of humility called self-acceptance.

We accept the self that Christ has insisted to accept on the basis of his indomitable affection and curing sacrifice.

Leanne Payne remarks that “whoever has not accepted himself is engrossed with himself.” Self-preoccupation is a form of pride. Humility’s nemesis. 

She continues:

“It is only after we have accepted ourselves that we are free to love others. If we are busy hating the soul that God loves and is in the process of straightening out, we cannot help others. Our minds will be riveted on ourselves, not on Christ who is our wholeness.”

One of the great liberating gifts of what Christians call “the gospel” is that Christ himself as looked at us, warts and all, and said, “You are accepted and welcomed into the heart of things, even though, there is much about you that should not be and much that needs renovation.”

So now we don’t have to prove ourselves by pretending. If we accept his acceptance.

Now, we don’t have to live as if we were on trial, if we will accept his vindicating approval.

As we do this, we stop thinking about ourselves so much and our eyes magnetically open toward God and others around us. And it is all so terribly freeing.

In our church’s infancy, some 18 years ago, a thoughtful, articulate, and deliberate man, said, I believe, in a prayer, something like, “Lord, you know that I am prone to pretense.”

It was a simultaneous confession of his un-wellness AND his ever-increasing health. An implicit step toward spiritual recovery.

And he gifted a group of people flanking him in the congregation that day, as does anyone who ever has the courage to admit the sort of thing that will cause the speaker to feel a bit of feverish burn in the cheeks but the hearers a warm shower of relief to a bunch of aching muscles they have been tensely flexing so long they forgot they themselves could let down.

Blessed is the man who is prone to pretense, and will admit it and will practice not indulging it. For he is on the journey of happy-making, relief-granting, grace-attracting humility. And the rare prize he has, will inevitably be shared by all those before whom he refuses to pretend. 

------

Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at eric@rockcreekfellowship.org


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