God-Given Humility as Resistance to Exhaustion and Burnout
It was December 2023, and the Advent season had just arrived. I was looking back on one of the craziest years of my life, filled with unexpected events. I’d been more “productive” in 2023 than in any other year prior, but I couldn’t escape this weird notion that despite all that, I’d basically accomplished nothing.
It always seemed like there was more to do. More to write, to read, people to reach out to, places to travel to, coffee to drink, entertainment to be enjoyed, spiritual formation to be experienced, and on and on. Maybe you can relate. I felt like nothing I did was satisfactory, and that my own high (albeit vague) standards to perform and to excel had robbed me of the simple notion that we aren’t designed to do everything or to be everywhere all the time.
Then Kelly Kapic’s book landed in my lap at an opportune moment. If you relate in any way to the litany of exhaustion I’ve just expressed, you might benefit from it, too.
Kapic is a professor of theology at Covenant College, and he says he’s been mulling on the idea of human limitations for the past twenty years. His reflections have paid off in his book You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News.
Kapic begins by reminding us that having bodily, emotional, and spiritual limits isn’t sinful. That’s how God created us, and when we try to overthrow such limits, we end up quite like I did at the end of last year: burnt out, exhausted, and unfortunately not at all grateful for all the apparent goodness of life.
In fact, while it’s not at all sinful to have limits, persistently trying to overthrow our limits amounts to a kind of hubris. The word “arrogance” derives from “arrogate”—trying to appropriate too much to oneself, overwhelming and distorting one’s capacities. In his wonderful chapter on humility, Kapic writes, “Simply put, pride ignores God as the giver of one’s mind and skills, while humility employs these gifts as an expression of worship and as a way to help others.”
The quip recalls a passage from C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters when the dour uncle Screwtape is teaching his nephew Wormwood the subtleties of false modesty. Screwtape, who, despite being a senior demon, knows what God really wants from his children, explains true humility this way:
“[God] wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.”
We Christians can be masters of generating a list of what we’re terrible at; mistakenly, we call this “humility.” Kapic has something different in mind—a biblical understanding that regards humility as a commitment to the truth and a proper recognition of both one’s capacities and limits.
Kapic also includes a section on vulnerability, and its imposter, “fauxnerability,” which can be used to manipulate others into feeling sorry for oneself. It involves the “act of appearing to admit sin, weakness, or need in a shallow way that doesn’t really put the speaker at any risk” (p. 203).
That one really hit home for me. Growing up in church, there were always those common sins that were so innocuous that now I’m not sure they qualified as such. Failing to read the Bible daily, not praying enough, and caring too much about sports seemed to be the worst we could do. More serious, though, is the attempt to cast our faults as misfortunes for which we’re only partially responsible. Real vulnerability, as Kapic reminds us, means telling the truth regardless of what kind of light it puts us in. That’s the kind of vulnerability that heals.
The false variant of vulnerability is quite pervasive online. Users “overshare” their struggles, traumas, and neuroses on Facebook or Twitter but then fail to confide honestly with actual friends and family members who know them. Or perhaps, given that social-media users lack deep connections, they turn to the internet for the solace and validation they crave. Kapic also notes how pastors and church leaders can talk about their “struggles” at the pulpit but in such a way that manipulates the congregation; the goal is not to maintain accountability but to garner pity.
In my own life, I can distinctly recall times when I discussed my “sins” and dysfunctions with others, only to realize I was using people as a way to make me feel better about myself. “You’re not that bad.” That’s what I really wanted to hear! The moments of true vulnerability involved getting called out, exposed, and then accepted. To be truly known and loved even in our darkness—that’s what we long for and need the most.
You’re Only Human is a rich, insightful, and encouraging book reminding readers that they are secure in God’s love, and don’t have to strive or perform to earn acceptance. Nor must we dismiss our limits as barriers to righteousness. To the contrary, our limits are part of God’s design, and they are where we meet and commune with our Creator.
Related: Creature Comforts: Human Identity Starts with Creaturely FinitudePeter Biles
Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.• Get SALVO blog posts in your inbox! Copyright © 2024 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/post/youre-only-human