Whenever I’m paid a complement, my first instinct is to respond it’s negative counterpart.
“I like your hair,” she says, and instantly I feel I must tell her that it takes a good half hour to blow dry and that I look like Medusa’s twin each morning. A woman at church complements my toddler’s behavior, and I am quickly prompted to point out that if she looks up “strong-willed” in the dictionary, his name will be right there.
It’s as if I need to balance the scales. If I replied with a simple thank you, would she think that I was agreeing to the complement? How proud is that?
Except that sometimes, I think my view of pride and humility gets all wonky. The less I like myself, the less I acknowledge my talents or my blessings, the more humble I am, right? Or, maybe not?
Honestly, I actually feel like when I’m less available to accept complements, I’m less open to giving them — really, truly giving them — no matter how humble I sound. Unless I’m comfortable with being who I am, I’m not really great at being comfortable with who you are.
C.S. Lewis says that God wants a man to be able to build a cathedral and admire his work no more or less than if it were done by anyone else. That’s what I want my thought process to look like. I want to be grateful for who I am, at ease in my place. I want to celebrate the fact that others are better at their things than I am. I want to see her post on Facebook about the gourmet dinner she cooked up for $2 a person and comment, “You are amazing! Your family is so blessed! I am so glad you enjoy this!” without thinking of what it means about my cooking, whether the thought is that I could do that if I tried, or that I am just so not measuring up. I want to be able to acknowledge her skills with just as much excitement as if I had accomplished it myself.
I want it to be ok that we celebrate each other. I want it to be ok that we are all different. I think if we were all really amazing at cooking, crafting, encouraging, writing, speaking, working behind-the-scenes, organizing, nursing, and singing – we would have no need for each other. Also, it’s just exhausting to work so hard to be so good at so much. (And, really, you don’t want to hear me sing.)
I’m trying to teach myself that it’s ok if God made me with really gorgeous toes, and her with amazing fingernails, and you with beautiful eyes. I mean, why do I have to deny my toes their full glory? The same God who made them made her fingernails and your eyes. The same God who gave me a love for words gave you a hand for crafting, or a knack for teaching, or an ability to tell jokes (because that is just something I am severely lacking). I’ve tried too long to be a good joke teller, a pretend crafter. It’s not me, but it might be you. And how exciting for you! How exciting for me that I have others to come up beside me, do life with me, supplement me where I’m lacking, be used where I am ineffective! How beautiful it is to see God’s handiwork in your life, in her life, and, yes, in my life.
He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours. —The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis