“We have to keep looking both ways to remain humble and confident, humorous and serious, playful and responsible.”
– Henri Nouwen
Henri Nouwen was the unofficial patron saint of my graduate program at Wheaton College. His deep affirming love for humanity and his honesty about his own struggles to live a faithful life made him a key figure whose influence continued after his death in 1996. Through his writings, I have been challenged to accept the paradox of my humanity as a wounded healer.
Too much humility results in self-assassination. Too much confidence leads to foolishness and hubris.
Humility puts a check on our stubborn pride and opens us up to new experiences. Confidence allows us to take risks that promote our growth.
Soren Kierkegaard once described two kinds of despair that lead to existential anxiety. The first is wanting in despair not to be oneself. The second is wanting in despair to be oneself. Both kinds of despair lead to fear, doubt, shame, and guilt. Kierkegaard’s antidote to this despair, which he called “the sickness unto death,” is for the self to “rest transparently in the power that established it.”
Humility and confidence make way for a kind of radical self-acceptance that allows us to acknowledge the truth of who we are, but also to outlive our life and become more fully ourselves.
Christian teaching affirms that human beings carry the spark of divinity, but at the same time are prone to death and disease. Part of the process of therapy is restoring the balance to rediscover our infinite worth and our finite existence. As the old creation myth in Genesis teaches, we are made from dust, but we’re brought to life by the very breath of God. We might be dirt, but we’re inspired dirt.