I knew that some day it would come. I just wasn’t ready for it when it happened. But there it was, in the mail. In the upper left corner of the plain white envelope were four letters: AARP. I was being scouted by the geezers.

Its optimistic tone couldn’t mask the baleful implications of its message: “Our records indicate that you are already missing out on great benefits, yada, yada, yada.” Well, their records were wrong! At the time, I wasn’t even fifty years old – at least in that regard I was like Jesus (John 8.57).  

Regardless, the signs were already there. My youngest child is the only one to not remember me having hair. When I played football or basketball with my son, I was in pain for days. My oldest daughter could outrun me. My clothing began shrinking at an alarming rate. My forehead got taller and taller. My cholesterol had far outstripped my IQ.

Could geezerdom be far behind?

As I pondered the letter, and my reaction to it, I first thought to myself that it was a humbling experience. That wasn’t quite true. It would be more accurate to say that it was a humiliating experience. To humiliate is to “make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect” (Oxford American Dictionary). To humble someone can have the same meaning (at least in English), although it primarily means to “lower (someone) in dignity or importance” (Oxford). 

In Biblical thought, to be humbled is to be brought low. Humility is lowliness of spirit. It’s not so much having a poor opinion of yourself, your accomplishments, or your abilities; rather it’s simply not allowing self to enter the picture. Paul said that humility involved regarding others as more important than you and considering what’s in the best interest of others before considering your own interests (Philippians 2.3-4).

Where humiliation and humility differ is in their origin. Humiliation originates with our egos. When we’re humiliated, it’s because our egos have been bruised. We think, “How dare they do that to me!” Humility originates with a conscious decision to quit thinking of self. Self isn’t allowed an opinion about how others treat us. So then, if we’re injured or ridiculed, there’s no need to react with shame or embarrassment because we realize our self-worth is unchanged. We think, “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” (Hebrews 13.6)

Too often we react from an inflated ego rather than a humble spirit. Insults and injuries (real or imagined) ignite us in a moment. In our minds we have something at stake, something to defend, and we react accordingly. 

Jesus expects more from his followers. It’s no wonder Jesus said that to be a disciple, a man “must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Luke 9.23). Step one is self-denial. In this we’re only following Jesus’ own example: “And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2.23). Perhaps the reason we do so poorly in applying this is because we’ve never mastered step one.

Humility is liberating because it allows us to function in a variety of circumstances, good or bad. When self is no longer the reference point of our existence, we’re free to pursue other, more worthwhile things. Such humility enabled Paul to say, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12.10).

For most of us, the biggest source of misery is not age, illness, money or persecution. Our greatest source of misery is self. So long as self holds first place in our lives, we may expect regularly to be humiliated. 

And as for me and my mail: “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What will AARP do to me?”