the difference between "i suck" and a truly humble heart

it’s been quite a month for me; i finished my initial training to be a very part-time university of phoenix online instructor (it was kind of intense and very good!).  jose and i squeezed in a last-minute-crazy-free trip to mexico and the next weekend i went to portland for convergence and got to hang out with some of my fabulous bridge-homepdx-portland friends who remind me that our crazy refuge dream is so worth it.  we launched voca femina, a creative site for women to use their voice.  during the month of february i posted 8 interviews with some of my friends who for one reason or another are on the margins.  i really loved the beautiful things that were shared and how many connections got made through their stories in wild little ways.

and now, here we are, in march!  between now and easter things are slowing down & i am going to focus in on some reflections related to lent.  i have been reading christine sine’s lenten guide, a journey into wholeness, and it has some seriously great stuff in it.  on the whole, i have never really honored lent.    i did not specifically give up anything this year to participate; we had a lovely conversation at our last house of refuge loosely connected with ash wednesday that gave some great focus to the upcoming weeks.  and what i am hoping to do is to use the next 40 or so days a bit more intently on the journey toward Christ’s resurrection.  and as usual, i am always about a week behind.  so while everyone else is on week two, i am just starting week one!  week one in the guide was  “a journey into the brokenness of our inner selves.” i love what christine says here about why this journey inward is so important at the beginning of lent:  “i am reminded of thomas keating’s suggestion that lent is a period for ‘confrontation with the false self.’ there are many places in which i struggle with my ‘false self’, that self which is disconnected from God and which behaves and responds in ways that are inconsistent with God’s kingdom values.”

this is a topic near and dear to my heart, the importance of a radical awareness of our need for God, of our humanness, of our tendency toward selfishness & fear.  and for some reason as i was reflecting on the material and this beautiful prayer i had this thought:  there is a big difference between “i suck” and a truly humble heart . you see, i am good at the “i suck” part.  it’s actually my first reaction whenever i am in a tough spot in a relationship, a conflict, or pretty much anything where i fall short or mess something up or let someone down.  it’s almost like a reflex-“i suck….i failed again….i can never get it right….i am a loser.”  it all sounds somehow “humble” in that it’s not like i’m trying to blame anyone else other than me.  but, in reality, it is a false humility, a cover, a counterfeit for true repentance and humility.  i think it’s actually got far more pride tangled up in it than i probably want to admit, because all my “i suck” thoughts usually never leads me to a bended knee before God.   they usually  just lead me to a place of continued anger at myself, then anger at other people for contributing to my anger at  myself, and then more anger at myself because i can’t stop being angry at myself.   honestly, “i suck” is completely and utterly self-centered.  it’s consuming.  it’s prideful.  it gets in the way of freedom.  and it is extremely off course from God’s true heart for his me.

true humility is totally different.  it is a radical awareness of our brokenness.  it is psalm 51it is a powerful appreciation of my humanity and a need for God’s spirit to change me. it is new eyes to see the damage i am doing to others, to myself and take responsibility for it (but without all of the peripheral loser-guilt-i-can-never-get-it-right feelings attached to it.)

i recently noticed the difference between “i suck” and true humililty in a small but very tangible way.  a few weeks ago i was in the world’s worst mood. i honestly can’t even remember all the reasons why, but i do know this:  i said some really mean things to jose that really hurt his feelings.  he was so honest.  and i was so mad at myself the only thing i could think of was how much i sucked.  i apologized but honestly it was just perfunctory.  i had no intention of letting myself off the hook so easy.  so i spent the rest of the night and through the morning in my own little shame party.  and then i can’t really explain it–i attribute it fully to the weird things the Holy Spirit can do-but i saw so clearly that i was so wrapped up in myself and all of my mistakes that i couldn’t even see how much i had actually harmed and hurt him.  in that moment, the entire table turned and i didn’t see what a loser i was, instead, i saw what harm i had done to someone i cared deeply about.  i felt a strong sense of sadness that made it easy to call him and apologize for my terrible behavior.  in fact, i felt an urgency to not wait another minute to make things right with him.

i think the same thing can be true with God. when we are stuck in a vicious cycle of self-loathing for one reason or another, it usually isn’t about anything except for ourselves.   we think who we are in our worst moments is who we really are.  i love the distinction the apostle paul makes in romans 7 about the difference between us and our sin.  he says “it’s not me, but it’s the sin that lives in me.” i think “i suck” is somehow refusing to bear the image of Christ in us.   it’s some kind of false pride that says we somehow know better than God.  it’s a false premise that our sin defines us,  not his resurrection. true humility is the beautiful and mysterious sweeping in of God’s truth & a recognition of our humanity and need for God’s healing and a powerful sweeping out of the ugly things that rob of us of joy and life and peace and free relationship with God and others.

the journey into the brokenness of our inner selves requires coming face to face with our pride, our ego, our fears, our insecurities and all the ways these things mess up our relationship with ourselves, with God, and with others. i want more true humility in my life; this will mean i must tune into a more present awareness of my selfishness and separation from God’s spirit and refuse to mask it with self-depracating thoughts about how much i suck.

one of the exercises in the lenten guide was to write on a mirror with dry erase marker and then wipe it clean in response to psalm 51 and “create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.” the picture is what i am going to keep up this week on my bathroom mirror.  it’s something i think i need to remember this week.

thank you Jesus, that you are an ever-faithful companion on the journey and a patient sweeper-out of what needs sweeping.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy, you have nailed it on the head. I call this post of yours “The Flogging Machine, part 2!”

    It is so timely for me to read this because I’m in the middle of this work of God in my heart calling me out of my own image of myself–good and bad–and to only accept His image of me. I’m getting glimpses of why Paul wrote, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” It’s the “I do not even judge myself” line that I feel I’m being called to go deeper into–and that is both for the good and the bad. His final judgment of my life was issued at the cross, and it is there I must rest. It’s so easy to write that and on some days it’s so hard to live it :-).

    I think the more we move into this, the more we are able to be focused on both our Father and other people in our lives because we are no longer expending energy focusing on ourselves. That is freedom!

    Thanks once again for your great words and beautiful heart being shared in a way that stirs me deeply.

  • true humility is totally different. it is a radical awareness of our brokenness.

    I miss reading your blog! This so resonates with me. I have often said of myself and to others, “I suck as a Christian but so do you.” I mean this half-jokingly, but only half. It’s the dark half in there that is weirded out between an awareness of my effed-upness and screaming pride that wants me to obsess on my own shortcomings.

    Humility is my favorite virtue about Jesus. I am a long way from understanding what humility means in my world, but this post brings me a few steps closer.

    Love ya!


  • Yeah. I needed that dose of reality today. I think it’s all about being palms up, open handed before the Lord instead of being hunched over, shoulders up over our ears in shame. And boy is that necessary but oh-so-hard to do.

  • Kathy, I am getting a bit tired of your meddling into the core of my life 🙂 You have once again put into beautiful words and thoughts the very thing that I struggle with on a daily basis. Thank you.

    I really appreciate the gift that God has given you to be able to write the words of your heart. God has used this blog in my life in many ways and this post is another example of that.

    Humility is a difficult thing at best, and a hard lesson to learn. “I suck” is much easier place to live in, but as you have pointed out, not where God wants us to be in relation to Him or others.


  • Wow, Kathy! I think this is the first time I have read your blog… so precious! I really have been battle-ing with this very thought for the last week. That song we kept singing at Convergence that says “I have changed, I am changing, etc” has been playing in my mind so much as I contemplate my sin and my response to it. I am really trying to get away from my old ways of self hatered and measuring one or two sins as worse than the others and yet when I fell on my face recently, instead of getting up saying I suck, I got up and said, Oh Lord, I am human and I need you to help me change! Maybe this is a step in the right direction for me. Thanks for this reflection! I will continue to consider it. And I love the picture of your mirror! Blessings and hugs to you!

  • Oh, Kathy, I love how honest, how real you are, and how beautifully you put words to this. Thank you!

  • Kathy – I totally agree with you! I find myself saying how stupid I am or how I really messed up but know, deep inside me, that it is pride, not humility that takes me there. Somehow, I think I can take care of everything without ever messing up or saying anything wrong – where does God fit into that? He doesn’t!! When I realize that my need for Him is so deep and that without Him I am nothing, I am beginning on the road to humility. It means looking at the world through different eyes – His eyes and letting my own expectations of myself go. I am struggling with this big time with the kids living in our house. It is so easy for me to get in that “if I was just a better person” mode which doesn’t help anything.

    Anyway, thanks for the post – it is, as always, excellent food for thought.

  • Yes, I agree. I have had the same experience and wrote this about it:

    “Then of course there are times when I am genuinely guilty. However I find I would rather resolve it my way than accept God’s forgiveness and grace. It is said the devil will try to copy anything of God’s. He will even try to copy the conviction of the Holy Spirit on a person’s life but instead of it being true conviction it is contempt. Conviction means I have done something wrong but contempt means there is something wrong with me. It is when we say “I hate myself” instead of “I hate what I have done”. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking we are being humble when we berate ourselves or think by condemning ourselves it will keep us from doing wrong again. But in reality contempt is the devil’s counterfeit for true conviction.”

  • What a great post! I think you’re quite right that our tendency to dwell on our suckiness is really about pride. I wonder if our telling ourselves we suck all the time is a little bit of a way to keep God at a distance and to keep ourselves in control of our identity. Putting our identity in the resurrection means giving up ourselves, no?

    Anyway, your post was especially striking to me today because I just read Graham Greene’s novel, The Heart of the Matter, last weekend, and the main character gets completely caught up in that whole spiral of self-loathing. He only sees what he’s done wrong, and he refuses to see God’s forgiveness, even when God speaks directly to him, pleading with him to recognize that there’s still hope. Greene actually said that this character’s sin was pride.

  • Wow. I almost feel like you were reading the conversations between my husband & I (and Minnow & I too) and wrote this just for me — which shows just how much of an issue I have with this self-focus/ self-centeredness.

    How awesome is God that He uses you to impact me so much. Let me share with you this phone call I made to my husband this afternoon:

    “B — God is really showing me just how off track I’ve been in my relationship with Him. I really believe that most of my life, I just used Him as my ticket to heaven and never even tried in any way to let Him live in me daily much less through me to others. I am so selfish. I am so individualistic.

    I am so prideful – I used Him for me…. how disgusting. I should be trembling & bowing down & worshipping this almighty Creator of the universe.. and I treat Him as if He’s my free ride and that He owed me or soemthing! I am disgusted with myself.

    I have been asking Him to keep me humble, to take away my pride. and I feel that He’s doing that — but now that I see myself for how ugly I am — where do I go next? Why am I worthy to be saved? or am I not? He just feels pity for me so He trhew out the lifeline of Jesus?

    I am finding out that I have seriously been judging my righteousness in comparison to the world’s instead of His…. and I am just broken at how broken I am. My sin is disgusting and horrifying. Not because it would send me to hell without Jesus — but because of what it is.

    I don’t let Him live through me to help others at all. I’m not a “doer” of the Word yet at all.

    Yes I believe in His grace and that He covers this. That He’ll take away the blame & shame….. and I cast it on Him – but how do I not let it break me? How do I erase it from memory too? How do I not use it to beat myself up?

    How do I get over myself — yet still somehow love myself? How do I accept His grace and not become prideful? How do I accept how much I am the worst — but somehow be able to have confidence to impact others? I’m at a stage where all I see is His awesomeness and my brokenness and I feel so insignificant.

    why do I feel like I’m just starting all over from square one again and that I’m just becoming a christian again all over again?”

    PHEW so that was basically the conversation between my hubby & I…..

    and then I read this entry and started bawling — as always. The Spirit reminded me of this verse, “Those that look to HIM are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame” psalm 34:5

    His whole point in this whole lesson was to refocus my eyes on Him. He thought I was worth saving – somehow by looking at Him, maybe I’ll see that too. but you’re right – when I’m so wrapped up in myself – there’s no room for Him.

    I know He won’t be able to fix this issue overnight — but I just feel so much hope. He is working on me and once again teaching me this lesson…. again…. to focus on Him. I wish I could learn it once and for all. To love myself – I must fall in love with Love Himself. To have enough room for the ugly, broken, disgusting and sinful (me) I have to tap into His mercy & love.

    Thanks so much for sharing your heart Kathy. God really used you today.

  • p.s. I think I’ll reword & write this on my mirror:

    “it’s a false premise that our sin defines us, not his resurrection. true humility is the beautiful and mysterious sweeping in of God’s truth & a recognition of our humanity and need for God’s healing and a powerful sweeping out of the ugly things that rob of us of joy and life and peace and free relationship with God and others.”

    this truly is why I haven’t been able to reach out and be a do-er like my heart yearns to be …. how could I even see anybody else around me when I’m so blinded my myself?

  • Really good stuff, Kathy. I’m part of a (very) small group that’s working through Christine Sine’s Lenten guide together as well, and I felt like this shed some real light on some conversations we’ve had. I forwarded it to my friends. Thanks!

  • Kathy – Good stuff here as always. It reminds me of when I first realized that having a
    low self esteem was as prideful as an inflated ego – they both were all about self. It seems
    that a lot of Christians seem to think that putting themselves down is virtuous. It may have something
    to do with how the church has put more emphasis on how unworthy we are and not enough
    emphasis on us being created in the image of God. Somehow in my mind this also relates
    to the way many Christians seem to act like it would be wrong for them to accept a compliment
    for something they have done well or some success they have achieved. I don’t think that is
    a right image of what humility looks like. It seems to me that true humility has to be linked to
    having a right and balanced perspective/view and that somehow having a right perspective/view frees
    us from having (or being compelled) to be self-centered so that we can be other-centered.

  • Dear Kathy,

    Thank you so much for all the feelings and emotions you are sharing with the world!! I was struggling with these emotions recently aswell, thanks again putting them into words!! ElsX

  • ugh!!! this post highlights one more reason that i suck!!! hahahahahaha!!!!!!

    i’ve been so weighed down by my thoughts of all my shortcomings and failures. i know i am selfish and could make a LONG list of things that are wrong with me. to believe that Jesus died for my sins, that isn’t so hard, but to believe that Jesus can really change me…be formed in me? yeah, right, whatever. that thinking is so prideful and i know it, but it is what i believe. there is also a huge amount of fear. that it is too good to be true. because let’s face it – i know myself. and fear of disappointment…something with which i am way too familiar. there is a chasm between the me i am and the me i want to be. a part of me believs that God is ABLE to fill it, but is He WILLING to fill it? for me. specifically. and if He is, will i let Him. can i let Him?

  • hey all, thanks for all the wonderful comments…

    tracy – i am so glad it stirred up some good stuff. yes, the Holy Spirit is always stirring the pot!(in a good way, but sometimes it’s awfully painful. i always call it the pleasure and the pain) xo

    pam – thanks for sharing & yes, i am with you, i am on a continual journey to knowing more deeply what true humility really looks like, feels like, is. pride is far more my reflex. i loved seeing you in pdx. you rock.

    amy – nice to hear from you. i have been enjoying reading your blog. yeah, “hunched over, shoulders up over our ears in shame” is no way to live. certainly not what Jesus had in mind for us when he said that he came that we’d have life and have it to the full.

    john – sorry for the meddling; i promise, i don’t mean to! i am so glad you are part of this community here and some of my crazy thoughts resonate with you. and yes, i so agree, i suck is way easier, safer, than true humility. see you next week.

    dan – thanks. and for the link love, too.

    vivian – oh what a beautiful story. thanks for sharing a piece of your heart. that song is stuck in my head, too. i have been playing the cd a lot in my car and those lyrics are so powerful. i love what you said here: “instead of getting up saying I suck, I got up and said, Oh Lord, I am human and I need you to help me change!” there it is.

    angela – thank you, my friend

    patty – thanks for sharing & i am with you that the reflex is so easy, the path of least resistance for me is always toward “i stink” instead of the much harder road of letting God really reveal truth to me and transform places in me that need transforming.

    susan – thanks for your thoughts here. beautiful.

    teresa – nice to hear from you here. yes, i so agree with you: “I wonder if our telling ourselves we suck all the time is a little bit of a way to keep God at a distance and to keep ourselves in control of our identity. Putting our identity in the resurrection means giving up ourselves, no?” in my life, i know that’s what it looks like, somehow my “i suck” feelings keep God at a distance and me safely protected. pride and control are very effective at a nice little barrier that will keep me safe, unemotional, and detached from God’s true heart for relationship with me. thanks for the book rec, too. sounds really interesting.

    randi – wow, thanks for everything you shared here and for your honest processing about what’s been stirred up. lots of amazing shifts in all kinds of ways. it’s hard but oh so good. love to you!

    mike – nice to hear from you. that’s fun, i have really enjoyed the guide and it has spurred some great conversations, that’s for sure. i always like to hear what you are doing there, too, at common table. we both love our crazy little communities, don’t we? what a gift…

    amy – thanks for your beautiful thoughts as always

    liz – there is so much in what you shared that resonates for me! i am with you, “Christians seem to think that putting themselves down is virtuous. It may have something to do with how the church has put more emphasis on how unworthy we are and not enough emphasis on us being created in the image of God.” i have a little story about this i will probably write on eventually, but there is a little girl at the refuge that is 4 who every week always gives me a huge hug. i love her to pieces, she is so dear and her mommmy and grandma are so beautiful, too. anyway, she comes up to me and i say “you are just one of the the sweetest little girls in the whole wide world & i love you!” and she gives me a hug and walks away and i keep talking to whoever i was talking to. 5 minutes later she comes up to me and taps me, interrupts me, and so i stop my conversation to talk to her, and she says “kathy, you know why i am the sweetest little girl in the whole wide world?” and i’m like “no, why?” and she says “because my heart is good.” i said to my friend, “now wouldn’t it be beautiful if she held on to that thought forever? that her heart was good because it was made in the image of God? sure, i know our hearts have some really ugly things in them, too, but i believe wholeheartedly that we were created in God’s image from the beginning and through Christ that image is consistently being restored. “i suck” is a reflection of a distorted image of ourselves & i believe sometimes a reflection of a distorted image of God, too. sorry for the ramble, your thoughts just made me think of it!

    els – always love hearing from you here & glad these thoughts resonate with you, too.

    davida – oh the last thing i want is to highlight one more reason to suck, hahahha! great to hear from you! such honest thoughts you shared here and i think so many can connect with this in different ways. i think the part that i resonated with was the “chasm between the me i am and the me i want to be.” and the dangerous ground we can live in when we are focused on our shortcomings and the chasm instead of somehow experiencing love and grace and understanding in the present, just as we are, without having to somehow be somewhere we’re not. i also thought of what you said at the end and it relates to the song that vivian and i have in our head from the bridge: “will i let him, can i let him.” the song says “i am clean, i am new. i am changing. i am changing. can i let it? can i let it? can i let it?”

    okay enough rambling for one commment. love you all & your sharing here.

  • One year to the day you posted this, I have found this blog. I was looking for the words to say to a friend and this was perfect. Thank you so much for sharing your heart.


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