I am a recovering know-it-all.
It didn’t help to grow up in an environment where knowledge was valued at a premium. Good grades were a must, as was the ability to speak with intelligence on just about every subject.
That’s really hard to pull off when you’re young and still learning.
But I wanted to please, so I tried.
In high school and college, I took part in conversations that were over my head. I didn’t really have anything to contribute, but I wanted to appear smart. So I’d fake it, scraping bits and pieces of loose knowledge together to offer a seemingly intelligent response. Yet I secretly feared someone would call my bluff and see through my desperate attempt to cling to my know-it-all mask.
What a fruitless pursuit.
I didn’t gain closeness with the smart kids, the fellow know-it-alls puffed up in their own knowledge, wanting only to prove themselves. I sought acceptance and intimacy, impossible to find in a contest of the minds where opponents seek to dominate.
This pursuit continued until I was in my thirties. The cost was steep. My puffed-up knowledge created awkward situations and turned people away. Some people told me I was intimidating. I hated that label. That’s not how I saw myself. But as my faith life became more alive and personal, I sought to change it.
I studied the scriptures. Jesus knew EVERYTHING, yet he was so humble, washing his disciples’ feet on the very night they would all desert him. He intentionally subverted his knowledge to interact with regular human beings like me. If Jesus humbled himself, surely I could do the same.
I reflected on my education and work experience. I was in the gifted program in high school and graduated with high honors. Disillusion came crashing down on me as a college graduate. Instead of creating art and writing poetry, I answered phones and sorted mail for a dollar over minimum wage. Again and again my work experience stood in high contrast to my education and my expectations.
As I reflected on those times, I realized God had used my trials to humble me. I no longer saw myself as fully capable of answering every question and solving every problem. He humbled me through work, and that was good for me.
I reflected on my childhood. The person who overvalued knowledge probably regretted not pursuing higher education, and unintentionally cultivated toxic seeds. I think they struggle deep inside with a lack of self-worth and cover it over with layers and layers of knowledge. I didn’t notice that as a child. I have compassion now I see that truth. I also see how a lack of humility has cost this person many relationships. I don’t want to bear that cost in my own life.
Recently I took a spiritual gifts inventory, similar to the test I took 20 years ago. In both tests, knowledge was in my top three strengths. Knowledge is a gift God gives me. It belongs to him, and he is trusting me to use knowledge for his glory. He wants me to draw people to him with knowledge, not push them away.
The only way I can draw people to God with knowledge is to temper it with humility. Knowledge is strong and powerful. It will overwhelm people, like a too-bright beam of sunlight on my houseplants. If I filter the light by tilting the blinds of humility, knowledge promotes health and growth.
I like this verse in 1 Peter 5:6 (NLT):
So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.
I’m no longer on a quest to puff myself up with knowledge. I have hope that God can teach me a new way to use what I’ve learned. He’s gifted me with knowledge, but he’s also granted me humility. I am hoping God will continue to soften my heart with humility and temper my knowledge with wisdom.
Now I’m pursuing humility with a passion, trusting that God will lift me up in honor as he so chooses. I want to be rewarded more for humility than knowledge, placing a premium on what God values most.
Questions for reflection:
In what ways do you struggle with puffed-up knowledge?
How can following Jesus’ example of humility breathe life into your relationships?
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