The average person thinks they are decidedly above average.
It’s a psychological phenomenon known as illusory superiority and it shows up in all types of ways. The basic premises is this: Although it’s impossible for everyone to be above the median, people consistently rate themselves higher than average when it comes to most positive traits. In other words, we’re usually enraptured with our own abilities.
This isn’t particularly harmful most of the time. In fact, it can actually be a positive force toward good mental health, avoiding depression and anxiety. We have a foundational need to feel good about ourselves and our agency in the world.
The obvious danger is that we can hold others to standards that we do not reserve for ourselves. We are privy to our own intentions and desires, so we tend to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt while judging others on more objective criteria. We can be blind to our own deficiencies and shortcomings or avoid them altogether.
Which is why Jesus’ first statement in his Sermon on the Mount is so intriguing:
God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. — Matthew 5:3
Now, as a general rule, the Beatitudes are descriptive rather than prescriptive. So Jesus isn’t asking us to make ourselves poor in spirit so that we can be rewarded with blessing. Instead he is pointing out that when we realize our own need, blessing is available.
He’s revealing a truth; not asking for performance.
The obvious tension here is this: I like to feel good about myself. I’m not that great at assessing my own status or abilities. I avoid looking at my deficiencies and would rather ignore them.
I’d like to pretend that I’m good on my own. But the truth is that’s just not reality no matter how much my own psyche would like it to be.
I don’t need to become poor in spirit; I am poor in spirit.
And my deep desire to turn a blind eye to my own brokenness and need only causes me to evade the grace God has in store for my life.
I’ll be honest — I used to think that the more I walked with Jesus, the more I would have things nailed down. And yet the longer I go in this journey, the less and less I am sure of. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some rock solid truths to life that I am more convinced of than ever. But it seems that day by day I realize more and more that I don’t have all the answers.
I should have seen this coming. The most spiritually mature people I know seem to be the people who are most aware of their own need for God.
That is why I love this first statement of the Beatitudes. In so many ways it is the foundational statement of the list. And it is the linchpin of the entire sermon and Jesus’ ministry as a whole.
God’s grace is available to the broken. You just have to admit that you’re broken.
God’s saving grace always comes at the time when we admit that we’re out of our depth. His help is always there when understand we’re in over our head.
The beginning of this journey is found at the end of ourselves.