“On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.” Michel de Montaigne
Don’t judge me, but the other night when there was nothing else on TV, I fired up 4oD and watched the first episode of Scandimania, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest venture.
I’ve been keen to visit Scandinavia for a while now and honestly, I thought an hour in front of a harmless cookery programme with nice scenery would be pretty easygoing.
Then something surreal, and then profound, happened. Hugh – that’s right: eccentric, wonderfully British Hugh – met with Björn Ulvaeus, one of the members of Swede synth sensations ABBA. Out of that coming together of two people you’d never put in the same room, I found myself thinking about humility.
Lagom is a Swedish word that, as Björn explained, doesn’t really have an English equivalent. It’s one of those times when the English language doesn’t quite have the depth that so many other languages have. The closest it seems we can get in English when it comes to lagom is ‘just enough’.
More than just a word, for Swedes it signifies a way of life – a recognition that excess is often dangerous, that there is usually just the right amount of something to be had, that any more or any less is a waste.
Lagom got me thinking. Because for a long time, humility has been something I’ve struggled with. It seems that being humble is deeply ironic because the minute we think we’ve done well at being humble, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot. (That’s an over-exaggeration, of course). I want to be humble for many reasons, not least because it’s Biblical (see Luke 14:11 and more), but also because living humbly is a beautiful, counter-cultural thing. But to this point, I haven’t quite found a way to work out what humility looks like.
It’s not putting myself down, lamenting my shortcomings, highlighting my deficiencies. Equally, it’s not bragging about how good I am, how much I’ve prayed lately, how many people read my articles.
It’s just enough. It’s recognition that we have God-given talents and should use them and take pride in them, because we are using them for God. But at the same time it’s realising that what we have comes from God, and that our place before him is a humble one, where we lay down our lives for others and for God.
Lagom. Just enough.