In January 2018 a 63-year-old Seattle social worker, Alan Naiman died of cancer. Alan had a small circle of friends who would have described him as a caring and giving person. They would have also told you that he was a very private person.
An Answer Later
But the thing that struck his friends most was Alan’s frugality. Alan was a guy who always drove old cars, wore out of style clothing, and even used duct tape to repair his shoes when they were falling apart. In fact, the only time he splurged on something for himself was the year his older, disabled brother died. To console himself over the loss of the brother he had cared for so long, Alan purchased a small sports car.
Alan had no family of his own. He died unmarried and childless. It therefore, made no sense to anyone that Alan was always working two or three jobs. Why was he always scrimping and saving?
The answer came shortly after his death. To all his friends’ amazement, Alan had amassed a fortune of over $11 million—all of which he left in his will to children’s charities. For instance, $2.5 million went to the Pediatric Interim Care Center. This is a private organization in Washington State that cares for babies born to drug-addicted mothers. The organization once assisted him when, as a social worker, Alan was trying to help such a child. With Alan’s gift, the organization immediately paid off its mortgage and purchased a new vehicle to help transport the 200 or so babies it accepts from hospitals each year.
Many other children’s organizations benefitted from Alan’s lifetime of labor and sacrifices. But why did he wait until his death to make these huge donations? He could have enjoyed all the accolades and bathed in the limelight his gifts would have generated.
Yet that is precisely what Alan was trying to avoid. He wanted to bless and benefit the kind of children he had tried to help the most without having the press making a big deal out of it.
You see, all those years of driving beat-up cars and wearing second-hand clothing were not due to stinginess. Those efforts were due to his modesty. That’s why he was secretive about the gifts he was planning to give. He was deliberately avoiding the attention.
Modesty is something our culture knows virtually nothing about—but would do well to apply by the ocean-full. Modesty does not draw attention to one’s self, achievements, abilities, and talents. It doesn’t flaunt one’s credentials and education. It maintains a measure of mystery about oneself, keeping back that good side of oneself to be known only by the individual and God. Therefore, modesty requires discipline, character, and self-respect.
Action in Silence
Would you like to see the opposite of modesty? Look at today’s politicians who report and shamelessly embellish anything they’ve ever accomplished in life. Look at today’s cocky and braggadocios athletes—especially in boxing and UFC competition. And look at the ostentatious displays of wealth and clothing of those who strut around as peacocks. That’s where modesty is lacking.
Our attitude should be one of humility—always recognizing God as the source of our good, accomplishments, and success. And our conversation and behavior should always be adorned with modesty.
Look at Jesus. We read in the gospels that Jesus, after healing many people, told those he cured NOT to tell anyone about it (Matthew 9:30; 12:15–16; Mark 7:36; 8:30; etc.). That is so counter to our culture and mentality.
Why did Jesus discourage people from telling others about the miracles He had performed? It could have been a measure to keep miracle-seekers away and allow room for the spiritually hungry to seek Him. But in Matthew 12:15–21 we read that Jesus did this in fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah 42:1–4, that the Messiah would not shout nor make His voice heard in the streets. The Messiah would come in humility and gentleness. He wouldn’t self-advertise or bring glory to Himself. He would only glorify His Father in heaven. That’s reason enough for us to be humble and exercise modesty. Jesus Himself did it.
Dear Father in heaven, help me, like Jesus, not to bring glory to myself but to always honor You in my speech and conduct. For You, O God, oppose the proud but give grace to the humble. Amen.