My children have seen me cry. While I don’t let them care for me as a parent may care for a child, I will let them see me shed the tears when I’m sad, discouraged, or anxious. All three of my kids know I am a person of integrity and determination; they also know that I’m not afraid of being vulnerable. This willingness to be open about my rough days and rough patches took some intention. When I learned about the power of humility, I became far more comfortable with my own limitations. I also learned that serving others is one of the great joys in life.
Asking for Help is Not a Sign of Weakness
I went to see Sam at an especially trying moment in my life. We agreed to meet at his place, so I could keep my pain and my anger private. I admit, I was terrified to “spill my guts” to him. While I trusted Sam immensely, I was ashamed to show up so broken, so frustrated by my work life, so powerless to deal with a conflict in my extended family. Back then I saw myself as an “ice in the veins sort of guy.” I always had a handle on my stuff. Even during the trying times, I could always point to God’s plan in my life, and the steps I needed to take to stay focused on the plan. People often came to me when they were struggling, not the other way around. But, I admit, this time was different. My carefully maintained façade of invincibility was cracking and I had no idea how to get beyond it.
At the low point, I swallowed my pride and turned to Sam. He was wise; he’d traveled a broken road before; he would listen. We sat in Sam’s sunroom that afternoon. I remember the light in that space, and the look of the neglected plants he’d placed on the shelves. It was all small talk at first, after all that’s how these sorts of conversations usually begin. Eventually, Sam insisted that I level with him. “Michael, I know you’re not here to talk about football.” “You’re right,” I replied.
For the next two hours we conversed about small town life, the trials and tribulations of adulthood, burnout, and, perhaps most importantly, my mortality. “You’re not invincible,” he told me, as he then talked about how God was still moving through this rough patch in my story. “I’m not saying you’re arrogant,” he continued, “I’m saying that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.” With that advice, I opened the spigot.
One of my great heroes of faith is a “saint” the ancient Church donned “Francis of Assisi.” While there’s not enough time to tell Francis’ full history, it is important to note that Francis had a reverse rags to riches story. The son of a wealthy merchant, Francis shunned the family money and privilege in a quest to draw closer to God. It worked. For Francis, a comfortable lifestyle had become a distraction in his spiritual life. In Francis’ story, humility required stripping away material goods and comfort, so he could focus on his neighbors and the creatures of the earth. Francis lived in caves and arbors in lieu of lavish homes. He used his money to tend to the personal expenses of the sick and profoundly poor. Francis also shunned elaborate attire, choosing instead to wear bland, coarse, robes and tunics. The Franciscans — Friars — live in poverty to this day.
In one’s quest to live humbly and model humility for children, one must come to terms with mortality. No amount of wealth, health, power, or emotional strength can overcome every obstacle on the road of life. When we confess that our days on the planet are in diminishing supply, it begins to change the way we live. Francis discarded stuff. I eventually discarded my pride and stubborn self-reliance. What’s keeping you from embracing a more humble — grounded — vision for your life? “Humbling yourself” isn’t about living miserably or austerely, it’s about recognizing that “no man’s an island.”
I tell my own kids, “None of us stands at the center of the Universe.” This subtle call to humility is intended to remind my three that their wants, as important as they may seem in the moment, are just grains of sand compared to the world’s needs. Saying no to some of your kids’ impassioned pleas for stuff, entertainment, money, and the like, reinforces the idea that “getting everything we want” is not a faithful, humble aspiration in life.
Die a Little so the Other Can Rise
If you’ve accepted your mortality and place in one of the outer rings of the universe, it’s a bit easier to “die a little bit for the other.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Christian theologian of the World War II era, called this “dying for the other” the “cost of discipleship.” Humble people recognize that their neighbors’ burdens are their burdens as well. Our willingness to take some of the load from the one who is struggling, means the other stands a little taller.
Every time you invite your children to partner with you in act of service on behalf of an important cause or suffering person, you are showing them taking on some short-term discomfort may enhance someone else’s long-term health. Humility is often seeded in these unsung deeds.
Cherish Your Gifts, Don’t Flaunt Them
I want my kids to learn the value of generosity by my example. Indeed, I find great joy in offering my gifts and personal resources when and where they are needed. Consistently, however, I shun recognition for the positive things I say and do. You should too.
Humble people are talented and generous folks who don’t need to receive accolades talents and generosity. Knowing that someone is having a better day because of a generous act of kindness or an outpouring of a particular gift, should always be more than enough incentive to do the “humble thing.” If you want your kids to reflect your humility, remind them that their gifts and resources are tools for service, not keys to entitlement. Recognize and celebrate all that your children have to offer the world; just make sure that their offering them.
Sam was right. Honoring our mortality is not a sign of weakness. In fact, humility is reserved for the strong. If you are confident in God’s provision, lowering yourself and giving the best of yourself away for the other, will come naturally.