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Teaching Humility

  • July 31, 2021
  • By Donielle
Teaching Humility

I was ranting about the clothes laying on the bathroom floor.  “Is this left here for me to pick up?  Is that my job?  What am I, your servant?”  That saucy 13 year old came back at me with, “Well, I did hear you pray for God to give you a servant’s heart.”  And that is what happens when you have clever teenage daughters and you pray with them regularly.  But really, that’s what comes of scolding from my high horse.  My mama used to say that if you are humble, no one can humiliate you.  Humility!

She was right.  There’s a big difference between being humble and being humiliated.  Humiliated is when you are proud or arrogant and you are knocked down a few notches.  It doesn’t feel good, does it?  If we choose humility, we avoid that fall.  When we build our kids up falsely, we are setting them up for that painful fall.  If we tell them they are awesome at everything, and we are dishonest for fear of hurting their feelings, we do them a great disservice.  Get used to saying something like, “Well, it wasn’t your best work, but I could tell you put in a lot of effort and I was proud of you for trying.”  “I love you no matter what.”  “A little more effort and that could have been really great.”  Be kind, not critical.  Praise effort, not results.  This way you teach them not to fear failure.

First lessons in humility

Humility is first learned serving those around us, our own families.  Start by assigning chores.  A long term study done by the University of Minnesota found that children who started chores at 3 or 4 years old were the most successful in their 20s.  The later they started, the benefits decreased.  And paying the child for chores greatly reduced the benefit.  The earlier that children learned to function as a part of the family team, the better adjusted they were as adults.  They had better mental health.

Despite the benefits of doing chores, only a fraction of parents today assign household work to kids. A Braun Research study found that out of 1,001 parents, 82 percent grew up doing chores at home, but only 28 percent assign regular chores to their kids.

Why? I contemplated this and I figured it out.  There are no more chores that need doing at home.  We did all the laundry and dishes and dusting in the 80s when I grew up and nobody created any more.  We eradicated dust and dirt. 

But really, why chores?

Seriously, why is it?  There are some authors that have a pretty good idea of why.  Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Breheny Wallace, March 13, 2015:

  Today’s demands for measurable childhood success—from the Common Core to college placement—have chased household chores from the to-do lists of many young people. With students under pressure to learn Mandarin, run the chess club or get a varsity letter, chores have fallen victim to the imperatives of resume-building—though it is hardly clear that such activities are a better use of their time. 

Says Julie Lythcott-Haims, Author of “How to Raise an Adult,” In her TED Talk:

Many parents may be focused on more elaborate types of achievements. “We’re afraid our kids won’t have a future we can brag about to our friends and with stickers on the back of our cars,”

Ouch.  And I am guilty of excusing my daughter from taking out the garbage so she can finish a chemistry lab report and maintain her 4.0 GPA.  It really seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  It never ends up being a one time deal, does it? 

Dirty work

But Our KIDS WILL PICK UP THE PRIDE and ARROGANCE WE HAVE TAUGHT THEM.  Our children are reflections of us, so often. Encourage them to do the dirty work.  This involves rides from you.  This involves pain on your part, watching your kids work hard and not get the credit you think they deserve.

My girls are theater girls.  They love the stage.  They are very talented.  So I require them to participate in set up/ clean up, sew costumes, paint props, all of the not so glamorous behind the scenes work.  Stores sell shirts and handbags and little signs in glittery pink for girls to call themselves “Divas”.  Guess what?  Nobody likes a diva.  No divas allowed!  Is the slogan in our house.  Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3-4

Self-esteem’s day is over

How many of our daughter’s role models can be described this way?  How many people set up as “heroes” to our kids, by the media, can be described this way?

As a matter of fact, am I am about to say something really shocking, to stay with me – self-esteem is bunk.  It is a garbage idea.  Throw it out.  The self-esteem movement has done an entire generation a deep disservice. It started with the best intentions. In 1969, Nathaniel Brandon wrote a paper entitled “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” that suggested that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life”. Hearing this, many people started to find ways to confer confidence upon our children. This resulted in competitions where everyone gets a trophy and no one actually wins. “New games” attempted to engage children without any winners or losers.

The parents who embraced these efforts did so out of love and with the most noble of intentions. The only problem is that these efforts simply do not work. Self-esteem is not something conferred, it is earned through taking risks and developing skills. When children stretch themselves, they expand their sense of their own capability and then feel confident to tackle the next challenge. Confidence comes from competence – we do not bestow it as a gift.

Relatedly, we also spend too much time protecting our children from any pain or adversity. We hate to see them struggle and we suffer when they suffer. But the same loving envelope that protects them from pain also protects them from growth.  (Steve Baskin, Psychology Today,  Dec. 31, 2011). We are inadvertently stopping our kids from learning humility.

What then?

What the Bible teaches is Others-esteem.  Consider one another more highly than yourself.  We are to get our sense of self (our self worth) from our identity in Christ.  In Christ you are a new creation.  2 Cor 5 :17.  And that is not lack of self-confidence. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Col. 3: 1-4

We will reign with Christ.  We are royalty.  This is our new identity and it changes the way we see ourselves and everyone else we come into contact with.  Self worth is knowing you are a dearly loved child of the Highest King.  I do not allow my children to self-deprecate, even to be funny.  We must learn to laugh at ourselves, but not make fun of ourselves. 

Humility is right relationship

Humility is about right relationship with God and others. Encourage kids to notice and love those around them.  Julie Brasington’s book “The Kindness Antennae” is a great place to start.  I chair a board that gives out college scholarships.  We see perfect SAT scores regularly.  I read each mini- autobiography of each applicant.  300 words about themselves is plenty to know if they are humble.  It is always the kids that have logged a thousand gritty service hours doing unglamorous things that show the most humility. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  Humility is the fruit of loving others.  if we don’t have time to think of others, we are too busy and it is time to cut something out of our schedule.

My own mom taught me humility by making me help her strip and wax the floors of the little church in Lauderhill that I grew up in every summer.  It was miserable thankless work.  It was hot, the floors seemed massive to me.  No one ever noticed or even thanked her for it.  It was her spiritual act of worship.

Family pride

Sometimes pride can be a family sin, a trait passed down generation to generation that is really imbedded in who we are.  My mom’s side of the family is Scottish.  They are the proudest people.  They don’t need help from anybody.  And we never admit we are wrong.  Pride creates quarrels, conflicts, and barriers in relationships. 

I have spent countless hours praying that this trait is not passed down to my children.  I have spent the past decade pouring out my heart before the Lord, asking Him for the humility of Christ.  Jesus is our example.  He was perfect in every way, but was the example of a servant to everyone.  I was born a type A personality, over-achiever, in the gifted program at school.  Top of my class from K through law school.  And that is where I got my identity.  Where are your kids deriving their identity?  Academics?  Sports?  Dance?  Being a weird outsider?

So failure of any kind has always felt devastating.  I was a big fish in a small pond with a big head.  And what a painful lesson to learn that we are not the best at whatever.  Identities rooted in performance are destined to crumble.  Why set your precious children up for that painful lesson?

If you are stuck at home with your kids and their attitudes and behaviors are driving you crazy, remember this:  You are probably not experiencing a new issue.  Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:45 that the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  What is coming out of your children’s mouth and your mouth as well, is what has been festering and growing in the heart for a long time. 

The antidote

Parents, this time at home together is a special gift you’ve been given to see up close what is in your child’s heart so you can pray for them and with them, so you can guide them to the One who changes hearts, and so you can correct them.  This is a Divine appointment from the Lord, a gift for you.  Teach humility today by having them serve one another.  Let big brothers and sisters change diapers, give baths, sort toys, do dishes, make meals, and teach simple school lessons.  Just playing a game with them or creating a blanket fort can be a sacrificial act of service, depending on the age gap you have.  Let little brothers and sisters, make beds, make sandwiches, dust, empty trash cans, sharpen pencils, set the table, and care for older siblings pets.

And as soon as you are able, take you kids on mission trips and let them serve the lost, the least, and the left out.  Have them work in food pantries, serving the homeless.  Take them to visit nursing homes and teach them to interact with the elderly, especially those who can barely converse. 

And most especially, teach them to serve one another. When they argue and fight, require them to ak forgiveness of each other.  Sibling fighting will decrease dramatically when you praise the times they serve each other instead of their grades, performances, and good looks.  It takes effort.  Look out for service and praise it with a hug and occasionally ice cream. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love! Ephesians 4:2.

From a talk given at Moms on a Mission.

By Donielle, July 31, 2021
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1 Comment
  • Josie Mijares
    August 1, 2021

    Loved it all, Donielle. I am passing this one to my nieces and nephews for their kids who are young enough to start now.
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

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