Fighting for Humility

Humility is a hard-learned lesson. Just ask any kid.

Or, ask my kid. My six year old totters in this odd place between thinking he can’t do something at all or that he is absolutely fantastic. Either he cannot read or he is the most skilled kindergarten reader that ever walked the face of the earth. Either he cannot build the Lego set himself or he is such an adept architect that surely Lego Magazine would like to feature him in their next issue.

When he is in that place of supreme confidence, the lessons often come hard that he is in fact not the savant he believes himself to be.

I rarely let those learning opportunities pass without jumping in to lecture him against boasting or false pride.  But this is a tough one to teach. Little ones’ developing senses of self naturally want to recognize any attribute they can possibly (or imaginatively) accredit themselves with. And yet, at the same time, they often possess fragile self-esteem that we certainly do not want to squash.

I am treading in the common parental paradox of teaching humility and modesty while also to have self-esteem and confidence.

And really, this is tough to do.

I don’t have to work at remembering to tell my son when he has done a good job, when I am proud of him, that he is loved by me and by the God that created him. But I do work at helping him to see the value in focusing on others and not himself. I try to teach that humility is a big fat key to opening doors of friendship and success, to living the life God brilliantly taught us will bring joy.

So... however do I convey to my children that to value humility is one of the most profound pieces of wisdom I can offer them?

I say the words over and over again. I try to find new words to say the same things.

But the words don't mean much to a six year old, I'm afraid. Not yet anyway.

I hope over time they will. And until then, there’s also the real-world-learning creeping into his developing personhood. I watch him get wrestled to the ground and have to get back up -- literally, wrestled to the ground. His older cousins take him down easily in good natured wrestling matches, in spite of his taking martial arts lessons - and thereby of course being a superhero fighter of Jedi-skill and strength, in the confines of his own mind. He doesn't heed my words warning against building up his fighting skills, but he does get knocked into teary humiliation on occasion. And I’m okay with that.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I feel bad for my little guy every time. But I figure a little wrangle to shrink his head down to a size that suites him better is okay.

After all, it is humility that leads us to a place of honest recognition of who we really are. It is humility that brings us to acknowledge our need to trust in a God who is greater and wiser than us.

Certainly I would prefer my son didn’t have to get knocked to the ground to be reminded he can in fact be knocked to the ground. Better that we remember we are not Jedi fighters before we start fighting. But I’ll take the fight, if it must be so, over the alternative.