The Virtue of Humility: Part II

Towards God

Your very first duty as a parent is to teach your child to render himself entirely obedient to God. Period. There is no next best thing. There is no consolation prize for the parent who neglected this one divinely given duty. If your child is elected president of the United States or appointed to the Supreme Court but is not humble before God, he or she has amounted to nothing. Ask yourself, would you be “proud” if your child cured cancer but took the credit rather than God? The world tempts you to glory in your own success as a parent if your honor roll, all-American athlete gets into an Ivy League school.

Remember this: the world does not value humility. But will you?

Teaching your son or daughter that their successes comes from God is paramount in the spiritual life.

“The truly humble man considers that whatever is good in his material or spiritual nature is like unto the streams that have come originally from the sea and must eventually return to the sea, and therefore he is always careful to render to God all that he has received from God, and neither prays for nor loves nor desires anything except that in all things the name of God be sanctified: ‘Hallowed be Thy name’ (Matt. 6:9).” [1]

When your child succeeds in small ways or great, tell him immediately to thank God for his blessings. Eliminate the word luck from his vocabulary; help him learn that all things are the result of divine providence. “We were lucky to have good weather during the game,” must become, “We were blessed to have good weather during the game.”

Gaze at the stars with your little one and explain the vastness of the universe. Tell your child that there are an estimated two hundred billion galaxies. Tell your little one that holding a grain of sand up against the sky covers up ten thousand galaxies. Tell your son or daughter that God holds each one in the palm of His hand. Tell her that humility is understanding God’s magnificent power, and that before Him we are nothing—like a speck of sand in the vast universe. But then emphasize that despite our smallness and insignificance, God became flesh and dwelt among us. And as the ultimate sign of Christ’s humility, He allowed the Roman soldiers to torture Him to death.

Hope and pray, Loving Parent, that your child will mature with a keen sense of wonder and awe at God’s majesty and the fragility of life, particularly his or her own mind, power, and goodness. By marveling at the Infinite, you will give your child a sense of joy and gratitude, and yes, a sense of self-worth, for every fiber of his or her worth comes directly from God.

Indeed, the greatest commandment is an act of humility, bowing before His majesty. “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength” (Mk 12:30).

Therefore, the second greatest commandment leads us to humility towards others.

Towards Others

“And the second is like to it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mk 12:31).

What a perfect expression of humility towards others. Truly, it is a great act of humility to love another person, especially those who aggravate you.

Your neighbor may be your superior, your equal, or your subordinate. But how do you treat each of these? How do you teach your child to respect each of these? Oh, how often, Dear Parent, have you seen your child compare himself or herself to others! How often have you heard your teenager make a subtle but prideful remark about how the awkward kid looks, walks, acts, or sounds! How often have you heard your child return one verbal blow for another! If you desire humility yourself, then you must be reminded that your child has learned more about pride from you than anyone else. 

So, how must the truly humble man act towards others? Humility of Heart lays out the cold, hard truth—a truth ever so difficult to internalize:

“The truly humble man believes that everyone is better than himself, and that he is the worst of all. But are you really humble like this in your own opinion? You easily compare yourself with this one and that one, but to how many do you not prefer yourself with the pride of the Pharisee: “I am not as the rest of men” (Luke 18;11). When you prefer yourself to others, it often seems as if you speak with a certain humility and modesty, saying, “By the grace of God, I have not the vices of such a one: By the grace of God I have not committed so many grievous sins as such a one.” But is it really true that you recognize that you owe all this to the grace of God and that you give Him the glory rather than to yourself? If you esteem yourself more highly than such a one, and if he in his turn esteems himself inferior to you, he is therefore humbler than you, and for that reason better.”[2]

But how do you practically help your child become humble towards others? After all, your child is legitimately better at many things than others. How do you navigate the young mind towards humility? The author of Humility of Heart cites St. Thomas in providing four ways to help us practice humility towards others, and we can easily apply to your child.

  1. Impress upon your child’s mind that he owns the vices and that God owns the virtues. Children do not mind, I promise you, giving God the credit for their strengths—only adults do. Then, focus the child’s mind on the general blessings that the neighbor possesses as a gift from God, such as human dignity.
  2. Help your child find some particular good quality in the other person that your child lacks. This takes creativity on your part, but if you set your mind to it, you will have one of the most fascinating conversations with your child.
  3. Do the inverse. Lead your child to admit a fault of his own that the other person lacks. Again, an amazing insight will arise from your child and your heart as a parent will be lifted. Lovingly agreeing with your child about his shortcomings is a remarkable thing—a liberating truth, a bonding between parent and child. Your souls will look at each other like never before.
  4. Lastly, you must do the difficult task, especially as your child ages, of warning him that a secret pride might be lurking deep within his soul, so deep and treacherous that he is not aware of its presence. Yes, you must instill a deep awareness in your child of the devil’s cunning and guile.

In conclusion, Christian Parent, you cannot give what you do not have. If you practice this very exercise towards your own enemies, you will be better equipped to instruct your child in the ways of humility towards others.

Towards Self

If you dare, ask yourself:

  • Do you consider yourself virtuous because you perform little charitable acts here and there?
  • Are you impressed with your own devotional life or knowledge of the Faith?
  • Are you confident in your own ability to figure out moral problems?
  • Do you fish for others’ compliments?
  • Do you feel good when others compliment you, or do you feel ashamed that they do not know the viciousness of your own sins?
  • Do you use your words to prove others wrong?
  • Does your mind quickly critique another person, or do you patiently seek the good in what the other person says?
  • Do you find yourself criticizing another person behind their back? And have you really considered the incredible burdens that they carry and difficulties they have overcome?
  • Are you quick to give your opinion to others as if you know better than them, and do you welcome the opportunity to share your knowledge with others?
  • Are you a little too impressed with your looks, your clothing, your style? And are you quick to draw conclusions about others based on their appearance?

An examination of conscience according to the virtue of humility could be extremely lengthy and burdensome. However, making an extensive list for yourself and your child is certainly worth the effort, for no one becomes a saint without seeking to eradicate pride. Far too often you admit, “Yes, I struggle with pride.” Oh, but is it not pride that prevents you from digging deep, perhaps hours upon hours of reflection on just how pride infects every area of your life: how you walk, talk, think, work, teach, listen, eat, sleep? Pride, my Dear Parent, is so insidious that it is present in every aspect of your life. And the moment you are aware of your own small improvements in your humility, you become prideful about your own humility! This is precisely why the truly humble man or woman actually—literally—believes that they are the most wretched of creatures.

After your child has learned the basics of a good confession but before the teenage years begin, sit down with your child and go through every area of life to examine the presence of pride. Truly, a great act of humility on your part would be to share some of your own examples. In fact, the surest way for our children to be truly humble is if you, Dear Parent, are truly humble. A prideful child is often the fruit of haughty parents.

You want your child to be analytical in finance, in mathematics, in pursuing career options, but why not in the one realm that truly matters? Take every ounce of precision that your own mind can muster, combine it with passionate zeal for the state of your child’s soul, and help your child learn, practically, how to search for hidden pride in every area of life.

What a gift you can give your child!

And when your bones are humbly rotting in the ground, and your adult child is on his or her knees in the confessional, and is seeking absolution for the slightest prideful thought, desiring to root out every remnant of pride towards God and neighbor, God will reward you for a job well done.

[1] Humility of Heart, p. 38.

[2] Ibid., pp. 157–58.

This article is taken from a chapter in Parenting for Eternity by Conor Gallagher which is available from TAN Books.



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