This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:10)
In about the last twenty years, the job of parenting has expanded to include a concern for our children’s self-esteem and self-image. Consequently, we find ourselves in a culture of children and young adults who struggle with the opposite end of the spectrum, self-inflation.
In his book, The Collapse of Parenting, Dr. Leonard Sax explains, “A culture of self-esteem leads to a culture of resentment. If I am so wonderful, but my talents are not recognized and I’m still nobody at age 25 . . . then, I may feel envious and resentful of those who are more successful than me.” In comparison, “The culture of humility leads to gratitude, appreciation, and contentment.”
At face value, it is a noble desire to want your children to have a positive self-image. However, oftentimes, we confuse confidence with high self-esteem and cowardice with humility. The difference between those lies in the source. The source of self-esteem and an inflated self-image is the person: “I’m a good person, I’m awesome, I’m very talented, I have these accomplishments.”
In contrast, the source of a confident humility lies in God who created and the blessings thereof. It might sound like this, “God has gifted me in this way, so I will work hard to glorify Him.” Or “God has called me to this task, I know He will give me the strength to see it through.” The confidence is not in us, but in God. This is the sign of a true and right self-image.
So how do you teach your children real humility? I believe it comes from making sure they understand three essential truths:
- A right understanding of who they are. We are all sinners, saved by grace. Even on our very best days, we need God’s guidance and mercy on our lives. It will serve our children well to remind them of that. Whatever talents or gifts any of us have are to be used to edify and encourage others in the Lord. If the world happens to take note of an achievement, we must train our children to understand that it is God’s handiwork that they see. In the same vein, we must teach them that, once they accept Christ, they are already accepted fully by Christ (Eph 1:6). There is no need to work ourselves into a harried stupor trying to earn God’s favor. He has already bestowed upon us his love because we are His, not because of something that we have done or can do.
- A right understanding of other people. Continually throughout the book of 1 John, we see the need and importance of loving each other. Again, this charge to love is not rooted in the fact that we are great people. It is rooted in the fact that Christ loved us and laid down his life for us. We should, in turn, do the same for others (1 Jn 3:16). We have to understand and teach our children how God places other people in our lives for the purpose of encouraging each other in the Lord. Even if another person is not a believer, God can use that relationship to grow and strengthen us. Other people are not to be manipulated or used for personal gain of any kind, for that would be cheapening their worth and influence. A great way to show others that you care about them is to genuinely be interested in their part of the conversation. Dr. Sax mentioned this as a true sign of humility: being able to be truly interested in the lives of others. Ask questions. Listen to their stories. Oftentimes, we are so busy thinking of what we want to say, that we miss the opportunity to love through our conversation. True humility cares about others and loves them well.
- A right understanding of God and His purposes. There is only one God and it is not me or you or our children. The most loving thing we can teach our children is a proper view and respect of the One True God. Culture tells children that they can do anything, but we, as parents, must show them the beauty of acknowledging and embracing the boundaries that God has lovingly placed before us. We trust Him, not as a last resort, but as a daily sacrifice to God, an act of humbleness before our Maker, the Creator and Lover of our souls. True humility is one of the most counter-cultural traits we can instill in our children. However, it is the key to fully experiencing the joy of living in Christ.
Other practical habits might include household chores and decreased involvement in social media. These things work to promote confident humility and deemphasize the emphasis on self.
The concept of a healthy and proper self-image, one that is grounded in who they are in Christ and how they can bless others, is a true gift we can impart on our children and the next generation.