“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise, nor disgrace, because you know who you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.”
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta as quoted in Donna-Marie Cooper O-Boyle’s Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa: Prayers, Reflections, and Activities for Families
My little Rachel had a very exciting weekend. She and Madeline (with me running along with them as their cheerleader) ran their very first 1-mile fun run. Madeline ran ahead of us toward the end; the girl’s got long legs. Get this: She’s only 7, and I can already wear her shoes. I’m thinking she’s going to take after her tall Daddy rather than her shorty mama.
Rae’s legs aren’t so long, at least when she’s up against bigger and older kids and a racecourse that includes a killer hill. Yet, the girl would not stop. With firm determination, cheeks flushed, she kept on running. I told her several times that it was okay to walk if she was getting tired.
“I’m not tired!” she’d insist each time.
When the finish line was in sight, my 4-year-old started sprinting ahead. I didn’t tell her that that’s what you’re supposed to do at the end of race. She instinctively just did it. Her arms pumping, legs flashing forward, eyes set on the colorful flags flapping in the distance, she pushed ahead.
She finished the mile in a little over 10 minutes.
I was impressed, but I wasn’t surprised. My Rae is a lot like her mama: competitive, sensitive as well as her own worst critic.
What did surprise me was that she won first place for girls in her age group. Not only that, but the child closest to her was several minutes behind. My 4-year-old girl was fast.
Now before you dismiss this as a senseless post in which an obnoxious mother brags about her little speedster, there is a point to me sharing all of this. Bear with me, please.
She came home with a big trophy that’s still being displayed on the kitchen counter. She glances at it every now and then, smiles, and says, “I can’t believe I won first place.”
I was proud of her determination. I was proud of how she was excited but didn’t gloat over her triumph. She exhibited humility.
And so did her big sister.
Madeline is used to excelling at things. She’s our first child, a natural leader. Rae adores her big sister, but I’m sure it sometimes feels like Madeline has left a trail of pretty big (literally as mentioned above) footsteps to fill. I wasn’t sure how Madeline was going to react to her sister’s outshining her for the first time. But when we returned home, Rae clutching her flashy trophy in her hands, I saw both of my girls shine for their Daddy.
Rae showed Daddy her prize. Madeline stood behind her, grinning, and said, “She was so fast! She won first place. Isn’t it great?”
Indeed it was, but it was just as great to see a confident Madeline celebrating with her sister instead of feeling envious or feeling like she didn’t measure up.
It’s easy for me to forget that there are two sides to humility. I’ve always been decent at admitting when I was wrong. Sometimes I’ve been too focused on my wrongdoings, faults, and failings, in fact – so much so that my obsession with what I do wrong morphs into a false form of humility and keeps me from turning to God and believing in His unwavering love and mercy. Woe is me. I’m such a sinner. God will never want to be friends with me.
Being aware of our humanness and accepting our limitations is essential to being humble. However, there’s another side to real humility that hinges on our ability to not only accept our limitations but to also be grateful for our strengths as well as to joyfully celebrate those who may be stronger or more gifted than us.
My children don’t have to be less to be humble. They don’t have to be more or to win every race either. They just have to live up to their personal best, to be grateful for their accomplishments, and to appreciate the gifts and talents of others. And then to give all the glory – their own and their little sister’s – back to God.
When I see Rae’s mighty trophy, I smile because I feel like the real winner on race day was me, knowing that my two oldest girls are growing in virtue in spite of anything I do right and despite all that I do wrong.