In Fr. Joseph Esper’s great book, Saintly Solutions, he recounts this memorable story:
“What deathbed advice would you give to your loved ones as you were about to leave this world? What one simple lesson would you want them to hold on to above everything else?
This question was faced by the holy bishop St. Francis de Sales as he lay dying in 1622. He had taken ill returning from a trip and stopped at a convent of the Sisters of the Visitation, asking for a small, simple room in the gardener’s cottage. As the end approached, he was in pain and lost the ability to speak. When one of the religious sisters gave him paper and pen and asked him what virtue he especially wished the sisters to cultivate, the saint carefully wrote one word in large letters: humility.”
I really want my children to learn how to be humble souls, especially in a culture that seems obsessed with pride, but I know that the greatest way I can teach them to grow in this magnificent virtue is to exhibit humility in a profound way myself. I know that humility holds the key to bringing my marriage and parenting to the next level. But knowing that and practicing it are two different things.
Are you a humble soul? Here are five signs you are on your way to making humility a habit:
- You recognize your littleness. Thérèse of Lisieux was an expert at this. She knew how small she was in relation to the greatness of God, and, embracing her own weakness and littleness, thus believed she had the power to become a great saint, because God loves to work with little, humble souls.
- You rely on God’s mercy. After recognizing your littleness comes acknowledging God’s great love for you anyway! Just like the little Thérèse, he wants to lift your littleness to the heights of heaven. No weakness of yours is too great for His mercy. Allow the knowledge of that to fuel your desire and quest for greater humility.
- You work to squash your pride. Now let’s get practical. Cultivating humility means uprooting pride, which can be painful, because pride hates to be squashed. But here is a simple way to do it: when you are tempted to pride, deliberately practice humility instead. So…
- When you are tempted to think highly of yourself for something you’ve accomplished or some talent you possess, thank God instead. Give credit where credit is due.
- When you are arguing with your spouse and you don’t want to give in, practice “self-forgetfulness” and focus on loving your spouse instead of being right.
- When your kids do something wrong or you make a mistake involving your children, forgive and ask for forgiveness.
- When you want to criticize others, encourage or compliment instead.
- You don’t take yourself too seriously. Deacon Douglas McManaman writes, “The humbler we become, the more true to our nature we are. And you know, when that begins to happen, the more laughter will there be in our lives; for the word humour is also derived from “humus”. The humbler we are, the more we are able to laugh at ourselves, for the less seriously do we take ourselves, and the more able we are to take in the humor that’s always around us. That is why among the arrogant one does not encounter a great deal of laughter except the sardonic kind that delights in the humiliation of others. The proud take themselves very seriously, but among saintly people there really is a great deal of laughter” (“The Glory of Humility”).
- You pray for humility. It’s hard to accomplish great things without prayer. To be a truly humble spouse and parent, you need to get on your knees and petition God to help you become one. Pray with Scripture, too, allowing God’s supreme example of humility—becoming man and dying on a cross for our sins—to sink deep into your bones and set in you a fire to posses a more Christ-like humility, and also a Marian humility, that says to God, “Be it done unto me according to your word.”
St. Augustine saw humility as the foundation of all other virtues. If a soul lacks humility, then only the appearance of other virtues could be present, though not the virtues themselves. If you want to be a virtuous spouse and parent, first form the habits of humility.