“Mom’s the worst sinner in the family,” my 4-year-old repeated to house guests after our previous gospel conversations about repenting of sin.
Apparently. And you know what? There was a time in my life that would have been mortifying. Now, I hear it and think, Yup. Sounds about right.
Marriage and parenting have been one long journey (that’s not nearly over) of making peace with my true sinfulness and weakness. In other words, my family is teaching me humility. It’s been incredibly arduous, at times excruciatingly painful, and positively glorious.
Like any long journey, as much as you’d like to arrive at the destination (ASAP, please!), it takes time, discipline, and practice. Thankfully? Marriage and parenting are 24/7. So we have lots of opportunities for practicing humility at home.
Practicing humility = seeing yourself clearly
Practicing humility takes a healthy view of self. Often, too much arrogant pride (At least I’m doing it better than her…) or too much self-contempt (My kids would be better off with another, better mom…) make me fall off the tracks of thinking of myself in a healthy way. But marriage and parenting are teaching this recovering perfectionist to accept that I’m imperfect. I can’t expect or even hope for perfection this side of Heaven.
I recently read an analogy that helped me. In his fabulous little book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Timothy Keller says most of us live our lives inside a courtroom. Looking for the “ultimate verdict” about our truest identity in our accomplishments or the way others perceive us.
But if I spend my mental and emotional time wishing I cooked as often or kept as tidy a house as other wives (or tracking the #parentfails versus #parentwins), I have very little energy left to just be a mom and just be a wife. If I feel like the fails outweigh the wins, I wind up holed up in bed, wallowing in shame. If I’m feeling pretty good about myself, I run myself into the ground trying to gain more imaginary brownie points until I break and wind up back in bed.
Keller says to leave the courtroom. For those of us in Christ, friend, Jesus has already pled the case, taken the punishment for our guilty verdict, and declared us right with God. That is our identity. Our accomplishments, or lack thereof, are not who we are.
We are free and empowered to do what we are called to do (even if we are the worst sinner in the family).
How do we even go about practicing humility?
I think of pride as a never-ending escalator. To practice humility, we constantly, consciously choose to get off the escalator because, in terms of our identity, through Jesus we have already arrived.
Occasionally, I’ll have a powerful “come to Jesus” season. My pride looks as insidious as it is, and I am happy to need Him for every interaction with family. But that isn’t my natural inclination.
I’m imperfect. I will daily—sometimes hourly—sin against or fail my family in some way. BUT I can repent daily—sometimes hourly—to Jesus and my family, then receive the grace He secured for me.
It helps to know how pride plays out (so we can catch it and repent). When our feelings are too easily hurt by our spouse. When we feel defensive about something we said or did. When we resist giving real apologies (“I’m sorry you felt that way” or “I’m sorry I yelled, BUT YOU ____ ”). When we compare to another parent, either positively or negatively. That’s pride, but because of Jesus’ death, we don’t need to be consumed by it.
Laying down pride could be as quick as a breath prayer, “(inhale) It is for freedom, (exhale) Christ has set me free” (see Galatians 5:1). Or our souls could perhaps use an extended time of reflecting on the gospel and the identity Jesus laid down His life to give us: beloved child of God.
Then, free people, we do what God has called us to do! Love family with the same generosity Jesus loves us. Repent and ask for forgiveness often. Remember the best way to teach our kids the gospel is to show them what walking with Jesus looks like. It’s NOT perfection, it’s constant repentance and extending the freedom Jesus provides.
Joy in humility
The icing on the cake of gospel-humility is when we aren’t constantly doing things for our ego’s resume, we are free to do things out of joy. We are free to serve our families and others truly for their good (not to make ourselves look or feel good). The waters of our love and service are no longer muddied with self-promotion or vain conceit. We won’t be as easily sucked into divisive “jealousy and strife” (1 Corinthians 3:3). Or sucked into the shame vortex of the bed … in the middle of the day.
In this home, I am “the worst sinner in the family.” And I can (continually) “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (aka, that never-ending escalator!) and run with joy the race set before me (see Hebrews 12:1-2). Let’s live like free, humble people in our homes together, shall we?
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Laura Way serves with FamilyLife as a writer and lives in Orlando, Florida with her high-school-teaching husband, Aubrey, and their two vibrant young daughters. She and Aubrey lived in East Asia for seven years until relocating unexpectedly a couple years ago. She enjoys writing about becoming more fully human while sojourning through different places, seasons of life, and terrains of mental and spiritual health at hopeforthesojourn.com.