Lessons in humility from a three year old

I’ll never forget the day when my three year old turned the tables on me. We were on our way to a birthday party, but had to stop for a quick errand first. After we left the store, I stowed some groceries in the back of our car, then buckled Henry into his carseat. Just as I sat down behind the wheel, my son cried out from the back: “Hurry UP, mommy!”

Lessons in humility from a three year old

His urgent demand stopped me in my tracks, and my hand hovered over the seat belt buckle. I was furious with his tone. I couldn’t believe his audacity. “Don’t rush me!” I shot back at him. Then, with a stirring of conviction, I drew in a quick breath as I remembered the hundreds of times I’ve hurried him along for my own important agenda. I took a moment to look inward, and discovered how irritated and annoyed I was at feeling rushed in that moment. I glanced in the rearview mirror and looked at Henry with new eyes. I resolved not to make him feel that way any more. 

In the following months, there were many opportunities that came along to test my will to be more patient. I had ample time to practice slowing down in our daily comings and goings. Each time, I reminded myself to stop rushing, breathe, and calm my anxious energy about being “late,” all to varying degrees of success.

The surprises of motherhood

No one ever told me what a humbling endeavor motherhood would be. It is a perspective shift away from yourself – your needs, your desires, your talents – and onto someone else. The shift comes as suddenly as an earthquake, the tectonic plates rearranging themselves under your feet: it’s all about you, until suddenly it’s not. Before our first baby is born, we suffer from illusions of our own power and control. But oh, how quickly we are set in our place!

  • When the parenting advice we’ve tried doesn’t work.
  • When the best we have to offer isn’t enough.
  • When we face challenges we didn’t see coming.
  • When we come to grips with what we can’t control.
  • When we are confronted with our own selfishness as we are asked to put our needs aside for the baby. 

Motherhood is just one more tool God can use to shape us. God calls us to become more like him, and he sent his son Jesus to show us the way. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18: 3-4 ESV)

How to be humble

Our natural inclination is to want to be the greatest. Like the disciples, we jostle for the best position, the most accolades. We want to be the moms who have it all together, who run our households like well-oiled machines, whose children are picture-perfect. We want to be the best moms we can be, or at least to maintain that illusion on the outside. But to be humble, we must first turn, and then become like children: teachable, open, trusting, and unassuming.

Motherhood is a prolonged exercise in humility as our children grow to become miniature reflections of us.

Motherhood is a prolonged exercise in humility as our children grow to become miniature reflections of us. That day in the car, Henry’s words mirrored back to me a picture of how I’d been treating him. I was brought low by that experience, made aware of my need to turn and sit at the feet of Jesus, ready to learn a better way. May we carry that same child-like posture in our hearts as we seek to lead humble lives, turning to and learning from our heavenly father.

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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