Healthy humility lightens the journey

January 25, 2017 | Viewpoints | Volume 21 Issue 3
Melissa Miller |

I am in my 60s, as are many of my friends. Our parents, if they are living, are in their 80s and 90s, with the accompanying challenges and rewards of that season of life. The experiences of the parents impact their children significantly. Now, when I gather with my peers, we often talk about our parents. The stories we tell may be distressing or inspiring, funny or heartbreaking. Mostly I am thankful for companions who listen and commiserate.

“How is your mother?” a friend will ask. Truly I am uncertain how to reply. “She’s fine, she’s doing well,” could be one response. “She is spunky, she is spirited, she is keeping up the good fight,” could be added. I could say that her sharp humour still seasons her interactions. Or I could say that she is struggling with physical and emotional losses, that she has a great deal of arthritic pain, that she is often at odds with the family members most involved in helping her. She tells me that it’s hard growing old, and sometimes she feels discouraged or depressed.

Recently I had the opportunity to live near my mother for four months, which gave me a first-hand account of her daily joys and struggles. As a result, I have more appreciation, gratitude and humility. I better see how she copes with pain and adversity; I admire her pluck and adaptability. Although her choices may worry me, I recognize the fierce life-force that lies behind them. More appreciation and gratitude helps to soften the tensions.

I am grateful for her long years and her faithful witness, for the bounty she showered upon her family, and continues to offer, especially favourite foods from her kitchen. I am grateful for the home she has provided, in my case for more than six decades! I am grateful that she has lived well as a widow for nearly 20 years. I am grateful that she includes family members in medical decisions and has her necessary financial and legal papers in order.

And I am humbled. In spite of my best intentions, I am not the daughter I would like to be. I am not as patient, as understanding, as calm, as forgiving as I think I should be. Being physically closer meant that I did have more opportunities to help my mother; it also meant more opportunities for tangled communication.

At the end of one difficult interaction, my mother harrumphed, “I agree with your husband. You are as stubborn as your mother.” We didn’t laugh at the time—there was too much mother-daughter steam in the room. Humour, though, does help us to not take ourselves so seriously. Laughing at our foibles helps us grow in humility.

Humility is a Christian virtue. Jesus highlighted the humble—those poor in spirit and meek—in the Beatitudes. The Apostle Paul singled out this characteristic of Jesus, who “emptied [humbled] himself” to become human (Philippians 2:7-8). Richard Rohr, in his Jan. 12, 2017, online meditation, said, “[T]ransformation is found in one of God’s favourite and most effective hiding places: humility.”

Perhaps you are seeing connections between humility and humanity. The Latin root word humus, meaning “earth” or “soil,” feeds into all these words. Humility, then, difficult as it may be to achieve, is organically connected to our humanness. Like the soil, we are created by God and composed of living matter. We are earthy, strong and fragile, gifted and broken. In our relationships, especially when things aren’t proceeding according to an idealized script, humility is a golden gift that lightens the journey.

Melissa Miller ( has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.

See Melissa’s other columns in the Healthy Families series:
 Healthy diversity 
Healthy families adapt 
Healthy leadership 
Healthy citizens 

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