Glee is my dream show. I love musicals. I love silliness. And I love high school. No. Scrap that. I did not love high school when I was in it. But, somehow, high school people became my career. And I love high school people…which means I’ve spent a LOT of time in and at high schools since leaving the one I attended in the nineties. So, when I watched the Mattress episode (this past weekend…we’ve been catching up on Hulu), in which Rachel poses for every club photo in her goal of total club domination, I couldn’t stand how much I loved it. I was Rachel in high school…accept way less talented and probably less annoying because I tried not to talk so much. But the earnestness? Yes. The awkward yet almost cute clothes? Yes. The longing to be in every club humanly possible? Yes. However, Rachel and I had different goals in mind. Her goal was to get her photo in the yearbook on every page in order to prepare for her future singing and acting career. My goal was to be in every club so that I would win the most awards possible my senior year. I’m not joking.
It worked. I won a LOT of awards. And then high school was over and no one has any memory of who was “Senior Girl of the Year.”
I’ve always had an obsession with being exceptional. That’s why I struggle as a stay-at-home mom. I want to be someone of significance, someone important. Now, if you’d like to, you can start whispering emotionally in my ear about how significant I’ll be in the lives of my children and I can nod my head and smile and say, “Yes, that’s true.” But your explanation won’t be enough for me. I would rather be important in the lives of thousands of children. I would rather get streets named after me and live a life that inspires. My need to be affirmed by you is the sign of something much deeper in me, something broken.
I’ve had a sticky note on the wall above my desk for the past four months that reads: “Accept my own smallness.” That’s the phrase David Robinson uses in his book, The Family Cloister, to describe humility. St. Benedict defines it in his Rule as being “convinced in our hearts that we are inferior to all” (Chapter 7). It’s one of the most important daily monk steps I’ve been incorporating into my life since I left full time ministry and began to stay home with my son. I would rather not be inferior to all…or I would at least like you to think I’m awesome for acting like I’m inferior to all. But daily motherhood is the perfect incubator for accepting my own smallness. I’m caring for one little boy in a world full of people who need care. There’s no one around to watch and admire my skill. August is not going to remember much of these days at home with me. So, I wipe his bottom and help him brush his teeth. I build towers and sing songs. And, nobody knows.
For a long time, I thought of humility as being something like an “Ah shucks,” attitude (as Dennis Okholm describes it in Monk Habits for Everyday People). When people said good things about me, I was supposed to shrug my shoulders and pretend like their praise meant nothing.
What I’m learning is that underneath my actions and even my own knowledge of myself, I need to believe that my value lies not in what I accomplish, what I read, or what I have to say. It’s not even about how good I am at being a mom. My value is found is a secret place in the center, where I begin to recognize that I’m lovable because I’m loved by my Creator. I have value because I’m valued already. I’m unique because my life is worth Christ’s life, because I’m already loved apart from my actions.
Benedict says humility is a life-long practice, like every other spiritual process. I’m not going to learn it through a step-by-step program. I’m going to learn it slowly by changing diapers and buying groceries and letting myself be small. Or, as Michael Casey says in his Guide to Living in the Truth, “Humility is a very slow business if it is authentic.”
How is your life forcing you into that authentic process of becoming small?