Every Black Friday growing up, instead of braving the crowds of consumerism chaos found at department stores, shopping malls, and Walmarts, our family stayed home and began decorating the house. The Christmas tree, the lights, the stockings hung would all come later. First, though, always first, was setting out the nativity scene in our living room. We would unpack and undust the porcelain figurines that had been stored in the garage all year. I loved arranging each piece- the lambs, the donkeys, the lowly shepherds, the wealthy wise men, the teenage mother Mary- all perfectly gazing in adoration around baby Jesus.
I was mesmerized by the intricate story each piece told. The serene scene created within my heart a sacred mystery about Christmas that captivated my childhood imagination. And while I stared at the nativity both starstruck and dumbstruck, my father would always tell me the same tale. Yes, a “tale”, because by the time I had reached double digits in age, I had wised up to my Father’s many attempts at injecting doses of Hispanic pride into his Latina daughter through his masterful art of story-telling.
“You see those wise men?”
“You know which one is the wisest of them all?”
“You see the darker one? The one kneeling?” (Yes, up until recent years, many nativities showed the darker skinned Magi kneeling while the other two men stood. Nothing like subtle racism to bring in the Christmas cheer!)
“That’s our ancestor. The very first Reyes. After all, our last name means ‘Kings’. And this king was smarter than the rest, because he knew that even a king kneels when in the presence of the King of Kings.”
Yes, my dad was simply trying to rewrite history for his Mexican-American little girl living in a time where her somewhat darker skin and Spanish sounding last name would not always be honored or welcomed. Still, though, I smiled every time I heard it. Because though the story was just a story, it still carried a significant truth.
Even a king knows to kneel.
The longer I have lived, and been led by bosses, supervisors, CEOs and Presidents… the longer I have led teams, coached individuals, discipled others, founded ministries and now a company, the more true my father’s words have become. I yearn for humble leadership, and I aspire to lead from the genuine strength that comes from humility instead of the facade of bravado that arrogance and selfishness produce.
Sure, the historic accuracy of the nativity scene in my family’s living room falls short. For starters, I don’t think any woman who just gave birth would look as fabulous as Mary did. No way, Jesus, a Middle Eastern infant, was born with milky white skin and blond hair. And the Magi probably didn’t show up to Joseph and Mary’s front door till Jesus was a tiny toddler.
Still, these men did show up. They were extremely wealthy and held in high esteem. They had every privilege, right, riches and opportunities at their fingertips. Yet they made their life’s mission to find and worship Jesus, a baby born into poverty with a teenage mother people whispered about. Talk about radical humility!
It was this same humility that not only becomes an example of worship for every believer today, but it also generously provided financially for Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s safety. Soon after their visitation, the holy family unit was forced by a cruel and corrupt government to flee as refugees into Egypt, and it was the gifts of the Magi that supported them during this difficult time.
Humility is a powerful gift that provides and cares for people in more ways than we could imagine and in ways that perhaps we will only fully understand on the other side of eternity when scripture promises we will see in full.
I want my humility to be that kind of gift to others… to the people I lead… the people I call my team… to those placed in authority over me… to ultimately all those I am called to serve.
I don’t think I’m alone. And so this Christmas season, I wanted to put some legs to my pursuit of humility. Here’s some language we can speak (I say “we” because I’m in need of some humble vocabulary added to my word count, too!):
What’s working for you?
It takes humility to recognize that the people sitting right next to you in the office, the spouse sleeping right next to you in bed, the colleague hitting goals you secretly wish you were, has wisdom to offer! As much as we can learn from the experts who have written books and appeared in Ted Talks and consulted big names, we can also learn from each other. When we find ourselves resisting the wisdom of others we know and work with who are winning in places we could be, it’s probably a good time to address the ego and practice some much needed humility.
Let’s try it!
Some of the greatest resistance we have to change comes from our own pride. When we are quick to say something won’t work, or that we already tried that two years ago for two minutes and it failed, we are choosing to allow arrogance to keep us close minded. Humility, on the other hand, creates a flexibility that can lead to greater connection, progress and growth.
How can I help you?
The late Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood has quickly become a hero of mine over the past couple of years. I highly recommend watching the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor and the movie recently released called A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks. Have tissues ready because this man’s care and compassion for others will move you to tears! He helped generations of children process their emotions in positive ways and, at pivotal times in our nation’s history, became a moral compass calling people to compassion and forgiveness. One of my favorite quotes of his is this, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” And though the temptation would be to help only when things get really bad in the world, the truth is we can be helpers everyday- not just to the obviously needy of our world, but to our teammates, our friends, our family, our spouses. We all need help, and we can all proactively give it!
Do you have any notes for me?
Receiving feedback is a beautiful way of keeping our ego in check. It keeps our hearts and minds in the posture of a student, a disciple, a carrier of childlike faith even as we lead others. If we despise feedback, immediately become defensive to it, or tolerate it at best, we stop growing and stunt the growth of those we lead.
How can this be better?
There is some real truth to the phrase, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” The implication is that if you are hungry enough, entitlement gets thrown out the window. When we are hungry for harvest, hungry for mission fulfilled, hungry for Jesus to be made known, hungry for people to be cared for, loved, discipled… then we never think we’ve arrived. We don’t rest in our accomplishments and see our experience as validation for entitlement, but we are driven to keep growing and evolving.
Jesus taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”, implying that every day we will need God’s provision. Every day, we need God. When we turn to Him daily for wisdom, grace, and power, we are practicing the greatest act of humility of all- we our humbling ourselves before God. It’s this continual posture before God that makes every other act of humility we have towards each other a possibility.
Look what God has done!
Keeping a sense of amazement reminds us that it’s all about Jesus and not at all about us in the end! When we buy into our own hype after a solid message or a good Sunday or a great financial quarter or an upwards attendance trend or a growing audience… well, we may soon run the risk of running great programs void of the power of God. Instead, when we worship Jesus in wonder as a response to victories big and small, we are ultimately kneeling before the Way Maker and Miracle Worker. And as a wise man once told me, even a king knows to kneel before the King of Kings.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
-Matthew 2:1-12 English Standard Version