Everyone suffers in sibling favouritism
Parents and guardians will normally pay more attention to certain qualities in their children for different reasons. Even when they try their best to love all their children well, their subconscious biases will manifest and lead to unintended outcomes. Unfortunately, favouritism breeds comparison, guilt, and insecurity in children over time. Whether favoured or neglected, each child learns to develop a persona that they think will meet their parents’ expectations.
As children, we all began to perceive envy at one-year-old. In our deep-rooted longing for love and acceptance, we would have taken note of which child in our family received more praise, attention, gifts, time, money, or kindness. This instinct to compare and evaluate ourselves begins when we were infants and can deeply affect how we still view ourselves today.
Types of favouritism
Some types of favouritism are more overt than others. At times, favouritism is simply a matter of perspective. Here are some examples.
1. Boys over girls
Because sons carry on the family name, they can be favoured over daughters purely because of their gender. Such favouritism severely impacts the self-worth of the girls in the family. The contrast becomes even more acute where the boy is the only male descendant amongst the grandchildren.
Truth: God values both sons and daughters, there is no differentiation. | Galatians 3:28 ESV … there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
2. High performers
Not all high performers are child prodigies or star athletes; they may simply be more proficient in the area/s that grown-ups value and therefore are praised more, leaving the other children feeling neglected. This can provoke frustration, jealousy, anger, and strife amongst siblings.
Even though high performers may receive more attention, they can feel like other siblings had “an easier time” and are, therefore, more fortunate. Underlying this is an unspoken pressure to keep excelling to please other people or risk being seen as a “failure”. They can find themselves running an endless thread-mill of performance and lose sight of the “why”. High performers can end up as people-pleasers who struggle to know who they innately are and what they truly want to do. They get pigeon-holed into certain stereotypes.
Truth: All our achievements come from God, and are given for His glory, not our own. | Romans 11:36 NLT For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
3. The “baby” of the family
Parenting styles evolve with the advent of more children. Parents tend to become less strict, less anxious, and perhaps, less demanding as they grow accustomed to the challenges of raising a family. It is usually the younger siblings who benefit from these changes.
For instance, the “baby of the family” may get away with things others weren’t allowed to, while their older siblings may be forced to take on pseudo-parenting roles. Such responsibilities can lead to suppressed resentment or frustration.
People often assume that the youngest must be the most privileged and spoilt child, and not realise that they also have their own challenges. They can feel like they constantly don’t measure up to their older siblings because they are always playing “catch-up” or were left out of group activities, as a consequence of their age difference. They may also feel second-rate if they always received their siblings’ hand-me-downs. Sometimes, he or she may feel pressured to always play the “baby” to sustain the love they received as a child and struggle to mature emotionally as a result.
Truth: We are all called to turn away from child-centric pursuits, mature in Christ, and to love our siblings as Christ loved us. | 1 Corinthians 13:11 ESV When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
4. Different personalities or interests
A mismatch in parent-child personalities can lead to a perception of favouritism. Introverted parents will gravitate towards spending time with their quiet, compliant children while extroverted parents would naturally enjoy the company of boisterous, talkative children more. The perception of favouritism is worsened if birth-parents and guardians tell one child to “behave more like your sister / brother”. This can affect a child’s sense of self-worth and self-image.
Parents may also struggle to celebrate one child’s interests over another and gravitate towards those who enjoy similar interests, such as music, reading, art, sports etc. There appears to be favouritism, even though it may not be true. Children who are “left out” can feel rejected. Some will force themselves to do what they don’t enjoy in order to fit in, denying their desires and suppressing their personal interests.
Truth: We can praise God for creating us in wonderful ways. Even if other people don’t know how to appreciate our qualities, God will. He personally knitted our DNA together and creates only good gifts. | Psalm 139:13-14 ESV For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
5. Special needs
When a child with special needs enters a family, he or she can take up more attention, time, and resources. Able-bodied siblings may feel as if they have been left to fend for themselves and grow jealous of their sick or handicapped brother or sister. At the same time, they can feel guilty for not having the same struggles, or for lacking the patience or compassion that special-needs children require.
Truth: Even if we may sometimes feel neglected, God never forgets us. He lovingly nurses our hurts and brings us to health when we turn to Him with all our hearts. | Isaiah 49:15-16 ESV “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
6. Appearance or physical attributes
Siblings can experience favouritism over their looks and physical attributes. Some may be told they are not as tall, as pretty or handsome, as slim, or as athletic as their brothers or sisters – unknowingly linking their self-worth to their bodies.
Truth: God weighs a person’s heart, not his or her appearance | 1 Samuel 16:7 ESV But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
7. Timing of birth
Some siblings may get to experience a time of wealth while others were born when their parents went bankrupt. This may elicit feelings of jealousy or resentment over siblings who received more materially.
Then there is the middle child who may feel neglected relative to the oldest child (who has certain privileges and responsibilities) and the youngest (who may receive more attention).
Truth: God brings good news to those of us who have felt like we have suffered because of the times we were born into. He will comfort us and release us from any perceived injustices when we turn our hearts fully to Him. | Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.
God went to great lengths to adopt us
God adopted all believers as His sons and daughters. As per adoption law, this cancels our birth-parents’ legal parental rights to us. We are told to no longer call anyone on earth “father” because God Himself becomes our Father.
Ephesians 1:5-6 NLT God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure…
John 1:12 ESV But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
Matthew 23:9 ESV And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
God went through great lengths to adopt us. He didn’t just fulfil some paperwork or payment at some adoption agency, He exchanged the life of His own favoured Son for us. Even if our birth-parents and guardians have neglected us, God never will. He will go to extraordinary lengths to take us in. For those of us who have felt neglected and overlooked as a result of sibling favouritism, this truth is a great comfort.
Psalm 27:10 ESV For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.
Jesus gave up His favoured position for us
Jesus left His privileged position in heaven to come in the form of a servant to live in a messy, broken world with us. Even though He was perfect and favoured, He did not hold on to this and paid the penalty for our sins. By doing so, He also called us to have the same attitude towards our families too.
Philippians 2:5-9 ESV Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
For those of us who have been our birth-parents’ favourite or not, this is a reminder to lower ourselves and love our families as sacrificially as God has, regardless of whether we received favorable treatment or not. We are commanded to honour our earthly parents. This is our Heavenly Father’s will for us. At the end of the day, His favour counts infinitely more than our earthly parents’.
Mark 3:35 ESV For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
1 John 4:19 ESV We love because he first loved us.
Exodus 20:12 ESV Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Understanding the negative effects of not being the favourite
Adults who feel like they have not been favoured in their families grow up feeling some level of disappointment or regret. Even if they had not been physically abandoned, they can still feel disconnected emotionally. Inside their hearts are subconscious questions and fears:
- “Why do my birth-parents and guardians still favour my sibling, even after I have tried my best to please them?”
- “Should I have done something else or tried harder?”
- “Why does my sibling always seem to have things easier?”
- “Is there something wrong with me?”
- “Will other people accept me when my own birth-parents don’t?”
Here are some subconscious patterns that may develop as a result.
1. Constant search for validation
“How can I cover up my shortcomings and make sure other people like me?”
The deep desire to avoid rejection can lead to a pattern of (over) compensation to impress or please people. Even when we receive worldly approval and praise, it does not feel truly satisfying because we subconsciously long to hear it directly from our parents, not from “outsiders”. But when our birth-parents or guardians still don’t give us the affirmation we desire, we become discouraged and even more brokenhearted. Such experiences can push people towards sexual promiscuity, in search of love. At the same time, we find ourselves constantly trying to calm a deep sense of fear; a fear of failure, fear of comparison, and fear of not being good enough.
Once we turn to Jesus as our Saviour, we need to turn away from seeking the approval of human beings, including our birth-parents or guardians. Rather, we ought to seek God’s approval. His approval is what matters for all eternity. Human approval doesn’t count in heaven. Therefore, let us repent of unwittingly making our birth-parents our idols. We can thank God for our parents and acknowledge that they did their best based on their (limited) abilities and recognise that they, like us, are imperfect too.
Galatians 1:10 ESV For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
2. Victim mentality, perpetual dissatisfaction
“It is so exhausting to keep chasing people’s approval. Life is so hard.”
When we have endured favouritism for a long time, our perspective can become pessimistic. Every thoughtless gesture, even if unintentional, becomes magnified. We can begin to feel sorry for ourselves and believe that life (and God) has treated us unfairly. We blame our parents for our “miseries” and brokenness.
For our hearts to heal, it is necessary to recall all the “injustices” we have endured at home and confess them vocally to our Father. The Bible calls us this “pouring out our complaints” and “casting our anxieties” on Him. Let us vent to God directly, He will hear us out. There is no need to carry these burdens in our spirits. It is much better to offload them for good. Otherwise, they will block us from fully experiencing the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 11:28 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Psalm 142:1-3 ESV With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!
1 Peter 5:7 ESV Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
We may even need to consider asking God’s forgiveness for submitting to a spirit of self-entitlement, an ungodly craving for human love, and becoming love-centred rather than God-centred. When we choose to follow God, we will find that His Spirit will always bring deep healing, restoration, and peace – more than we can ever imagine. It is our fixation on human, earthly ideals that hampers the glorious, inexpressible joy that God makes available to us all.
1 Peter 1:8-9 NLT You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.
3. Bitterness and judgment
“My parents are useless and stupid. They have been bad parents.”
Just as our birth-parents exhibited some bias against us, we too begin to develop a bias against them. Our hearts fill up with a long list of grudges and resentments, and we condemn or even curse them. We find it hard to appreciate our parents’ best efforts or notice when they do make efforts to show us love, because it feels “too little, too late.” Subconsciously, we may even judge God; “Why did You give me such bad parents?” We are unable to enjoy God’s powerful plan for restoration because we are now in bondage to a spirit of bitterness.
Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Because we have become accustomed to constant comparison and envy at home, we bring this same attitude into our other relationships as well. We start to take note of how our other relatives, teachers, co-workers, bosses, spouses, and in-laws also “fail” to love us perfectly. We think, “They don’t like me,” “They discriminate against me too,” or “They are so unfair.” Instead of representing Jesus’ perfect love and grace in our other communities, we become a source of jealousy, gossip, and accusation.
It takes some measure of emotional and spiritual maturity to thank God for our parents or guardians, because He is the One who matched us with them. Sometimes, God chooses us for their sake, meaning that He desires us to bring healing to our family. As infants, we may not have understood this truth and in our longing for their blessings, have ended up judging and cursing them instead.
Now that we have been adopted as God’s children, it is vital to confess all our judgements to Him and forgive our earthly birth-parents and guardians for their shortsightedness and flaws. This has the effect of giving us a new lease of spiritual life. Otherwise, we will not be forgiven for our own sins either. This is too high a price to pay for other people’s shortcomings. We are called to love our enemies and pray those who persecute us. What more our parents?
Luke 6:37 ESV “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
Matthew 5:44-45 ESV But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
4. Jealousy, resentment and hatred towards siblings
“Why do he/she always get all the attention? I count too. This is so unfair.”
As much as we really want their love, the favouritism and rivalry at home make it hard for us to be neutral and objective towards our siblings. In our hearts, we find ourselves holding onto unspoken grudges. We can start to despise them and judge them for being “weak, soft, self-centred, or self-entitled”, often giving them unkind nicknames. Worst of all, we can fall into the temptation of cursing them and wishing them misfortune so as to “equalise” things.
Romans 14:10-13 ESV Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
The Bible gives us a very clear truth. If we have judged and grumbled about our siblings, God’s Word calls us to repent so we can be made right in our relationship with Him first. After all, He is the One who gave us our siblings. The Holy Spirit may also convict us to apologise and bring reconciliation within our families. This is our truth; that we do not respond based our birth-parents have done, but what our Father has done – and that is to sacrifice Jesus in favour of us.
Philippians 2:14-15 ESV Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
6. Pride and ambition
“I will prove that you are wrong about me.”
Pride is a defence mechanism which often develops as a result of feeling hurt repeatedly. We decide to disconnect from our birth-parents, and find love “our own way.” In retaliation, we develop a different set of ambitions and disavow their love. We hold on to a false belief that we will finally feel free when we have really achieved something “great”.
Any time we set our own goals outside of our Father’s perfect will, there is a danger that we will head towards ruin and self-destruction. The world will tempt us with many forms of “riches” to chase after, such as earthly titles, material wealth, exciting experiences, and popularity. We can become enslaved to chasing more and more. Such “riches” can never fill the holes in our hearts. Instead, God’s Word teaches us that godliness with contentment is great wealth in itself. Therefore, let us release ourselves from our own worldly expectations.
1 Timothy 6:6-9 ESV But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
7. Emotional dis-connection and inner vows
“I need to protect myself from hurt and disappointment, I will close off my heart.”
One way we may cope with perpetual favouritism is to “die” to our emotions, without realising that in the process, we also “kill” off our hearts. Sometimes, we even entertain suicidal thoughts. Eventually, we become numb. The handful of emotions we do feel are usually related to indifference or anger.
In suppressing our emotions or desires, we can also silence our own voice over time. We find it hard to express how we feel or speak up for ourselves, simply because we have taught ourselves not to.
More devastating, we build up a set of ungodly self-beliefs such as:
- “I can only rely on myself (not God).”
- “I can’t talk to anyone about how I feel (not even God) because my own family don’t appreciate or accept me.”
- “I need to be strong (using my own strength).”
- “I can’t make mistakes (and make myself my own judge of what’s good and what’s not).”
- “I will not be like my parents (because I have judged them to be bad).”
- “I will prove myself so my parents will love me (and turn my focus away from enjoying God’s love).”
When we ask God to be our Heavenly Father, He deposits His Spirit into our hearts. To enjoy new abundant life from the Holy Spirit, we first need to renounce all our ungodly-self beliefs. We need to ask God to liberate us from our own errors, so we are no longer under our own bondage.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 ESV And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
John 10:10 ESV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
8. Emotional triggers
“This makes me feel uncomfortable and agitated but I can’t explain why.”
Another outcome of experiencing favouritism is that we can become hyper-sensitive to certain triggers that subconsciously remind us of our childhood “injustices”. It can become difficult to accept constructive feedback because it feels too much like the rejection and bias we experienced during childhood. We find ourselves reacting defensively or aggressively at times.
Strong emotional reactions often point to unresolved issues in our hearts more than in our external circumstances. Christ-followers are meant to master our explosive emotions, rather than be controlled by them. When we lack peaceful self-control, it is vital that we look at our patterns and triggers, and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the hidden “root of bitterness”. Then we can pray to confess them to our Heavenly Father in Jesus’ name, so that we may be set free.
Psalm 4:4-5 NLT Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent. Offer sacrifices in the right spirit, and trust the Lord.
Hebrews 12:15 ESV See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
9. Ungodly self-beliefs and depression
“I’m just not good enough. No one will ever love me or accept me. I might as well give up hope.”
When people still don’t feel loved no matter what they have done, they can start to feel exasperated. Even though we are dearly loved, our perceptions and beliefs have become so distorted that our minds close off from reality. During these times of weakness, Satan will plant many dark thoughts to suggest we might as well give up. It is ONLY when we give in to Satan’s wicked lies, that a spirit of depression has the permission to “capture” us.
2 Timothy 2:26 ESV And they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
The human mind processes between 50,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day and we are to choose which thoughts to meditate on. God’s Word shows us that we need to think about whatever is pure, true, and praiseworthy.
Philippians 4:8 ESV Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Understanding the negative effects on the favourite
The favourite child in the family also suffers, though in different ways. If the child is elevated or coddled all the time, favourites may start to harbour fears that may set up him or her for some disappointments in the real world.
- “How can I maintain my special favourite status within the family?”
- “How can I ensure I am loved by other people – just as I have been by my parents and guardians?”
- “I have noticed that other people don’t approve of me as they have. Is there something wrong with me?”
Here are some patterns that apply to the favourite sibling.
1. Stifled independence
“My birth-parents are the only ones who love me genuinely.”
Being constantly favoured at home creates a skewed view of oneself.
At one extreme, we come to believe we deserve hand-outs for the rest of our lives because our parents seem to enjoy pandering to our needs. We perceive this to be what love is about. Life has been “easy” and comfortable for us, so we have little pressure to “grow up.” To our peers, we can come across as naïve, self-absorbed, and complacent.
At the other extreme, we may be embarrassed about our family dynamics and feel guilty when we didn’t “help” our siblings gain equal status as us. Over time, our guilt may drive us do the things we believe will justify our parents’ favouritism.
At the end of the day, none of these outlooks fosters true emotional or mental independence from the family. We feel indebted to our birth-parents and are upset when they don’t approve of our choices. We remain “yoked” to them.
God does not condone favouritism. In fact, His Word warns us not to think too highly of ourselves. Where we have cherished our positions as the favourite in the past, let us relinquish this man-made “ranking” and humbly love others as ourselves. Otherwise, there is a danger we fall into self-idolatry. The only One worthy of all praise and glory is God, not us.
James 2:1,4-5 ESV My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory… have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Galatians 6:3 ESV For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
James 2:8-9 ESV If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
2. Approval-seekers and risk aversion
“I must always be well thought of.”
Because of our “special child” status, we subconsciously expect to be the centre of attention at all times and may panic when things don’t go as we expect. If any newcomer, such as a baby or an in-law, threatens our family dynamics, we can even become defensive and territorial over our family. This defensiveness can also spill over into our social and work life. We are constantly anxious to be loved all the time and become jealous of anyone who gets more attention than us.
Approval seekers, in reality, lack confidence in who they intrinsically are because they have grown so accustomed to doing what satisfies other people, instead of themselves. We can find it hard to say “no” to people and actively avoid conflict and confrontation. Favourites may appear to it all well put together but inside, they may not really be happy.
It can be tiring to keep seeking approval from other people. We are called to boast about God and His wondrous ways, rather than flaunt what we have accomplished. Our works pale compared to God’s.
2 Corinthians 10:17:18 ESV “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
3. The pressure of performance
“I will prove that my parents’ favouritism is justified. I must do well in everything. I can’t let them down or bring them shame.”
Some talented or high-performing favourites can live under the silent pressure to never let their parents or guardians down. When we don’t achieve the standards set by people, deep self-doubt, guilt, and shame can set in. Inwardly, our spirits may feel crushed, heavy-laden, and possibly even depressed.
Those of us who have lived chained to the treadmill of performance usually feel spiritually exhausted, because there is always something else bigger or more to chase – and little time to be still before God. The things that this world offers may feel exciting at the beginning but they gradually sap our joy and rob us of our spiritual freedom. God’s Word warns us not to toil but to spend time with Him. He is the One who gives us true rest for our souls and sweet rest in our sleep.
Psalm 127:2 ESV It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Mark 6:31 ESV And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
“I am not as good as everyone thinks. I am a fraud.”
No one is perfect all the time. As the favourite, we hide or disguise our failures and imperfections in the hope that we will continue to “qualify” for our favoured status in the family. Inwardly, we start to struggle with shame and self-doubt.
Only Jesus is perfect. Therefore, we can let ourselves off the hook for having to appear to have everything altogether all the time. In fact, God’s Word encourages us to boast of our weaknesses so that people can see God’s power flow through and transform us.
2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Favouritism hurts all the children in a family. We are all imperfect and some bias is unavoidable. Demonstrating impartiality takes great wisdom and intentionality. Praise God that our Heavenly Father will give us all the wisdom we need when we ask Him to. He is the perfect Father who never forsakes us.
James 1:5 ESV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
For parents, this is a reminder that each and every child is precious in God’s eyes because He sent His Son to die for them. As guardians of God’s children, we are called to be impartial. Favouritism frustrates our children and “provokes them to anger.” Let us not tempt our children to sin against God. They need their parents’ reassuring words and actions to allay their unspoken fears.
Ephesians 6:4 ESV Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
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