Fred Rogers: A Model of Confident Humility

By Steve McCloskey, Pastor of Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship

Steve McCloskey

In a recent sermon, I spoke to my congregation about the relationship between confidence and humility. I expressed that an individual can have a sober view of themselves with confidence in what they are called to do, and act on it faithfully in humility. In other words: you can be simultaneously confident and humble. I was reminded of a great example of this recently when I saw a trailer for a movie that comes out this fall about a former resident of the Upper Valley (the area where our church is located). 

It’s based on the life of Fred Rogers–star of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”. He began college at Dartmouth and eventually went on to attend seminary and became an ordained Presbyterian minister. Tom Hanks will be playing the role of Mr. Rogers in this movie based on his life that comes out this November (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) .

As a young child I regularly watched Mr. Rogers. His message was simple: every person is endowed with dignity and worthy of love and respect. He seemed to be immovable on this. From everything I’ve seen and read about him–this was not just a TV act–this was who he was, he believed it! He was motivated to communicate the intrinsic value of every person; presenting this message to children at a young age through public television. He knew what his message was and he stuck to it for decades. 

I read a story of a girl who was blind, she knew Mr Rogers had a pet goldfish but wanted to make sure the fish was being fed, she wrote a letter expressing her concern for the fish. In response, Mr. Rogers would always narrate when he was feeding the fish because of this one girl’s concern. He had a famous song called “It’s You I Like” but there’s a clip– you can look up on YouTube– of him singing a special version of this song to a boy in a wheelchair where he says:

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not your fancy chair–
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you–
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.
But it’s you I like–
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.

There’s an interview with Fred Rogers and Charlie Rose:  Rose asked him about his daily routine: Mr Rogers said he begins each morning waking up before 5 AM and spends several hours in quiet time. He said, in the interview, that “in silence comes revelation”. And Charlie Rose asked, “And then you begin the business of your day?” 

“No”, said Mr. Rogers, “Then, after that, I go swimming”. Rogers said that it was in the silence that he could reflect on what was most important. Perhaps it is through this time, in silence, each day, through his own self-care, reflecting on what is most essential, that Mr. Rogers had built-up this deep reservoir to appreciate people for who they were–just the way they are. In doing this, Fred Rogers exuded a confident humility.

Similarly,  Jesus would often withdrawal from the crowds, find solitude and pray.

It is not selfish of you to make time to care for yourself, in fact it can build the reservoir of love for others. How do you make time for yourself? What practices do you have to care for yourself; both body and soul?