The Problem with Pride
- 2009 29 Jan
With all of my faults, my weaknesses, my craziness, my low self-esteem, you would think that I wouldn’t have a lot of room for pride. That’s what you would think. But surprisingly, it flourishes, with great abundance. At least it did . . . until this year. Shall we call it the year of humbling?
The problem is that pride comes so naturally to us supergirls. Pride is simply this: I am better than you. We know how good it feels to be better than someone else. Our whole culture revolves around pride. Superstars! Business moguls! Power geeks! Who doesn’t want to be number one?
Back to my humbling. I vaguely recall hearing the phrase “Pride goes before a fall.”
My problem was that I was oblivious to how prideful I was. I’ve never thought of myself in those terms. But I do like to be right. I don’t want people to teach me. I don’t like to fail, so if I’m not good at something, I avoid it. Meet Mrs. Prideful. She wreaks havoc in the lives of unsuspecting supergirls. The problem is that we don’t recognize how powerful she is. She hangs onto the backs of our earrings and whispers lies in our ears.
“You’ve got this one. Don’t ask for help. You can do it on your own.”
Or . . . “Hmm . . . I’m not really sure if you should hang out with her . . . I’ve heard that she is needy. You should be around people who are healthy and wholesome . . . like yourself.”
Lucky for us, we supergirls are pretty capable of handling anything thrown our way. We just avoid doing anything that exposes our weaknesses. And we know how to get around problem people. Since Jesus wants us to be loving, we’ll be extra nice but aloof. We don’t want to get involved with anyone who’s too messy. If these needy people could reach our level of maturity, then we would love to have coffee, but until then, “Buh-bye!”
I’m pretty sure that I have just described a Pharisee . . . you know, one of those religious guys that Jesus called sweet names like, “Oh you brood of vipers.” This loosely translated means: “Oh you big group of really poisonous snakes.”
What is more obnoxious than a nice aloof person who thinks she is better than you? We have all met her; we just didn’t realize we were her. Supergirl alert! Pride is sneaky and mean. (Footnote: you aren’t better than anyone else.)
Oh, the pain of it. But back to my humbling. Did I mention that this year has been downright ugly? In January, my husband and I started a church plant in Palo Alto, California, near Stanford University, which could be the birthplace of pride. It is full of pretty, smart, number-one kind of people who go off to do small things like invent Yahoo and run countries, which seems to add to the irony of my situation.
We were aching to get at this thing and do it right. Mostly, Scott was aching and I was terrified—in an aching kind of way. Pastoring is his passion. But church planting calls for all to be involved. We all wear many hats. One of my jobs is to lead worship. I have always sung backup, but leading worship, I think, is a calling. For a person who reveres the appearance of being in control, there was a general uprising by Mrs. Prideful.
I believe “Heavenly daystars, no!” was her outcry.
I like to be calm. And comfortable. I prefer accolades to pity. I would rather have someone think that I have it all together than realize I am falling apart. I like to keep up appearances.
For four consecutive months, I experienced nausea, diarrhea, and intense anxiety every Sunday morning. I couldn’t think of things to say in between songs. My voice shook. Sometimes I cried, usually before the service, so I was nice and splotchy for worship time. Let me weave you some woeful tales of worship leading.
There was the Sunday when we didn’t have childcare and I tried to hold my eighteen-month-old while leading worship. The body bends, the arching of the back, and the general screaming of Will led no one into God’s presence.
Then there was the Sunday a bunch of Stanford students visited. The entire first song was accompanied by a high-pitched screeching from our monitors. Not one of them has returned.
Then there was Memorial Day Sunday. We sang for fifteen minutes. With no one there. Except Jesus. I’m hoping he liked it, because it felt a bit awkward to me.
The crowning glory of humblings was the singing of “It Is Well with My Soul.” I told our group the story behind the hymn.
The hymn writer loses his only son to scarlet fever, then his financial holdings in the Great Chicago fire. His wife and four daughters sail to England for a respite, and the ship goes down. Only his wife survives. As he sails to join his grief-stricken wife, the captain calls him up to the bridge to show him where his daughters’ ship went down. He returns to his cabin and writes “It Is Well with My Soul.”
As I finished the story, we were all moved, ready to sing this anthem to God. Lo and behold, I couldn’t find the note to start the song. Three times, I started to lead the congregation in a hideous off-key rendition of “It Is Well with My Soul.” I was about to throw myself to the ground in shame when Anthony, on guitar, hummed the note in my ear. God bless him! We went on to sing the full hymn, somewhat haphazardly. I recall Mrs. Prideful fleeing the building in hysterics.
These are just a few examples of how God has led me down the “get over yourself” path, through the valley of “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” toward the “I need you like never before” mountains. I think that God takes pride very seriously, because when we are full of ourselves, there is no room left for him to occupy.
Pride lets you lie to yourself about who you are. Being full of pride, I could tell myself I have it together. I can lead worship. I don’t need to ask for help or to be taught. Glen, a campus ministry leader at Stanford, gave a talk at our church about humility around the same time I was grappling with all my worship woes. One of his points really stuck with me: humility lets you recognize yourself for who you are. In my case, humility meant saying I am scared. I don’t know how to do this. There are people who do this better than I do. I need God to fill me up because I can’t possibly do it on my own.
Jesus was so over people who pretended they had it all together. Every time he would come up against pride, he would squash it. He was the Savior of the world, and he was the most humble. In humility, he recognized himself for who he truly was. Emmanuel. God with us. The most accepting. The most loving. He hung out with losers. Fishermen and tax collectors, left-wing zealots and shifty-eyed sellouts. He forgave prostitutes. He partied with the masses. And the prideful, the law keepers, the Pharisees, he drove them nuts.
He defied their control, their careful wording of questions, their rules and regulations with jokes and wittiness and love. The real people, the ones with their problems written on their faces and their sins flung out in the open, they adored him. Because they knew he was on their side.
I don’t think that God is into humiliating people. He gives us gifts and wants us to use them for his glory and purposes. But I do think that he wants us to recognize ourselves for who we really are. We are scared, imperfect people who desperately need him to fill our lives with his truth and clarity. We need the ability to accept ourselves and others without reservation, like he does. He never said, “Come unto me all you who are smart, who had time to work out, who know a bazillion Scriptures, and have all the problems of the universe solved. I’m prideful and I have a lot of expectations. I am perfect. Be like me. In general, you will be exhausted every day trying to live up to my example.”
It goes something like this:
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28–30
I never got that from Mrs. Prideful. I could never live up to the person she told me I should be.
Are you tired? Are you weighed down with the heaviness of life? Jesus wants to team up with you. The yoke he wants you to share is light, and if we let him, he carries most of the load. Because he can. He’s God. If we lean into him, knowing who we really are, in all our weakness, he will provide for us and care for us and teach us, because he knows who he really is. The Almighty. And how about some rest? He’d like to give you a break. We get to leave the trying and the pretending of being prideful and embrace the easiness of humility when we attach ourselves to Christ.
And now that Mrs. Prideful has been ripped from our earrings and been banished to her prideful lair, I think we will actually be able to hear what Jesus is whispering in our ears. That he loves us. Just as we are.
Posted January 25, 2009
Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright © 2009. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.
Susanna Foth Aughtmon is a pastor's wife and mother of three. She graduated from Bethany College with a B.A. in social science emphasizing psychology and early childhood education. After pursuing various careers, including her own interior decorating business, she decided to say home as a full-time mom. She assists her husband, Scott, in various ministries at the church they plated in Palo Alto, California.