Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.
— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I am reading Mere Christianity for the first time. I’m ashamed to admit that I am in my mid-40s and am only now getting around to reading this book. I read the chapter on pride yesterday, and I experienced that rare sensation of epiphany.
You see, gentle reader, I have a problem: I have never found my “besetting sin.” I would go to small groups or Bible studies and hear others discuss their “besetting sins”–those things which they find so easily entangle them–and I was always at a loss. I would mumble something about gluttony or the way I can say mean, cutting things, but I never really felt like I was being honest with myself or them. I became a Christian at a young age, and I never experienced a terrestrial sin that really entangled me for long. I am not saying I never sinned–that would be foolish and, more importantly, a bald-faced lie. But I never really had that thing–that one temptation that I always struggled with, that I just couldn’t leave, that lured me back to it.
Until yesterday, that is.
It started during my morning Bible time. My reading was in 2 Chronicles, and once again, a king of Judah or Israel (I forget–they blur together at 5:30 a.m. by the time you get to 2 Chronicles) was brought low by his pride. And deep inside, in that little secret part of the heart that only the Spirit can see, I heard it–I heard that voice–the one that said to me, “what a fool that king was. I would never be so presumptuous.”
I stopped short. I realized–pride. Pride is my besetting sin. And how quickly it sneaks in, so subtle and seductive, like the sweet whisper of a lover. My pride takes great satisfaction in knowing not only how I wouldn’t sin, but also in justifying how I would sin.
Later, I happened to come on the chapter on pride in Mere Christianity. I was struck so many times in reading that chapter. I need to re-read it, I think. But for a start, here were my realizations:
Pride is what led me to struggle for so long before leaving my career to devote myself to my family. Please understand–I am not condemning any woman for choosing to have a career or a job while raising a family. I am condemning myself. There were many issues with the career I was pursuing and why it didn’t work with my family. Perhaps someday I will explain some of them, but for now, suffice to say that I thought I knew better than God. I thought I had better perspective than he did. I thought I could make it work, when he and my family were very clearly showing me that it wouldn’t.
Pride has made me noxious in the face of non-believers and believers alike. I have taken a great deal of satisfaction in my own ability to overcome temptation and live a morally straight life. Do not misunderstand–it is good and right to live in obedience to God’s word, and while I have managed to break every single one of the Ten Commandments in thought and heart even if not in deed, I have still managed to be mostly a “good Christian girl.”
The problem I have, and that I think many of us who have grown up in the church also have, is that I have been very proud of my own ability to resist temptation. Listen, brothers and sisters: if you think you are resisting temptation by your own strength, you are deluding yourself, and you are in a very precarious spot. When that temptation comes that you cannot resist, you will fall far more painfully than someone who understands that only God can provide the strength to stand up under temptation.
And this is the issue. Pride in moral, intellectual, ministerial, social, financial, or other superiority gives our Christian culture a very off-putting odor–and not just to the world, but to other Christians as well! Cough medicine may be good for you when you have bronchitis, but who wants to drink it as an aperitif?
Pride is envy’s twin brother. This brings me to the quote above. I think I figured out why pride and envy go hand in hand–they’re twins. Lewis says pride creeps in when you have more than the other person. I discovered that when I have less than someone, envy creeps in. This is not just a financial thing–in fact, it rarely is for me, and in that also, I have some kind of morally superior perspective and find myself quoting things like “love of money is the root of every kind of evil.” In my envy, pride creeps in. They walk together, inseparable. When someone acts morally superior to me, I tend to envy such discipline or fortitude, which then somehow turns into a morally superior attitude that says, “look at that Pharisee!” or “this is one of those ‘freedom in Christ’ issues, and I guess I just don’t stumble in that area like that other person.”
Oh, how very full of pride and envy my heart is! Is this level of pride not the very same one that led Adam and Eve to think they knew better than God? Is this envy not the same thing that led David to commit adultery and murder?
I am brought low by this realization. It is today that I recall the words of Psalm 51 and ask my Lord and Redeemer to “create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” But I also ask him something else: I ask him to keep my heart broken, soft, tilled until he has planted all that he needs to plant there. I offer him my broken spirit and contrite heart, knowing that he alone can make use of it.
Till next we meet . . .