Pride: The Folly of Proving Ourselves
‘When we take too much credit for our lives and achievements, when we look at our lives as products of our own striving rather than gifts, we move close to the idolatry in which the creature refuses to give due to the Creator.’ Willimon
Pride is the mother of all sins. Aspiring to be gods and defiant of the One, the original pair blazed a trail east of Eden that every one of us has trod since. It’s just how we are. Quite apart from our self-esteem or lack thereof, the most affirmed and neglected of us seem doomed to the treadmill of proving ourselves. We run hard for acclaim yet bypass the One who asks that we be still and know that HE is.
Pride is noisy, so much so that the original list of deadly sins put together by desert father Evagrius involved 8, with pride as the source of all the others. Instead of ‘pride’, Gregory the Great’s 7 deadly sins listed ‘vainglory,’ which is a primary manifestation of pride–the motivation to appear greater than one actually is. More recent lists subsume vainglory into pride. These seven are noteworthy for how generative they are. Like pride begetting vainglory, each is considered ‘cardinal’ because each one gives birth to many sinful ‘offspring.’
‘Vainglorious’ describes well my foray into the ‘gay self’ and its friends. Raised by parents who valued self-esteem above all else, I could hardly say that my perversion was anchored in self-hatred. I was simply vulnerable to a world driven by vanity, in particular, driven by vain men like me looking for some kind of masculine blast that would fill the ache. It was a noisy world, full of clamoring for attention. Such attention was sensational to get and yet hard to give away. I could not hold the charge.
Intuitively, I knew I needed Jesus and that following Him meant leaving the gay life. I also knew that I did not want to leave it. Jesus was ephemeral and dudes were real; therein lay the battle. Still I responded to His call to follow Him. Pride was my main enemy. I looked down on devout Christians as clueless misfits. Pure projection: I was blind and perverse, desperately needy. I needed to be saved and Jesus graciously revealed Himself as the Savior. Still my haggard efforts at proving myself persisted, so much so that these were the first words I heard Jesus say to me: ‘Unless you humble yourself, I can do nothing with you.’ Pride—the drive to prove myself as the clever, attractive, wanted one—almost sunk this convert.
But Jesus’ love prevailed and won over my worship; focusing on His presence became more important than self-concern. That came in handy when friends in droves rejected me for questioning the validity of my ‘gay self’. Yet I could not deny the depth of my same-sex attraction. In its troubling persistence, I discovered the key to relying upon the One. Only His love could reach my depths, even and especially in light of disordered desires. I came to rejoice in my disorder as the means through which God humbled me and showed Himself sufficient.
Today I face the Pharisee’s temptation to ‘thank God that I am not like other men’ in their obvious immoralities (LK 18: 11, see vs. 9-14). I sin quietly now. But pride in my chastity and ‘family values’ is readily overcome by bouts of chronic selfishness for which I can only ‘stand at a distance, look downward, beat my chest and say: ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (v.13) Sin persists but grace abounds and frees this captive from prideful, religious delusion.
‘Lord, You establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished You have done for us.’ (IS 26:12)