by Sylvia Maddox
Many of us are drawn to the Psalm, “I am not proud, I have no haughty looks” (131:1). There is something in the essence of our faith that knows the comfort of letting go and letting God hold our life. In Jesus we see one who washes the feet of his disciples.
We are quick to see pride as a sin when it is not earned, but pride that comes from hard work, desire and skill, well that is another thing. We’re proud to be Americans when we see moments of self-sacrifice. We’re proud of our athletic teams when they come from behind to win victories, and perhaps the most pride comes when as parents we see our children living the values we have taught them.
There is a thin line, however, between the celebration of gifts and the beginning of ownership, identity, and the slow seeping in of separation between ourselves and others. This is the beginning of the sin of pride. What follows is inordinate self-esteem and thinking we can appropriate the perfection of God. When pride centers on ourselves, we become convinced of our own value, but in truth we stand on the edge of our own nothingness.
My own experience of that nothingness took me by surprise recently in the context of my teaching. I confess I have always “prided myself” in being able to reach out to a variety of students through creativity and planning. One day I saw before me students unmotivated and uninterested — and there was nothing I could do. Feeling helpless and vulnerable, I went over to the chapel to pray. At the altar was a man on his knees praying fervently in Spanish for mercy. I found myself joining him in prayer and surrender. When he finished he lifted his hands in praise. Suddenly I saw the other side of pride. Humility and true joy. I realized that the gifts God had given me were not about me. They were much more about faithfulness, gratitude, and the awareness we are all connected.
None of us can ever predict when a well planned event falls through, when a carefully constructed sermon is not received, when all we have given is totally disregarded. When that moment comes we can either despair and hold on to our pride, or we can fall on our knees and rediscover the joy and comfort of praying, “Lord, I am not proud. I still myself upon the breast of God” (Psalm 131:2).
Sylvia Maddox is a member of Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio. She is a writer, teacher, and retreat leader. Reach Sylvia at firstname.lastname@example.org.