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Who, Me … Proud?

6 ways to combat this stealthy sin.

Several years ago, I spoke at a Mother's Day brunch on the joys of being a mother. I shared my "Six Sure-Fire Tips to Raising Godly Children" (which, of course, my five grade-school-aged children were). After I finished speaking, an older woman approached me with tear-filled eyes and said quietly, "I did all that, and my son still rebelled." I murmured a sympathetic response, but thought inwardly, Lady, you have to have done something wrong! If you had your act together, this wouldn't have happened to you. I was pretty smug about my material.

You see, I was used to women asking me, "How do you do it all—raise five children, help edit a magazine, be on the school board, and teach Sunday school?" I prayed to God that he would keep me from being prideful, but I relished compliments from people about my seemingly "perfect" life.

The years zipped by. We had teenagers—and a family crisis. One of our sons was caught having a beer party while we were away from home. What! My son? Couldn't be!

In showing me I wasn't invincible, God had answered my prayer about pride — much to my chagrin.

It also slowly became apparent our daughter, whom we'd adopted from Korea, had multiple learning disabilities as well as a deep rage about being abandoned at birth. I began to realize none of her problems fit any of my "sure-fire" formulas.

Next I became ill with an autoimmune disease and was told by experts it was stress-related.

It was then I remembered that mother's agony over her rebellious son—and my half-hearted response. I realized pride, like a spiritual virus, had infected my life. I'd been proud of whom I was, what I did, and what I'd been given. In showing me I wasn't invincible, God had answered my prayer about pride—much to my chagrin.

God clearly says in his word that he hates pride: "To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech" (Proverbs 8:13). As Christians, we long to be righteous and victorious so we'll draw others to God. But when we start believing our goodness comes from us instead of from Jesus Christ, that's when pride takes over.

Are there any good reasons to be "proud"? Sure. We can be "proud" Americans. We can have a certain "pride" in our appearance, or in taking good care of our home, or in doing something with excellence (as long as it doesn't become an obsession). Sometimes I feel awfully proud of my kids, who are turning out to be remarkable human beings who love Jesus. I tell them, "I'm proud of you." But maybe a better way to put it would be to say, "I'm so grateful for you." When we recognize all that we have is given to us by God, we can't help but be grateful. Gratitude helps defeat pride because we recognize our true Source.

That's why well-known author Calvin Miller once wrote how essential it is for a follower of Christ to be "freed from the centrality of self." Pride is from the Enemy, and we must learn to recognize it in ourselves and counteract it with truth and humility. Scripture says, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (James 4:10).

But how do we eliminate pride from our life? Here are six ways I've learned to help ward off this sneaky sin.

1. Prayerfully analyze your motives.

One afternoon, my 20-year-old daughter, Amy, and I went for a walk. Amy was in one of her meltdown moods, ranting about how she hated her stupid job, her junky car, her life. I tried to listen and reflect some wisdom. As we walked and talked, we passed my neighbor's house, where Susan was out weeding her garden, no doubt hearing our heated dialogue. I cringed. What would Susan think?

Why was I embarrassed? Was I feeling badly about Amy's frustrations? No, I was thinking about myself. I like to look good, and I like to have all my children look good! Did Amy forget that her dad and I write books about parenting and teach seminars about it? Did Amy forget who we were?

Ah, this is the heart of the matter. Pride tells us we're something we're not—good. That's why we need the reality check contained in the warning of Old Testament prophet Jeremiah: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (17:9). The truth is, we're all sinners in need of grace. So ask yourself, Why am I doing this? Why am I so driven to do or be a certain thing? Is it to glorify God, or to make me look better?

2. Practice honoring others above yourself.

Proverbs 27:2 says, "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth." This—in our competitive, self-promoting world—takes deliberate intention.

Why not try doing something good for someone without taking credit? Jesus said, "When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:3-4).

My friend Ruth has a unique ministry. A widow, she reaches out to other widows and older women who are alone. She takes them to dinner or shopping. Occasionally she meets someone's financial need, pays a heating bill, or takes her a delicious meal. She does these things quietly, without fanfare, and never talks about it. I only know of her kind deeds because others have told me. Her ministry is "hidden"—and yet not. There's something so purely good about the way she orders her life.

3. Refuse to be judgmental.

As I look back on the distraught mother who approached me years ago after I spoke, I realize I was judging her, holding her up to some invisible, perfect standard. I had no way of knowing the dynamics of her family, of her son's unique personality, or how the final story would play out. Only God is the judge. We cannot know another's intent or motive. Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged" (Matthew 7:1). I saw this truth vividly illustrated as I realized I most harshly judged myself, even to the point of becoming ill, as the reality of my life collided with my legalistic beliefs.

4. Risk failure.

Pride says, "I must protect my image. I can't fail or look stupid; I must succeed." Humility says, "How I need your grace, God! I'll do my best, but the results are up to you."

Only God is perfect! Allow for mistakes—it's how most of us learn. James 3:2 reminds us we "all stumble in many ways." If it's your thing to always look "just so," be daring and go to the store without wearing any makeup. Or if you've avoided public speaking, risk your fears and give it a try. My friend Bonnie has always loved music and wanted to sing, but was reluctant to do so anywhere but in the shower! But this year, Bonnie decided to go for it—she took voice lessons, stepped out of her comfort zone, and joined a choir. She laughs that the choir director put her in the back row, but she says she's having a lot of fun learning something new.

5. Learn to laugh at yourself!

The more seriously you take God, the less seriously you take yourself. Remind yourself of the elusive quality of humility: Just when you think you have it—you've lost it!

I've learned I can't take myself too seriously. One time I was sitting in the front row, being introduced before speaking to a group of women at a luncheon. I'd worked hard to look good—pale-blue silk suit, fresh haircut, manicured nails. I was ready. I stood to speak, smiled brightly at the audience, and placed my notes on the podium. Before I began to speak, I glanced down to see a long strand of green dental floss running the full length of my leg under my pantyhose. I completely lost my train of thought. I can't remember a single thing I said that day, and I doubt anyone else does, either. Oh well!

6. Ask for help, advice, or prayer.

Listen to others' opinions, and admit you may be wrong, or that you don't have all the answers. When you're in need of prayer, ask for it: "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16).

I'm convinced an important part of my physical and spiritual healing began the afternoon I broke down in front of two of my friends over cups of hot tea. It was time to be honest. "Will you pray for me," I sobbed. "I'm really struggling with pride." They put their arms around me and prayed. After they went home, I felt humbled. Cleansed. Whole.

Jesus was so approachable. children clambered onto his lap. People pressed through to touch him. Philippians says we can be like him: "Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave … and because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name" (2:5-7, 9, NLT).

The less sure I am of my own righteousness, the more sure I am about God's righteousness. The less sure I am of my abilities and performances, the more sure I am of knowing he never fails—and it's OK if I do. What's wonderfully surprising to me is to see that as I've learned (and I'm still learning!) the lessons of humility, the more others can see Jesus in me. There's great safety and security in understanding who we are and who God is. How great to know we belong to him just as we are—and that that's enough.

Nancie Carmichael, an author and speaker, lives in Oregon. Her website is www.nanciecarmichael.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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