Monday, April 1, 2013

My Confession of Pride

Since the beginning of this year, I have made it a habit to seek out time with God daily and immerse myself in His Word. He led me to read Beth Moore's So Long Insecurity and complete the devotional journal that goes along with the book, and it changed my life. There were many aspects of the book that shifted my paradigm, but the following passage probably caused the most shift. Beth quotes from the book Perfecting Ourselves to Death by psychiatrist and theologian Richard Winter (emphasis by me):
Although perfectionists seem very insecure, doubting their decisions and actions, fearing mistakes and rejection, and having low opinions of themselves, at the same time, they have excessively high personal standards and an exaggerated emphasis on precision, order and organization, which suggests an aspiration to be better than others. 

Most psychological explanations see the desire to be superior and in control as compensation for feelings of weakness, inferiority, and low self-esteem. But it could also be that the opposite is true; we feel bad about ourselves because we are not able to perform as well, or appear as good, as we really think we can. We believe we are better than others, but we keep discovering embarrassing flaws. Perfectionists' black-and-white thinking takes them on a roller coaster between feeling horribly inadequate and bad about themselves, and then, when things are going well, feeling proud to be so good. Low self-esteem and pride coexist in the same heart.

Beth says:
We will never feel better about ourselves by becoming more consumed with ourselves. Likewise, we will never feel better about ourselves by feeling worse about others. Superiority can't give birth to security. Neither, by the way, can the relentless pursuit of perfection.

This had the most profound effect on me. I always thought that I was a humble person - ask anyone who knows me, my husband even, and they will tell you that I am not a prideful person - but I was wrong, and they are wrong. Just yesterday, I surmounted the task of explaining to my husband how I could have such a deep-seeded duality that went so unnoticed for so many years, and he was thoroughly shocked to see how proud I have really been.

In Beth's So Long Insecurity devotional journal, she presents the question of how pride has presented itself in my life. This is what I wrote in response:
For many years now, unbeknownst to me - or perhaps more unrealized - I have been building myself up with self-sustained worth. I have trained myself to think that I have value and worth because of what I have done, accomplished, or overcome! I've put myself on a perfectionism roller coaster to build my pride, too. I've been so proud of myself for that trip that I took alone to see my husband in Twentynine Palms - it's been the crowning jewel for me. And I don't know if I have ever stopped to consider that I was never, truly alone in the situation and I didn't do it all by myself: God was there and He gave me the courage to do it. He watched over me the whole time!
I flew out to San Diego all by myself, rented a car, and drove three hours across California to see my husband while he was at Marine training in Twentynine Palms. Then, when our visiting time was up, I repeated the trip back to San Diego, in California rush-hour traffic. It was a big deal for me - less than six months prior, I wasn't sure if I would survive while my husband went to boot camp. I had transformed from being extremely dependent on my husband for most everything to being quite capable on my own. It was a phenomenal event in my life, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't something I achieved on my own.

I had quickly discovered that, despite how incredibly supportive my friends, family, and coworkers were, my only real source of comfort while my husband was away was spending time with God in His Word. I wrote my husband a letter every day that he was in boot camp and in each letter I transcribed a devotional. I also attended a Beth Moore Bible study with my husband's paternal grandmother once a week. God had my ear - He was talking to me that whole time, moving and changing me.

A few pages later, I free-wrote this:
For so many years, I have thought that I was being humble and modest - but I see so clearly now that I wasn't. How many other things have been a deceptive mask for pride?I have encouraged people to look at things from other perspectives and realize that we are all just people - equal in our sins and equal in the weight of our struggles - even if one struggle might seem bigger than another, we are all on our own paths fighting our own disadvantages. And yet, here I am, thinking that I am somehow better than other people. I was blessed to be what is considered "smart" in this world. I learn fast and have the capacity to achieve a lot. I was blessed to be able to put pen to paper and draw what I see in my head. Great, beautiful gifts each and every one of them - but they are no greater than the gifts of anyone else. I am no better a person because of them!I had all these gifts when I was a teenager and I still was sinful to the max; I was still as lost as could be. Everything good in me, every good that I do, every accomplishment that I have, every mountain that I climb are all because my Heavenly Father has helped me!I have done nothing noteworthy or good on my own - my plans tend to walk me right into trouble, heartache, self-loathing, and despair! I feel like pieces in a puzzle are starting to come together in my head. Whenever I used to say "I am nothing without You", it was with a heart of pride and self-loathing - not a heart of reverence. I was seeing myself as sinful scum, and yet I was still praising myself for all of "my great accomplishments". I say "I am nothing without You" now not because I sin and that sin in itself is disgusting, not because I can't seem to avoid sin, and not because I "sometimes manage to do things right" - I am nothing without my Heavenly Father because He has given me all that is beautiful in me! I am who I am because of God - not simply because He touched me, but because He made me and He continues to make me!

Even more pages later, Beth asks what genuine humility looks like. I replied with this:
I realized last week that I am very far from being humble. I am proud and I cover that pride with a veil, coloured to be something else, but made of insecurity.I have realized that nothing I do is my own accomplishment - God has given me the means to accomplish every task. He is the one who does it all; He is the one responsible. I think that true humility is giving God the recognition He deserves - which is all of it! I would like very much to be more like this!

I remember my mother telling me throughout my childhood and adolescent years about how "gifted" I had been as a child. She told me that she had the opportunity to place me into special accelerated learning programs when I was young, but she chose not to because she wanted me to have a "normal childhood". Aside from the fact that her parenting paradigm was ignoring my needs and forcing me to be someone I wasn't, she was also planting the seed in my head for the thought that I was more special than the other kids. And let me tell you, that seed grew and took full bloom by the time I hit high school. I jeopardized so many friendships because I felt threatened and did so many things to get attention - simply because I thought I was better and deserved the attention and acclaim. 

When things did not go according to my plan or when I received bad attention, I would blame other people. In my mind, surely they just were blind to how special I was. Or, maybe they were jealous - they knew in their hearts that I was better, but they just couldn't admit it. (Funny how my pride caused me to project pride on other people.)

When my parents started fighting and separated and my life got ever so much more complicated and painful, I told myself that no one else was experiencing the kind of pain and trouble that I experienced. I narrowed my focus on the things that were going right in the lives of other people so that I could feel vindicated in my hatred. The idea that they had the "perfect life" made them seem ungrateful and made their lives seem easy. This made me feel good about myself for persevering through the turbulence in my life; it made me feel like the better person.

Even my art skill grew out of a prideful need to feel special and win attention. That is probably why I have had such a hard time reintegrating it back into my life. It was born of an ugly place inside of me and I am having to relearn how to enjoy my gift without revisiting that ugly place.

After high school, even after I met my future husband and came to Christ, I still was full of seething, smirking pride. In the wake of her divorce, my mother had mentally and emotionally abused me. I was broken, devalued, confused and full of pain. My concept of self had been so battered and crushed that I clung to my pride like a life preserver - it was all that I thought I had left. Surely, I had value and could love myself again if I could pull myself up out of hell by my bootstraps. It's funny to me now how proud I was of all that I thought I was doing, when in reality Christ was dragging me, kicking and screaming in the direction that God wanted me to go!

I am not Catholic, so I have never experienced a confessional, but I imagine that this is somewhere along the line of what it feels like. I have bared myself to God before and I have bared myself to my husband, but never have I bared myself to anyone else like this. I feel like the life I have been living, the life that other people have seen me living, and the person that other people see me as is a sham. Mollie is a giant ruse, and now I feel like I am plucking my own feathers - I am not a peacock; I am just a chicken in a peacock suit!

And I want it to be clear that I am not doing this for attention. In all honesty, I cringe on the inside as I write this. I would much rather continuing living in my peacock-suit. But God has been doing more than tickling my ear lately - He has the most beautiful way of kindly taking our biggest sins and gently slamming us upside the head with the truth, His Truth! And while it is ultimately very cathartic to do things His way, it is often quite uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes downright painful. (Though, doing things our way tends to be just as uncomfortable, awkward, and painful without the catharsis.)

The Bible talks about "death to self" many times, but I never really got it - not really. 

Luke 9:23 (NIV)
Then He said to them all: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will save it."

I always thought that we were supposed to love ourselves. I understood that we were to give up our time to read God's Word and follow Jesus, but I never quite grasped denying myself or losing my life for Christ. Oh, I could probably have explained it to you, but it never penetrated my heart. Then I read Beth's book, and those puzzle pieces I mentioned earlier started coming together. 

The final piece was the following sermon from John MacArthur on 2 Timothy 3:
You say, "But, John, what about in the Bible it says we're to love ourselves?" It never says that in the Bible. There's no command in Scripture to love yourself. You say, "What about love your neighbor as yourself." That tells us to love our neighbor, not our self. Well what about husbands, love your wives even as your own bodies? That says love your wife. You say, "But it says as yourself." Yes, it doesn't command us to love ourselves, it assumes we do. Did you get the difference? It makes that assumption. Why? Because that is reflective of our fallenness. That's an assumption, not a command. And I daresay, if we weren't fallen, the Lord wouldn't have to make the command or the parallel. So self-love is a sin. The Bible constantly warns on the other hand against pride and self-love and calls self-love a sin. The Bible doesn't teach us to love ourselves, it assumes that that is a part of our fallenness and we need to give to others what we so readily give to ourselves by way of attention and concern. The pervasive deadly sin that grips the human soul is pride and self-love, and out of that sewer pipe flows all the rest of the things that he gives us here.
Self-love and pride certainly aren't cured in me. That flowering weed in my heart has not been eradicated simply by identifying it. But I know that the cure is my continued pursuit of Christ through my daily choice to deny my self and pick up my cross.

In the past few months, I have come to realize that God is the one true love of my heart (and that it is not some fairy-tale Prince Charming). And I find that when I accept His redeeming love, I don't need someone else to love me - not even myself. I don't hate me, but I try leave the loving of me up to God. If anyone beyond God loves me, then that is a gift, and certainly not the expectation that it used to be. This is because my sight and my purpose are fixed on God, not the world, not man, not my husband or my daughter or my mother or anyone else in this world - just God.

Matthew 10:34-39 (NIV)
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn“‘a man against his father,a daughter against her mother,a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."

I started this post thinking that God's incessant pushing for me to create it might be so that I could benefit someone else, but now that I have come to the end of it... I think He had me write it for me, so I could come clean. Because now that all of this has poured out, I don't feel like such a sham. :)

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