Every Sunday night at our church youth group, all of the kids and leaders eat a meal together, on real plates, around tables, the works. It’s a really cool thing that we do. Every week, Jonathan and Vanessa, our youth and children’s ministry directors (respectively), buy the supplies, and a parent cooks and serves. A few weeks ago, it was our family’s turn, and I got to make spaghetti with meat sauce. Easy peasy.
I got there a couple hours early, because I wanted to let the sauce cook as long as possible. So I browned up all the meat, and I added in all the sauce and got it to a nice simmer, and then I look over at the pasta Vanessa had bought.
It was angel hair…
Angel hair is fine pasta. But it’s not what you serve with meat sauce. So I went to Publix and bought real spaghetti. The good thick kind.
When I got back, I saw Vanessa, and told her not to worry, I had saved dinner. Turns out, she likes angel hair. She bought it on purpose. So I made both kinds of pasta, and put everything out for the kids to make their plates.
Big bowl of spaghetti. Big bowl of angel hair. Big bowl of sauce. Big bowl of salad. All laid out in that order.
So the kids came in, and saw the pastas laid out, and guess which kind they overwhelmingly went for?
The angel hair. Even my own kids! The traitors.
It was an exercise in letting go of pride.
There’s nothing quite like reality to show you when you’re wrong. And there’s nothing like a roomful of witnesses to help you admit it. Especially when those witnesses are eating heaping bowls full of angel hair pasta.
But under different circumstances, it’s harder to admit.
The problem with pride is that you can see it in other people but it’s almost impossible to see in the mirror. It’s much easier to see someone else’e pride than admit we have a problem with it ourselves. But pride is a problem for all of us.
- Pride keeps us from celebrating other people’s success.
- Pride keeps us from saying we’re sorry when we know we are wrong.
- It’s also what keeps us from saying we’re sorry when we are only 10% wrong and the other person was 90% wrong.
- Pride is what keeps us arguing the point after the fact that we’ve realized we don’t really have a point.
- It keeps us from admitting loss, from admitting weakness, from admitting when we need help.
- Pride keeps us from being honest with ourselves, and from being honest with others.
- It’s what causes us to feel good when others fail.
- To cheat instead of lose. To need the final word.
Pride keeps us from doing the one thing that we have to do to be Christians: Repent.
And that’s why today we’re looking at how, if we want to live life to the fullest, we need to let go of pride.
The readings at the bottom of this post show that pride is a stumbling block for us. A stumbling block gets us in trouble, it keeps us from knowing God. It keeps us from growing in faith.
In Matthew 18:6-9, Jesus tells us what to do with stumbling blocks. That we’re to get rid of them at any cost to ourselves, and he gives an especially urgent warning to not put them in front of others.
Which we do all the time, especially when we send mixed messages about pride and humility.
We do this when we tolerate bullies and braggarts, if they’re on our side. When we fight and argue. When we belittle other people to make ourselves feel or look superior. That’s all pride.
And in all of the teachings, that one and in several of the others this week, Jesus gives us some solid advice about pride.
Jesus is really serious about us letting go of all the things that keep us from living life with God.
Especially pride.Because pride is dangerous. That’s what we see in Luke 18:9-14, in which Luke tells us that
He (Jesus) told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.
That’s the essence of pride. Trusting in yourself, that you are righteous, and regarding others with contempt. And the two are always linked.
Pride is always a comparison. It’s always a zero sum game.
Pride says that I only win if someone else loses.
I only look good, if you look bad.
Sometimes all we need to get through the day is someone to look down on.
That’s what Jesus is illustrating in this parable:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people:
Here’s a tip. If you are starting off your prayers like this, you might have a problem with pride. Not only does the Pharisee see himself as much better than everyone else, but he is pulling God into his moment of self-righteousness.
What do you suppose God thinks when people try to involve him in thier narcissism?
The Pharisee’s prayer goes on:
thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
Lord, I am better than that guy. And that one. And even that one over there. Why? Because I fast, and I tithe. And those are both good things, or at least, they can be. But he is using them as self-justification, as fuel for his pride, so they show how far he really is from God.
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other;
While the Pharisee is busy making a list of his own accomplishments, the tax collector is deep into a prayer of repentance. Jesus moves right to his point. “This man went down to his home justified rather than the other.” Because that’s the essence of salvation.
We can’t save ourselves. We can’t earn our way. We can’t justify ourselves. We have to be justified by God.
for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Right here, Jesus gives us the way out from pride. And it has nothing to do with changing your attitude, or thinking a new thought, or any other kind of mumbo jumbo.
Pride isn’t overcome by a better feeling.
Pride is overcome by action.
You don’t overcome pride in your life by thinking humble thoughts. You overcome pride by doing something.
Jesus really brings that home in John 13, which is also in the readings below. At the end of Jesus’ ministry, he washed his disciple’s feet. And then he told them to go and do likewise.
If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (John 13:14-15)
I can’t think of a clearer example of overcoming pride with action. You literally have to swallow your pride to wash someone else’s feet. Which is exactly why Jesus told us to wash them. Because feet are gross.
But Jesus says, wash them. And I really hope he was just being metaphorical, and that we don’t have to actually touch anyone else’s feet.
Well, either way, it’s action that Jesus calls us to. Humbling action.
He doesn’t say, “Humble yourself by changing what you are thinking.”
No, Jesus says serve others. Do work that needs to be done even if it’s not what we would normally want to do.
Letting go of pride isn’t about thinking less of yourself.
It’s about thinking of yourself less.
And the only way to do that is through action.
This can be big social action, washing the feet of the most vulnerable in our society.
And it can also be the everyday stuff.
With your spouse, it can mean you stop making that Pharisee list like of all the reasons you are righteous. You know the one I’m talking about. “God, I thank you that I am better than my spouse because I have brought home more money or picked up the socks.”
Instead love your spouse the way God loves you, without keeping score. Do something for your spouse this week. Want to really take on pride? Go home and scrub the toilet, and then don’t brag about doing it. Or something less gross. Maybe bring them coffee in bed tomorrow morning.
At work, you can build into the people you work with. This doesn’t mean choosing to do a bad job to make other people look good. Humility is not watching Netflix at your desk. But it does mean you can work as a team, instead of pushing other people down to lift yourself up. It can also mean being the one who sets an example of balance, the one who goes home as early as you can because your family matters more than your next promotion.
In your neighborhood, you can stop trying to keep up with the Joneses and instead go get to know the Joneses. What if instead of being the fanciest house on the street, you were the friendliest house on the street, loving your neighbors like God loves you. Help out your older neighbors who can’t clean out their gutters. Tell the young parents next door they are doing an amazing job with their kids. Or take a baby step and mow a little past the property line.
Then take on pride in the stuff that no one sees in your life.
In your prayers, start with repentance like the man in our parable. Pray for God’s forgiveness and mercy. Admit before God your sins and your addictions. Pride has been telling you to hide these things, but God wants your whole life.
Then pray for other people more than yourself. Really intercede for them. Not only the people you like, but the people you don’t. And then before you stop praying, listen to God. Nothing shows our pride more than when we pray and tell God how things should be, then say “amen” and go back to our day.
Mother Teresa when asked about what she says when she prays said, “I don’t talk. I listen.”
All of these are things you go and do.
Because pride isn’t overcome by a better feeling.
Pride is overcome by action.
And we don’t just do these actions once. We do them everyday. Because pride wants to sneak up on us everyday.
That night at youth group, or as I will remember it, the night when my children betrayed me. I was so sure I was right. I was full of certainty and pride. And you know what action helped bring me back down? Putting all that leftover spaghetti into a container with the leftover sauce, and then eating it for lunch the next day.
Oh, and the box of Angel Hair that Vanessa left for me in my office.
We can use all the help we can get.
About the Author
David Collins is the co-pastor of Maitland Presbyterian Church near Orlando, FL. Find him on Twitter @davidrcollins
More Readings about Letting Go of Pride (and other temptations)
Matthew 18:6-9, Mark 9:42-50, Luke 17:1-2
- Luke 17:7-10
- Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 13:23-24
- Matthew 20: 20-28, Mark 10:35-45, Luke 22:27
- John 13:4-5, 12-17
- Matthew 10:38-39