Saturday, September 10, 2011

Praise and Pride

I wrote this little essay a few years back and thought it time to review it again...

Remember the Gospel story about the apostles discussing among themselves who was the greatest? When asked by Christ what they were discussing they fell silent. Why? Because they somehow knew this whole idea about being the greatest was not inline with what the Master was teaching them to be, servants of others. They were ashamed to tell him of their discussion, so they had to know.

I have a problem with pride. Big time. I dread the thought that I may be prideful, that I think I'm better than others, that others are below me. I fear the sin of pride so much that I cannot take praise gracefully. Am I prideful? No doubt, and it would probably be very easy for those that know me to point that out. I can point it out in myself!

I've been told that I am good at certain things, that I have talents and skills I should be proud of. Eeeeek!! No! That is the whole point! I do not WANT to be proud of my accomplishments!! Not that my skills and talents are evil, no not at all, since overall they are good and beneficial to myself and others. So what's the problem with receiving praise from others? Because I know myself.

I have played a musical instrument since I was ten and I am good at it. I'm not deaf. I've heard myself on recordings and yes, I can play well, but, at the same time I know that somewhere, someone is better than I am. Much better than I am. I have never and will never extol my playing by saying I'm so good, so much better than anyone else because in my years of playing and associating with others that play, I know there are those that can put me to shame. It's a long way down when you build yourself up higher than you should. I've seen that happen to others, the so-called "best" in different areas, that have plummeted down to earth faster than a speeding bullet. But that is not my fear, this falling before the world. It is the fear of calling something as my own, to what rightfully belongs to someone else: God. That scares the hel...umm heck out of me.

My head swells too easily from praise. I know it does for I constantly keep battering it down to size . I know where my so-called talents and skills come from, where these gifts come from and they do not come from my own initiative, not at all. They come from God. Whenever we are endowed with certain attributes that help our neighbor and ourselves and support the respect and dignity of a human being, those are gifts from God. When we exercise those gifts and share them with our neighbors to benefit them, then we are doing what is asked of us. To be servants of others.

I for one, have no qualms about praising someone else for doing a good job at something. I like telling that to someone that truly has a talent or skill and I can see how pleased they are that someone noticed. And they should be. There is nothing wrong with giving or accepting praise for doing something good, especially for another, especially for doing something simply because it is the right thing to do. Christ Himself praised what the poor old woman at the temple did, to those around him. She gave of her want to pay the temple tax. She gave her all, while everyone else paid from their excess. We all know how a child reacts to praise. They smile and have a good feeling about themselves for having done something well and that someone else took the time to let them know. That is not pride. It is knowing that you used your talents and skills in a manner that was good. We did something that pleased another in a good way. When we do that, it makes us feel good also, that we did not pervert the gift given to us, though we may not consciously think about in this way.

But at the same time, we all know when we do what is right and what is good. We just know. We know because we were made in the image and likeness of God and God is the source of all goodness which means that we have the potential and duty to do what is good, but only because it was instilled in us by Him. Just as we know when we do something wrong because it goes against the truth that God revealed to us, we know when we do something right and where the strength, skill and talent that made it possible came from. If we keep in mind this source, God, where all good skills and talents and goodness comes from, and we give Him the praise and thanks for the gifts we have, then we should not have to worry about pride.

I have gone to the other extreme. In being praised for doing something good, I pooh pooh it. I downplay what I've done as unimportant and just as quickly I try to point out all the mistakes I've made in trying to do this 'good' thing. I am wrong in doing this. Very wrong, for if indeed my skills and talents come from God, what am I doing then? I'm dismissing His gifts. I'm saying His gifts to me are not worth anything. I'm not giving Him the credit for my having been given what it takes to do good. Though not always apparent, it is a false modesty. In a sense, it is also not the good kind. I need to differentiate these two 'prides'. Satan is tricky. He can and does confound me when it comes to pride. I can and should take praise for doing something good and right when someone notices by saying thank you, and at the same time giving praise and glory to Him who gave me the strength and skill to do this good thing. I need to recognize that I do not have to fear being "puffed" up if I do what is correct and good for the right reason...but on the other hand, I better be able to recognize when my own ego tries to push Him aside. And if I do not see this in myself, then I'm sure someone else will recognize it for me. A prideful braggart is always easily recognized.

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