Proverbs 11:2 New King James Version (NKJV)
2 When pride comes, then comes shame;
But with the humble is wisdom.
I don’t know exactly when I became proud. It is actually laughable that I did, considering there was little to be proud of where I came from.
One of my very few vivid childhood memories is of laying on my mother’s lap while she stroked my hair. Such moments in a house of four children, two dogs, a cat and a demanding Dad were in short supply. The late afternoon sun was warming her lap. She raked her fingers through my hair and said these glorious words: “I love the colour of your hair in the sun. Nadine has silver in hers and Elize has a bronze colour. But yours look like strands of gold”. In my mind at that moment there was a podium: and guess who got gold?
I don’t think this was the start of the imaginary competition that I had with the world, but if I ever doubted whether I was special, I went to that moment.
When I was five my parents took me to a tiny man who did some tests with me. I thought it was fun and when they spoke in hushed tones afterwards, I didn’t ask questions, because in those days, you didn’t. A few months later I started school. A year earlier than my friends. My parents said that they were tired of giving me instructions only to find me 15 minutes later busy with something totally different. So they sent me to school to keep me busy.
I dreaded sports every term because I had to compete with the year below me. I didn’t know anyone. And I was not that great at sport to begin with. It was only in grade 4 when a boy I sort of fancied said to me: “You know, you are younger than all of us, but you are still getting A’s and you’re among the top of the class. You can be proud of yourself.”.
The penny dropped. All this time I had felt inferior because of my age (and crooked teeth and frizzy hair and bony legs and, and..), but now I felt- Superior. I told my mother what he’d said and she wisely just ignored me, not wanting to feed my ego. But when I told my older sister she rolled her eyes and said: “Duh! That’s why you went to school early. They had you tested and you were clever or something. But anyway, you don’t have breasts yet, so there, get out of my room!”
My mother passed when I was 12 and now new words added fuel to the pride-fire: “So young and she is looking after her little siblings”. The rest of my school years were a tug-of-war between the image I had created and the real me, but you can read more about that here. “A”-student versus “anything-goes”. And the same pattern followed me for the rest of my life, even through Bible college, until Jesus found me and loved me too much to leave me that way.
In 2012, after only 6 months in the UK, I had a conflict with a friend about a group I had been running. I thought that I was helping these women who all had young kids and were struggling financially and I truly loved them and would do anything for them. So when one of them confronted me about my lack of sincerity I was shocked, angry even. I listened dismissively – convinced she was jealous. My view of myself was about to get an extreme makeover. I asked the most important question: “Lord, which part of what they are saying is true? And please don’t say all of it!”
That started a year-long process where God showed me what pride looked like. Once I recognised pride burning cigarette holes in my relationships, I was devastated. I was 33 and I felt like a fraud. My pillows were soaked for days. I tried explaining it to God, melodrama, self-pity, I tried blaming others, I tried denying it, making excuses, raging against God. And then the storm was still.
I accepted that I had pride and I asked God to help me. He started showing me that wedged between my good deeds and camouflaged by my good intentions, was the belief that I knew better and that I was their “saviour”. That I was better than them. And it showed in the way I talked over them, took control of every situation ignoring their gifts and worst, sharing their secrets with our pastor’s wife when I thought it was for “their own good”. Ouch.
The hardest thing about getting away from pride is that you can’t just sneak out the back-door quietly. The opposite of pride is humility and it says, not it shouts: “I was wrong.” So if you want to suffocate the fire of pride, you need to use humility as the sand. I really wanted more than anything to be free from it, so I repented to God and our Pastors wife and wrote letters of apology to each woman in that group. Not explaining my actions, just apologizing and focusing on how much I loved them. Graciously, they forgave me, but our relationships were never the same.
I spent the next two years learning how to be humble: Not everyone has to know what I do for others; listen, listen, listen; never, ever share something that someone told me in confidence; let others try the same way I was allowed to try and fail; and most importantly, no one expects me to have all the answers. After 36 years I finally feel free.
Back in SA, I sometimes struggle, with where I fit in, what I am meant to do. But I believe God is making sure that fruit of humility that grew in my life is strong. Immovable. That I don’t place my worth in what I do. So, I serve and I love and I encourage and I point to the successes of those around me in stead of my own and I treasure those secrets shared with me in confidence and pray about them. And when I inevitably listen to the lie: What about me? God reminds me again:
Romans 12:3 New King James Version (NKJV)
3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
Romans 11:18 ESV
Do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
2 Corinthians 11:30 ESV
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
I started off by saying that I don’t know where I “got” pride from, but the reality is we are all born with it. We all “get” pride and all the other sins. The devil just waits to see what we attach our worth to. And then it becomes a stronghold.
But when I came to Jesus and accepted Him as my Saviour- I received humility and all the other gifts of the Spirit with it. And then I could start to let the fruit of the Spirit grow freely and choke out the weeds of sin in my life.
Did any of this make you say “Ouch, that’s me!”? Don’t ignore it. Ask God to show you the extent of it, ask Him for forgiveness and finally be free.