Pride, Honesty, & Love

I use to think that my overly sensitive self-consciousness stemmed from a lack of self-esteem. You know, I worried about what others thought of me because I didn't think very highly of myself. That is to say, I had a bad, "self-image," or so I thought. But, a recent conversation with my wife, Belinda, whose discernment, perception, and wisdom are often far deeper than my own, made me realize that my real struggle is pride.

Basically, she told me that I have a strong propensity to think that everyone else in the room is always thinking about me. In other words, I tend to think that if someone is laughing, they are laughing at me, or if they are whispering, they are whispering about me.

Though that may sound like a terrible thing for her to point out, a few things should be noted. First, she didn't just blurt it out. She wasn't cruel or even blunt about it. She simply spoke the truth in love. In fact, she said it, because she loved me. She said it, because she saw something in me I could not see in myself, and she knew it was causing me to struggle. She said something, because that is what people who love one another do. They kindly, and gently, speak the truth so that those they love can grow and overcome their struggle.

What's more, when we know such words are spoken in love, we can and should receive them with love.  Though it sounds like something that could only happen in a dream, it's not.  As crazy as it seems, I able to receive Belinda's critique with love because she spoke in such a loving, kind, and gracious way. I fact, I was a actually happy to hear it. I wasn't offended. I wasn't angry, defensive, or hurt. I was actually glad to hear what she said, and thankful that she loved me enough to be honest.

After all, that's what people who love one another do. They speak the truth in love. Unfortunately,  we often fail to do so because of pride. though we claim we don't speak the truth in love because "don't want to hurt the other person," in all honesty, we don't do it because we don't want to hurt us. Though we often believe we'd be able to graciously hear criticism from them, we expect less of them. We assume they will be bitter, angry, resentful, and hurt, so we withhold the truth from them claiming altruistic reasons, all the while, failing to realize how harmful and hateful we are being.

For example, let's say that you and a loved one, were both suffering from painful acid reflux that was so severe, it could not be treated with "over the counter" medications. As a result, you both visited your respective doctors in search of relief; and while your  doctor prescribed a new drug that gave you immediate relief with no adverse side effects, your loved one's doctor told them there was nothing that could be done, and that they'd just have to suffer with it. What would you do? 

Obviously, you'd tell them about the new drug your doctor prescribed. After all, what kind of person would withhold something from someone they loved that might be beneficial to their health? We'd call anyone who watched another person suffer without trying to help, selfish and cruel, even if the didn't know the person or know exactly what to do. But for someone to watch someone they love suffer when they may have something that would bring them relief, that person is truly hateful. So it is when we fail to speak the truth in love. 

I understand that no one likes conflict, and that’s it’s always a potential in such situations, but so what? If we love someone, we must speak the truth to them in love. Love always speaks the truth lovingly, no matter what, because it cares more for the “one who is loved” than it does for itself. That's why Belinda pointed out my pride, and that's why I was able to hear it; because I knew she loved me, wanted to see me grow, and wanted to help me overcome my struggle.

In his short essay, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, Tim Keller discusses this very same topic. He writes…

“C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

“Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

“True gospel-humility means an ego that is not puffed up but filled up. This is totally unique. Are we talking about high self-esteem? No. So is it low self-esteem? Certainly not. It is not about self-esteem. Paul simply refuses to play that game. He says ‘I don’t care about your opinion but, I don’t care that much about my opinion’ – and that is the secret.”

“A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person. The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.”

“Here is one little test. The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism. It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them. Why? Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions. The world tells the person who is thin-skinned and devastated by criticism to deal with it by saying, ‘Who cares what they think? I know what I think. Who cares what the rabble thinks? It doesn’t bother me.’ People are either devastated by criticism – or they are not devastated by criticism because they do not listen to it. They will not listen to it or learn from it because they do not care about it. They know who they are and what they think. In other words, our only solution to low self-esteem is pride. But that is no solution. Both low self-esteem and pride are horrible nuisances to our own future and to everyone around us.”

“The person who is self-forgetful is the complete opposite. When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them. They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change.”[i]

[i] Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, (Kindle Locations 275-296), Kindle Edition.