Ever since my speech on people fear, God has been revealing more and more to me how much fear I have around people’s opinions, approval or disapproval, and the like. I’m not really digging in my heels at the work He is doing, but I have to admit I get low, like a self-loathing low, when I think about how much pride I have in my life (which increases fears, anxieties, restlessness…the whole kit and caboodle) . But wait…pride? Wasn’t I talking about people fear? Yes, I am, but I have been learning more and more that pride and fear really go hand in hand.
This has been gently shown to me through two readings: Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness and Hannah Anderson’s Humble Roots. I read Keller’s book a number of times before, but somehow this time round of careful and prayful reading, the book’s main message is finally sticking. I have an over-inflated ego, which draws attention to self. Everything–conversations, criticism, conflict–is filter through my ego, my pride. Here’s some of my thoughts, and disclaimer, they’re not pretty: What does this say about me? Who does this person think I am? I must be the scum of earth if that is being said about me… And on and on.
I know that this is not how people normally think of pride. Normally we think of pride as drawing positive attention to oneself, not negative. Negative is the above example, we self-depreciate rather than self-exalt. Positive attention is that swagger, that boast, that complaining of our affluence (“how can I keep that pristine white couch clean with three children?”) or our influence (personal example, “how can I have close friends when I work in my kind of job that I can’t even talk about!?”). But the negative attention is exactly pride…becuase it’s about self.
Remember that over-inflated ego I mentioned earlier? (Disclaimer: I don’t like the word ego becuase its often thrown around poorly defined so here’s how I’m using it: the way we view ourselves). Keller says that the over-inflated ego is empty (we search for anything but God to fill it), painful (when there is something wrong with our body, that body part calls attention to itself), busy (as God does not fill us and things to replace him are slippery and temporary in their fulfillments, we are busy seeking and searching the next best thing to make us happy and satisfied), and fragile (overinflated and deflated comes down to the same thing: overinflation is at imminent risk of being deflated and deflated is overinflated popped, so it was overinflated before). Pride therefore can be defined as thinking–either in negative or positive ways–about ourselves too much.
This is where self-loathing can come in. When our pride, an overinflated sense of self, is deflated, we feel terrible about ourselves. We continue to draw attention to ourselves, or at least I do, by moaning about how awful a sinner I am, how much sin I have in my life, how could anyone love me (etc…!)?
Both authors helped me to find the remedy. Keller does so susinctaly, Anderson does it comprehensively. But before I move to summarize what Anderson says, I want to quote a valuable thing Keller says:
“Paul puts it very simply [in 1 Corinthians 3:4]. He knows they cannot justify him. He knows he cannot justify himself…He says it is the the Lord who judges him. It is only His opinion that counts. Do you realize that is ono in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance? …Paul is saying that in Christinaity, the verdict leads to performance…The verdict is in [because of Christ]. And now I perform becuase of the verdict. Becuase He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things…to make me look good. I can things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people–not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.” (pp. 39-40, italics original)
What I pulled from Anderson’s beautiful book is that we need to stay connected to the Vine, Jesus. Humility is the recognition that we are not God–therefore we are not self-existant, limitless, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. We loose our pride because we no longer consider ourselves more highly than we ought.
We need to stay connected to the Vine because we are dependent, limited, not in control, do not know everything, and cannot be everywhere at once. There is so much freedom in this…and some days this freedom seems just outside of my reach becuase I’m scared. I want the positive opinion or approval of others. I want people to think highly of me. I want people to commend my choices. I’m fearful of giving in and resting on Jesus. I take security in what little influence, power, knowledge, control I do have. We cannot have both. We choose one or the other.
When we choose the life that Jesus offers, the abundant life because He is generous, we will not wither on the vine but produce fruit. If we don’t accept the life Jesus promises us and continue to think of ourselves more than we ought, we will wither on the Vine.
We produce fruit when we admit we are only human. We produce fruit when we willing to self-forget. Our ego becomes like our big toe–it works according to its capabilities, it functions within it’s limitations, and we just don’t think about ourselves (analogy from Keller). We need to keep our eyes on God, for His standards matter–it’s not about what others think of me, it’s about what God thinks about me. When (very rarely, let me say, but thanks to God I see this beginnings of this) I function in this mindset my self-loathing dissipates because I’m no longer operating under a deflated sense of self, but I live under the opinion of the tender God whose opinion only really matters. His opinion is that Jesus has made me free, free indeed, of sin’s pollution. I don’t stand condemned and neither do you becuase of Jesus. So obedience (performance) becomes joyful, not a begrudging duty or a self-clean up act to make ourselves presentable becuase we are free from all opinions except the opinion, the verdict, that really matters.
In this freedom, the standard He gives is simple: love God and love my neighbour. So, my purpose in life is how I reflect Christ and I no longer live for the approval, commendation, applause from others. I’m free to live out my gifts without comparing or envy, to live out my calling without complaining or seeking recognition, to produce the fruit of the Spirit rather than wither on the Vine, to shine out the glory of Christ instead of being a glory robber.
Lord, may we decrease and you increase (John 3:30).