As I see my children growing up I want nothing more than to save them from repeating my mistakes. I share with them my experiences in hopes that they will learn without experiencing the same heartbreak. But it never seems to change their choices. When I think back though, I realize that I was equally unwilling to listen to my parents’ warnings. Of course, at the time it was clear to me that their experiences didn’t apply to me, or so I thought. Times had changed since they were my age and their experiences weren’t relevant. It may have happened that way for them, but that didn’t mean the same would be true for me. This is the reason it will always be hard to learn from others. We believe our experiences will be different.
Strangely, this thought process seems to carry over into our own experiences as well. At the moment when I’m suffering the consequences of a poor decision I think to myself- “I will never make that mistake again”. I believe I’ve learned my lesson, but down the road I often find myself drawn to make the same poor choices. Why? As time passes, I begin to convince myself that it was not the choice itself that was wrong, but rather the circumstances surrounding the choice. It will be different next time… It makes me think of the Jurassic Park movies. Each one begins with a unique set of circumstances and new safeguards are taken, but the outcome is always the same- the dinosaurs always escape and kill people. Why is it so hard to realize that some choices, no matter what the circumstance, will always be wrong? I see this same dilemma reflected in Paul’s words.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”Romans 7:15-20
As I ponder the reasoning behind these choices I begin to clearly see that they are rooted in pride. The dictionary defines pride in different ways:
1.) a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc. 2.) a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character. 3.) pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself.
One of these forms of pride have been involved each time I’ve made a choice I later regretted. Without a change in my mindset, I am prone to repeat those same mistakes time and time again. Pride blinds us to our own faults. It prompts us to make excuses or find scapegoats to explain the situation without it being our fault. Pride makes us overly perceptive of others’ faults while diminishing the insight into our own shortcomings. We may change every other variable expecting a different outcome. But, if we ignore our own culpability we will become helplessly locked in a cycle of repetition.
The world tells us that we should be proud of our accomplishments, of our talents, proud of our heritage, our political affiliation, and so on. It sounds innocent enough. However, misplaced pride is dangerous in its ability to divide people from each other. Pride doesn’t allow room for opposing views. To elevate ourselves we reflexively diminish the opinions and worth of others. This creates opposing mentalities: us vs. them, right vs. wrong, or good vs. bad. So how can I avoid the pitfalls of pride? How do I keep from repeating the mistakes of the past? Jesus actually tells us.
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’Matthew 22:36-40
Each definition of pride emphasizes the importance of oneself (self-satisfaction, self-esteem, self-determination, self-importance). When my focus is on myself I leave no room for God or anyone else. In order to avoid the trap of pride I have to change my focus. First, I need to focus on God. When I feel boastful about an accomplishment or recognition I need to remind myself that I am an instrument of God. He provided me with the gifts I possess, and they were intended to be used for his purpose. When I remember that fact, any pride I have in myself quickly fades. All I have and all I am is a gift from God. I need to yield to God’s guidance rather than relying on what I think or feel.
Second, I need to increase my awareness of other people and their feelings. When I’m wrapped up in how I feel or in how things affect me, I speak careless words without a thought. I am completely unaware of how others perceive me or the effect I am having on them. If I want to value others and their feelings I should think before I speak. I ought to be using my words to build others up rather than to tear them down. I don’t have to agree with everyone or their point of view, but I do owe each person dignity and respect. They are fellow human beings created in the image of God. I cannot control how others behave, but I am accountable for the way I speak and behave. If I want to make a change in the world I have to start by making a change within myself.
Check back for the last section in this series: How Can I Make a Positive Change?