I’ve written this post no less than six ways. By now it is a chapter for a book, the beginnings of a dissertation.
And since no one wants to read all of that, I’ve settled on a bit of a sampler instead.
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Love is not proud.
The word pride in 1 Corinthians 13:4 is also translated puffed up or arrogant. I can readily see how a bloated sense of self leaves no room in a relationship for love. It is entirely consumed by self-image and self-importance and superiority of mind and position.
But arrogance in real-life relationships rarely looks like Gaston stomping around in boots singing his own praises. It’s more subtle, I think . . . and without a chorus. Well, at least not one others can hear.
Consider . . .
There were times when I saw myself as so very superior to my husband: I was not an addict. I was responsible with money. I could get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t tell him lies.
Oh, I knew I had flaws, but they were nothing compared to his.
In earthly terms, I was right. He was wrong.
He didn’t deserve forgiveness, and I was not in need of it.
But that’s the very thing Jesus kept hammering home to the teachers who knew all the things and kept all the rules. None of us is perfect. Not one. And though it was hard, so hard, for me to imagine how it could possibly be, I came to understand that my sin of superiority and pride was every bit as bad as Dave’s addiction. Every bit. And, dare I say this? Even more so. He knew he was wrong. Confessed it regularly to God. I didn’t.
I’ve seen the grace that overflows from someone who has been forgiven much. And the tight-fistedness of one who has been forgiven little. Verses like Luke 15:7 are hard to grasp: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” God loves a repentant sinner, whether we like it or not.
Tight-fisted grace is arrogance, thinly disguised.
Arrogance comes from knowing things. From the top of our column of study, we look down on those who have not yet arrived at our level, or our view.
We fling about superiority of mind, painting opposing viewpoints with broad brush strokes, ceremoniously shaking the dust of a community off our sandals. Claiming to speak the truth in love. Clamoring for seats at a table. Arguing among ourselves over who is the betrayer of grace . . . while Jesus kneels and gently washes our feet asking, Who is greater? The one at the table or the one who serves?*
Knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1), eclipses love and devolves into decisive division. Like bickering brothers in a family. If you like this, then I will hate it. If you call this good, then I will call it bad. If you criticize it, I will praise it.
We are wise in our own eyes. So reactionary.
Our truth-in-love-speak resembles nothing of the gentle, humble kindness of our Lord.
Sometimes, arrogance is a cover.
Sometimes, my better than comes from wounds. Maybe yours does, too.
Wounds made by comment, culture, criticism . . . making us self-conscious of appearance, ability, size, personality . . . leaving us with feelings of less than.
Wounds made by trusted friends that were not accompanied by love but rejection. You have done this and therefore we are done.
Wounds made by grown-ups, even now, putting on a face of friendship but gossiping and stirring up trouble behind your back.
Some wounds are so deep they take longer to heal than anyone would dream. Heal to the point of walking again, let alone loving . . .
. . . sometimes, I still cling to the thing that makes me feel better than. I reach for it when I’m hurt or afraid of being hurt. I use it as a weapon.
How is it that we so easily slip into treating others the way we’ve been treated?
I believe this: there is grace for even the worst offender.
And after years of having the truth ground into my soul, arrogant thoughts of better than quickly dissipate from my mind the moment I recall my own weakness.
But sometimes, knowing my weakness too well is part of the problem . . .
I don’t know when I became such a perfectionist.
Paralyzing perfectionism: the urge to rip it all up and start over and never let it see the light of day: my living room, my writing, my body, my personality, my words, my gifts.
Somewhere, deep in the recesses, my perfectionism becomes a barrier to love.
Can there be an arrogance toward self? Is an arrogance toward self a fear of being seen as less than who we think we are or should be? Is it really, in the end, an insidious sort of pride masquerading as not good enough?
I don’t know.
But I believe God is painting his love over the wounds of my life. The better thans, the less thans, the know-it-alls, and the places where I just can’t yet. Even my procrastinating perfectionism.*
And I believe He does that for you, too.
It’s sort of the point of grace, isn’t it? Arrogance is just another reason we need Jesus.
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But God is so rich in mercy loved us so much
that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins,
He gave us back our lives again when he raised Christ from the dead . . .
And now God can always point to us as examples of how very, very rich his kindness is,
as shown in all he has done for us through Jesus Christ.
Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ.
And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God.
Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it.
It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus . . .
St. Paul, Ephesians 2:4-10
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* Luke 22:20-27 and John 13:14
* Procrastinating perfectionist — a term borrowed from Jon Acuff, Quitter