When I did my internship in 2005 with the women’s minister at a large, urban church, I asked her for some book recommendations. What things did she think would be helpful for me to study? I expected ideas on theology or even women in ministry. She gave me a stack of books instead that specifically addressed PRIDE. I was astounded. I had worked so hard on humility over the years. I felt like everything I had been proud of at one time in my life had been ripped away from me. How could I still need to work on pride?
I dutifully read every single one of those books. I sought godly humility. I tried everything I knew to break myself of ungodly pride. And yet, to this day the thing I constantly find myself running up against is pride. My mentor was wise and she saw me clearly. Oh pride, when will you leave?
When my body stopped being one that got attention when I walked down the street, I thought my pride was broken. It was a bit of shock to find out how differently people treat you when you aren’t slim and smooth.
When my education didn’t open doors for me the way I expected it too, I thought my pride was broken. I was a graduate with a master’s degree in Theology, copying checks at a temp job where a 22 year-old girl with no education made me go and do it again because the check wasn’t perfectly centered on the page. Oh my. Pride was broken.
But that wasn’t enough. After working as a women’s minister for several years, teaching and leading and writing curriculum, I found myself scrubbing floors to pay off my massive student loans. As I cleaned up yet another mess, I made it a practice to thank God for the work that He had given me to do so I could pay my debts. I tried to find the lesson in the struggle. And my pride suffered heartily.
When I didn’t get married until I was 36, my pride suffered hit upon hit. Breakups, breakdowns, fear, bargaining, dutiful attempts to make myself more loveable so someone good would want me – all led to nowhere. When my husband finally showed up, he loved me simply for me. I discovered that my loneliness wasn’t about me. It was a matter of timing. I couldn’t even get that right.
Time and again I’ve applied for jobs that appear to be a great fit for me, only to be told that there’s nothing in my experience or training to disqualify me, but they just don’t feel I’m the one for the job. Or that they’ve narrowed it down to two candidates, me and another, and the other one got it. Ouch.
Pride has driven me hard. It has brought me to my knees. I was so sure that every bit of pride I ever had was broken off me when I suffered through three very difficult pregnancies. The indignities were unspeakable. The things my husband has had to do to help me through were almost unbearable, crushing my pride as I relied on him to do things for me that make me cringe to this day. He saw the ugliest side of me. He saw it all – and he loves me still.
When Redmond was born, I felt that familiar crash of my pride. It was worse this time though. I could NOT wrap my mind around the words spoken to me. God had promised life and health, joy and peace. He had promised that my latter days would be better than my former. How could those promises mesh with Down syndrome/Trisomy 21? My face flamed hot.
When my sister called that night to tell me congratulations, I whispered the words in a choke of emotion. “They say he may have Down syndrome.”
I don’t remember her response. I’m sure she was just as shocked as me. But what I do remember is that the absolute shame I felt in saying the unspeakable words out loud was met with so much grace. Without the ability to repeat her words in any way, I remember getting off the phone and feeling the tiniest bit of comfort. She hadn’t recoiled in horror. She hadn’t said the dreaded words – you were warned. She called our parents for me.
I’m not sure why telling my parents seemed like the worst part. My pride, ripped in a million pieces, left me broken in a way I don’t know how to describe. The tears still come as I write and reread these words. And yet my precious parents were just waiting for me to tell them, already aware, already loving their new grandbaby, already accepting and welcoming, and already gracious and kind. What had I been so afraid of? They showed me the way to loving him when I only had contraptions and wires and alarms and fears to see. They showed me the way to acceptance.
There were about four months when I can only describe my life as “under water.” I felt like I was in slow motion. I don’t remember much of the day to day activities. It’s a blur of surviving. I don’t know that I had any pride left. I stumbled through my days. People came to my house and told me how to take care of my medically fragile baby. I answered the door in my pajamas, unshowered, crying, and unconcerned with what they thought of me. These precious souls prodded me back above water. They didn’t judge my appearance or my demeanor. They just gently nudged me to the shore.
After a year of taking care of him and not myself, I looked in the mirror and had a bit of a fright. I had gone through the motions of getting my hair done and such, but I had stopped wearing my Fitbit when I decided I didn’t need to be reminded that I was getting in an average of 1600 steps a day. There was nothing I could think to do about it, so I just took the stupid thing off. From the time Redmond was 5 months old and eating food orally, I had to write down everything he ate and how many calories it was. I had to deduct the number of calories from his daily goal and tube-feed the rest. There was no time or energy to think about what I was eating. I didn’t have the time to chop vegetables and cook healthy meals. We ate a lot of convenience food.
In alarm, I decided to go back to the gym. My husband and I agreed that if I could get there three times a week, it was worth it to become a member. I went once a week for three weeks. Then forgot all about it again.
Nothing fit. The face I saw in the mirror looking back at me was almost unrecognizable. The gym sent me an email, offering a couch-to-5K program. I laughed. They had no idea how much I’d been on the couch. There were no 5Ks in my immediate future. They sent another email, offering a 6-week total body transformation challenge. If I gave them 6 weeks, I could lose 20 pounds and go on a little vacation at their expense. Well, that sounded interesting…
In complete humiliation, I went in for my “assessment”. Weighed, measured, and told my body fat percentage and all kinds of other information. Pride was knocking hard at my door, telling me to get out of there and do it on my own. But that hadn’t been working at all, so I shut pride down and faced the embarrassment.
Before I could even start the challenge, I received a call asking me to pinch hit for a speaker who had gotten sick and couldn’t make the large women’s event that night. With about 8 hours notice, I wrote an outline, got myself together as best I could, and showed up to speak to about 300 women at a sold out event. I wasn’t nervous about what I was going to say. Speaking in front of an audience is exciting to me, not scary. I was, however, devastated about how I looked. It took every bit of courage I have in my entire body to walk up those stairs, act like I was born to stand there, and share the words I believed God had placed on my heart.
I knew I was born for that moment. I knew that God had been preparing me for such a time as this for years. I was so happy to be there and to be able to minister to that group of women. I wanted to tell them so much that I could’ve talked for hours. I trembled at the awesome responsibility to share the heart of God with them. But to stand up there – like that – and have all those eyes on my broken body was almost too much. My pride was pulverized. Again.
As I cried out to God about my situation, wondering how He could prepare me in so many ways for that moment (He’d been working on me hard for the 2 weeks leading up to it), I heard a soft and gracious answer. “Clearly how you look right now isn’t as important as you think.”
My gracious and loving Father, so full of kindness, didn’t get me into that 6-week challenge several months before this event. He didn’t do anything to prepare me physically to speak except allow me to find an outfit I liked reasonably well about a week before. I didn’t need to add shopping to my list of things to do that day. How I looked on that night wasn’t nearly as important as what He gave me to say. And it didn’t stop Him from showing up and letting His presence be felt in what I experienced as waves of grace over the entire evening.
The next week I went to my first personal training class and sweated it up. I went back the next day and did it again. The next week I started a disciplined eating plan that required plenty of planning, vegetable chopping, and time in the kitchen. Redmond happily sat in his high chair and played with toys while I worked. Redmond laughed as he rode along in the stroller while I walked. Redmond shouted encouraging gibberish from his makeshift laundry basket play pen while I did mountain climbers and burpees and Russian twists with his big sister in the living room. I even tube-fed him during a walk, which worked out just fine. I worked out five days in a row and I felt really good about what I’d accomplished.
I believe that God calls us to have self-control and to be disciplined. As Christian leaders, I think it’s a challenge to ask people to follow us when we are clearly out of control in the area of health and self-care. I don’t think God cares if our body fat percentage is in keeping with the American standard of beauty, or what size clothes we wear. I don’t think God cares one bit if we look good in a bikini. But I do think that we honor Him when we care for ourselves. There may be times in our lives when that isn’t possible due to illness or tragedy. But when things are going better, we need to offer our health as a gift to the people who love us and to the God who made us.
I often hear myself telling my children, “I worked hard to make your body. You need to take good care of it.” Certainly God feels the same about us. How can we have the strength and stamina to serve one another if we ache so badly we can’t walk for more than a short distance before our hips give out?
My pride takes a little hit every time I go to the gym and allow myself to become a sweaty, red-faced mess with a group of other people who are far more advanced than me. I’m panting and taking breaks from the modified exercises I’m doing while they do the real things and keep on plugging away. I’ll get there though. It was a little challenging the other day when a sweet woman said, “Hey! You’re that speaker…” right before I was about to wipe the sweat out of my burning eyes. But I chose to smile brightly and say, “Yes, I am! How are you today?”
I’m digging myself out of a hole that I dug when I was in the trenches, hunkered down, trying to survive. I can’t apologize for that. I can’t say that I’m sorry I did it. I wish I was the kind of person who goes through hard things and doesn’t eat. I’m not. I find comfort in food. I’m working on changing my relationship with food in other ways besides a diet and exercise program. I can only hope that my struggle is something others can relate to and find inspiring.
Pride is a hard thing. I’ve stopped seeing it as something I can overcome once and for all. It’s probably something God will continue to break in me for many years to come. Humility is a daily sacrifice, offering ourselves to God as broken vessels, hoping He can fill us and use us to pour out His grace on others.
In closing, I was proud of my first two children when they were born “perfect.” I marveled at their bodies, so finely knit together by Almighty God. I had asked for healthy children, and when Redmond was born my prayers weren’t answered in the way I desired.
I realized that we are often so proud of things we have no control over. I had little to no control over the way my children were made. I was actually physically healthier when we conceived Redmond than I was with the other two. But I was as proud as punch of the two older children and all their perfection.
Pride is tricky. We crucify our personal pride, but we burst with pride over our children over whom we have little control (in spite of all our efforts to the contrary). They work hard and achieve much and we tell all our friends about them and splash photos of them all over social media. We have a child who doesn’t work so hard and doesn’t achieve that much and we smile with a touch of embarrassment and point to our high achiever to redirect others opinions about us. It affects them, you know. The high achiever wonders if the love of their parents is based on their pride in all that child’s efforts and achievement. The mediocre child wonders if his parents would love him more if he tried harder, resents the high achiever for being a goody-goody.
But when you have a child with special needs, all that changes. Your definition of pride in your children changes. You no longer care if your child is the best-dressed or most athletic. You celebrate the victories and fiercely stare down the challenges, swallow your tears, and try again.
I’ve been the one breaking. My pride is breaking. But when we break, it’s our precious Father God who flies to our brokenness and wraps His arms of love and comfort around us. It’s our Heavenly Father who shows us the way to let the light of His grace shine through our cracks. When we break, we have the opportunity to draw others closer to Him as we ourselves find our peace and comfort in Him. So, cheers to the breaking. Cheers to the smashing of our pride. He gives grace to the humble.