"We are proud of you, We are proud of you (clap, clap, clap)"
|The West Orange Wildcat Challenger Team|
The cheer rang out though the entire stadium. My daughter and her cheer team had just completed their routine in front of hundreds of their peers and it had been a success--not perfect, but exuberant and heart-felt. What had elicited all this selfless praise from selfish teenagers?
Katie's cheerleading team is unique. Katie and her team-mates face tremendous challenges every day just doing things like reading, speaking and running. Each of these girls have a serious disability of some kind. The fact that these girls were out there doing the same cheers that every other little girl does with unbridled passion provided a tearful reminder to many in that crowd that life isn't always fair, but we are valuable regardless of who we are and what we are able to do.
Our society elevates pride as a positive and encouraging feeling. We are told to work hard and you can take pride in all you have accomplished. It's a hard message to refute--it sounds right. So why does the Bible portray pride as such a powerfully destructive emotion? Is it just too much of a good thing or is there something fundamentally wrong with it?
As bond-servants of the Most High God, the problem with pride, or even self-confidence, is where we place the focus. Every moment we have a choice between self-oriented pride or God-centered awe. We can elevate man or we can thank God. One puffs-up. The other provides a realistic assessment of our standing before someone much greater than ourselves and brings us to a grateful reverence.
The girls did a good thing and got praise for it, but did they get praise for an expertly performed routine? Every other team on that mat did better than they did--so why the standing ovation for them? Why did coaches stand in awe, with tears running down their faces? In many ways, the heart-emotion Katie's team elicited was a gut-level recognition that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, regardless of our ability. Before God, we are all disabled in comparison but we are profoundly valuable anyway.
It's hard to see that when you're comparing the technical skill of one fantastic team against another. That's what competition is all about. The winner earns the "right" to feel pride for a job done better than their peers. The comparison is temporary--a moment in time--and elevates one group at the expense of others. Those who did not win the prize leave the competition in tears.
I'm not necessarily saying that competition is inherently bad (I think...for the moment the jury is out on that one). I wonder if God sees our competitiveness like the annoyance of sibling rivalry: each child crying out, "Look at ME!!! I'm the Best!!! Pay attention to ME!!" The Father has seen and treasures each child uniquely, but try explaining that to a brother and sister fighting for attention (and yes, this is one place Katie is perfectly normal.)
On the other hand, when we gratefully recognize the work that God has done in and through us, it lifts us up, changes our focus and encourages all who see it. Our world may never get past the one-up-man-ship of competitive pride, but as children of an incomparable God, we have the chance for something better: the reverent awe of a grateful participant in a much larger story. People are small and frail and cannot bear the weight of worship directed toward themselves. There is nothing like praise to thoroughly ruin a man.
Pride puffs up. Humble reverence lifts up. Which one would you rather have?