Both women were in their nineties...and both were members of my church. And they didn't like each other. And I unwittingly got caught in one of their conflicts: the one that erupted
in the church basement with
the Tuesday Quilting Ladies. Evidently Laura had reached the point in life where she couldn't see to stitch straight anymore. And the rest of the ladies, discretely, would wait for her to leave for the day, then undo her stitches, then replace them.
On this particular week, Laura must have said something that offended Ethel's ears, and so Ethel decided to spill the beans and tell Laura that she was too old to quilt and that everyone just waited for her to leave each Tuesday so they could rip out her stiches.
When I found out about what happened, I tried to be a peacemaker, but this was one of those times when the beatitude, Blessed are the peacemakers" didn't pan out. My sympathies were with Laura at first, but it turned out she didn't want any sympathy. She just wanted revenge. I tried some shuttle diplomacy, but each woman only wanted to argue to me that she had a lot more money than the other, even though the other was always bragging about how rich she was. And then they each tried to convince me which one of the two was older...both claiming to be older than the other one. The peace between them was never made...one of my several failures as a disciple of the Lord.
I stayed at that church long enough to bury both of them, but never did find out which one had the most money. I could have been convinced if either of them had thought to leave a chunk of cash to the church, but alas...nothing. I did learn which one really was the oldest...even though it never mattered enough in my mind to bother remembering.
Pride. It is said to be one of the seven deadly sins. It also allegedly goeth before a fall.
We have two granddaughters, cousins, one barely a year old, the other barreling toward twenty months. And of course, these days we are merely a face on a cell phone to them. You take and treasure what you can. Maple, the younger, has no pride...none whatsoever. She simply stares into the cell phone, and gawks, and sometimes giggles, utterly lacking self-consciousness. Isobel, on the other hand, fetches toys and books and performs with words and gestures...already a little ham. You can see the tiny smirk as she eats up our applause. Maple's pride won't be far behind.
Somewhere after that first birthday, just prior to the terrible-twos, pride emerges. And it evidently still runs strong into one's nineties. (I've never noticed pride in anyone over 100, but then I've only known a dozen or so of those people, and maybe folks just get better at hiding it by then.)
Pride is a sense of satisfaction with one's self. We all need some of it to survive. It produce self-confidence. And we need self-confidence in order to risk growth, relationships, adventures...
Pride is tied to merits. And we earn merits through accomplishing something, accumulating stuff, or appearing good. We first become aware that we are earning merits when others around us laugh, applaud, react... We are enticed very quickly to perform, to show off our stuff, to display ourselves. The feedback of others feels good...it is the feeling of pride. And with that feeling, we are empowered to accumulate even more, look even better, accomplish even greater things.
As we get older, going through the different stages of life, we get pride from being helpful, from pleasing others, from getting good grades, from building things, from athletic success, from singing and speaking and writing. Money and sex really get inextricably connected with our pride. We take pride in our homes, our financial success, our work, our children, our hobbies, our volunteer work, our generosity... And life is good. We even borrow pride from our collective identities, sometimes taking personal pride in our race, nation, lifestyle, religion...
And from time to time, we run into a crisis. Life takes an unwelcome turn, or we suffer a loss, or we willingly enter a transition (like retirement)...and suddenly our sense of well-being and self-confidence come up short. The merits we have accumulated don't count anymore in a new environment. Or...we can't take our accumulations with us. Or...we can't show off the stuff that used to make us feel valuable.
As I enter retirement, now less than three months away, I am simultaneously feeling both happy and troubled. The troubles all seem to be connected to pride. Our new house will not allow me to show off all my books (a GREAT source of pride to me.) Relinquishing my active status as a pastor will take away my sense of functional value. And no one who retires (unless they make their first million before age 35) ever looks as good as they used to. A crisis of pride is a catalyst for a crisis in self-confidence and well-being. I have seen it in other people who have retired.
But I've noticed that wise people always find two solutions to a crisis of pride. The first solution is to let go of the old sources of pride and find new ways to achieve, show-off, and bless others.
And the second solution to pride comes in getting to know grace. If pride comes through merit, grace comes as sheer gift...even in the face of losing merits, or...overwhelming de-merits. Grace depends solely on the love of someone else, someone who may celebrate our merits, but who will value us no matter what.
From early childhood, we learn to look for indicators to help us measure our self-worth. The indicators that increase our pride come through accumulations, appearances, and achievements. Those indicators change as we move through life's phases.
But grace also has its indicators. The indicators of grace some through stories: stories of faith, personal stories, literary stories. Indicators of grace also come from gestures and words and gifts and the soul-infusing touches of nature.
As I get closer to retirement, pray for me, that I will navigate my crisis of pride...and experience more and more grace as I enter this new period of my life. And I will pray for you as well. We are all in this together.