No, this is not a sermon about pride. If you have spent any amount of time in the Evangelical church, you have certainly heard a few sermons on pride. Among Evangelicals pride is considered a sin. After all, the Bible says, pride goes before a fall.
I preached countless sermons on pride. Sermons about why we should humble ourselves in the sight of God. Sermons about denying self. Yet, like the church members that listened to me preach, I had pride.
Pride is an essential part of what makes us human. To deny it is to deny who we really are.
I taught my children the importance of hard work and doing things right the first time. I taught them, as much as lies within us, according to the skills and the abilities we have, we should strive to do things well.
I have little tolerance or respect for people who go through life half-assed, not caring one bit about doing things well. The cause of their half-assedness is a lack of pride. They don’t care what others think about their work, life, or house. (and I recognize that always caring what others think is just as big of a problem)
I grew up poor. We lived in old houses that were nothing to write home about. We didn’t have much furniture and our house often lacked many of the things other better-off families considered a normal part of life.
But, no matter how poor we were, our clothes were clean, we were clean, and our house and yard was clean. My parents, regardless of their spot on the economic ladder, took pride in what they did have.
You can go to most any town and take a look at a person’s car, house, or yard, and what you see will tell a lot about them. Years ago a rental property owner told me that when he was interviewing respective renters he would go look inside their car. He believed that how a person took care of their car was a pretty good indicator of how they would take care of one of his rentals.
Now I am in no way suggesting that if someone doesn’t do things like I do that they don’t have pride. I know that I have perfectionist tendencies that can ruin most any party. As much as I want to live in the moment, I have a hard time doing so. Going with the flow has never been easy for me. I like to plan…I like to know where I (we) are headed. I am a man of calendars, lists, and budgets. I am not as “bad” as I used to be, but I doubt that anyone would describe me as carefree, a man who follows the wind wherever it blows.
As my health has declined over the years, pride often makes it to the forefront of my life. I remember the man I once was. I remember the hours I spent on the basketball court. I remember doing physical labor, enjoying it, and anticipating the next opportunity to break a sweat. I remember walking for hours in the late fall and early winter hunting squirrels, rabbits, and deer. I remember…
I remember being able to read thousands of pages a year. I remember being able to devour a 500 page book in two days. (I’ve been reading Jeremy Scahill’s 528 page book, Dirty Wars, for a month) I remember not needing to write anything down. Lists? Who needed them? Not me. My mind was sharp,prescient, and precise. I remember…
My sermon notes were exhaustive, yet I could stand before a congregation and preach without ever looking at my notes. I could easily speak extemporaneously and it was not uncommon for me to speak publicly 3-5 times a week. I remember…
I know I am slowly losing cognitive function. Will I become like my babbling idiot aunts? Do I want to live to 80 and not even know my children? I think not. Sadly, by the time I get to the place my aunts are it won’t matter. I will certainly be living in the moment then because the moment will keep repeating itself over and over.
I wish this was all about getting older, but it is not. Yes, I AM getting older but lots of people my age are quite active and still have much of the ability they had decades ago. My age just adds to the problems I have.
I can “feel” loss. Lost of muscle strength. Loss of motor skill, Loss of stamina. Loss of feeling. Loss of mental acuity. I know what lies ahead. I have no illusions about miracle cures or the Great Physician showing up to heal me. The die has been cast and the only thing that remains is to see how it all ends.
As I rage against the night, pride often raises its head above the fray. Every day I fight giving in. Don’t quit, Bruce. You know what happens when people quit, I tell myself. I remind myself of the countless people I pastored who gave up. I stood over their caskets and had the last word. I know where giving up ends up.
Yet, I find pride raging against the silliest of things.
A couple of weekends ago, all our children were in for dinner. My oldest sons were in the living room watching the baseball game with me. After the game my oldest son asked me to change the channel. I can’t remember what the channel was.
All of a sudden, several of my sons said, Dad change the channel. I thought, huh? I said, why do you need me to change the channel? Can’t you hear that Dad, my oldest son asked? I said, hear what? He replied, that high pitch sound!
I couldn’t hear the sound at all. I have known for years now that my hearing is going bad. I’ve had tinnitus for as long as I can remember and I have battled with blocked Eustachian tubes on and off for 30 years.
I had a hearing test last year. The audiologist told me I have moderate hearing loss. She told me I would benefit from hearing aids, but, due to the tinnitus, I would not be able to use in-the-ear hearing aids. I would have to wear hearing aids that fit the outside top of the ear with a small tube coming down to the ear canal.
No way, I told myself. I am not going to be some old man running around with hearing aids. Pride.
We go to the store every two weeks. Polly has become what I call a pack mule. She does all the lifting I used to do, from grocery sacks to 50 pound bags of bird seed. It embarrasses me to have my wife do do these things.
Sometimes when we are in the parking lot and people are nearby, I will tell Polly not to load the car. I WILL DO IT! She will protest and I will give her THE look, THE look that has become increasingly common. She leaves me to my pride, knowing any further protest risks my wrath.
She knows it matters to me…perhaps it shouldn’t…but it does.
When we go to the store, I walk with a cane. Once we get a cart, I am able to hang on to the cart as we make our way through the store. I am able to make others around me think I am just like them. Cart race anyone?
But, Polly knows better. She sees the aftermath of going to the store. She wishes I would give-in and hop aboard one of the electric carts. But I can’t. Or perhaps, I won’t. I see the people who use the carts…I am not like them, I tell myself, Who am I kidding? I AM like them. The only difference is my pride stands in the way of me using one of the carts.
I often feel like the old race horse who longingly gazes towards the race track thinking, I can still run the race. I can still run with the best of them and win. One day the old race horse gets out of his stall and runs to the track. Off he runs. I can do it, he says to himself.
As he starts to run he thinks to himself, I feel great! And then, as he rounds the second turn, reality returns and he can no longer run. In his mind, the old race horse was still a young thoroughbred winning race after race, a horse everyone talked about.
Perhaps we need to think this way. It is what keeps us from giving up and going into the night without a fight. Pride may have an ugly face at times, but, at least for me, it is one of the things that fuel a desire to live another day. It is a reminder that I am alive.