Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I recently reread Mere Christianity.  It's an old favorite-the kind of book that the first time you read it you are stunned by its simplicity, but when you have read it once a year for 20 years you'll still find something new.  I suppose that the book that best embodies this phenomenon is the Bible, but all the great books reflect a little bit of that quality.  Lewis isn't getting deeper, and the Bible certainly isn't changing, but I am.  And a year's growth in me brings a clearer vision of the author's words. This year I was struck by the chapter on pride.

I guess I don't think a lot about pride.  Lewis reminds the reader that pride has two meanings in English.  One is warm admiration.  Paul uses the word this way when he encourages the Corinthians to be proud of him in 2 Corinthians 5:12.  This meaning of pride gives us, "I'm proud of my daughter." or "He takes pride in his country."

Lewis focuses on the other meaning of pride. From his perspective pride is always competitive.  In other words, looking down our noses at somebody requires somebody down there to look at! 

When Lewis turned to school as a place that harbors pride, it hit me where I live. Education is what I do.  I teach college classes, homeschool my daughter and teach Bible class every week.  I immediately thought of the college where I teach. Each of the students is ranked.  Every student from first to last knows his or her test scores and how they compare to every other kid.  Any given year they can tell you their number in their class and in their major. Is that comparison necessarily prideful?

Not necessarily. When I read this book the first time, as a high school student, I learned Lewis' definition of humility and never forgot it. He says that humility means understanding our place in the universe, thinking neither better nor worse about ourselves then we ought.  In fact, humility means simply thinking of ourselves less not thinking less of ourselves. So the humble student looks at his scores and acknowledges them.  He might celebrate a goal reached or make a plan to reach a certain level.

Looking at those rankings what do we say?   Do we encourage our children to look with a covetous heart at the children above them?  "Son, don't you want to be like Johnny?  He's good at math.  You can beat Johnny if you'll only study harder."   Just as bad, do we incite them to pride? "Look at that!  You are so smart.  You are the best one in the class. None of the rest compare with you."

We are innocently trying to motivate our kids. They have to study hard; they have to learn, but Lewis suggests that Satan would love to cure a small fault with a greater one.  In what other circumstance would we encourage children to give up one sin by committing another?  We would never say, "Give up your gluttony and try drunkenness instead!" but we imply, "Give up your laziness for the sake of your pride."

The way we react to these rankings may be good or bad, but in America we discourage rankings altogether. We try every way possible to mask the comparisons. Is that better? I don't think so.  Whether I am great or terrible at math, I should know it. Hiding from the truth is just self-deception. Encouraging children to blindness neither prevents pride nor encourages humility.

We live in a world where a high priority of educators and parents is to teach a child to esteem himself.  To do that often involves some combination of self-absorption, self-deception, and pride.  And Lewis says that we're going about it all backwards.  Pride is a sin.  Self-deception is from the father of lies. And self-absorption is the enemy of all compassion, courtesy, and community. 

After rereading this chapter I am thinking a lot about how to be a better mom and a better teacher.  I am still short on answers.  I need to praise my kids without feeding their pride.  I need to encourage them without deceiving them.  Kids develop so much of their self-view from their parent's words.  I need view them like God does.  I've got to teach them to look up to God, or out to the world.  Why is it so important? Because, "God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6)

Mere Christianity will stay on my list of books that need to be reread every couple of years.  Hopefully the next time I'll have some idea of how to help my kids learn humility or at least I'll know how not to grow pride in them.  If you have any good ideas to share, I'd love to hear them!

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


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