I am so proud of this blog post!

The kitchen drawer was jammed. When we bought the house, it was in rough shape, but two years of 3 kids pulling and slamming it, packing it full of coloring books, and letting markers drop behind it had done it in for good. It was hanging opening, reams of construction paper half falling out of it when my husband got home from work. He walked past the drawer and tried to push it closed, but it wouldn’t budge, so he leaned on it, wiggled it, and wrestled with it for a whole two minutes before the swearing started.

The crux of his frustration: “These kids don’t take good care of the things they have! We need to figure out how to get them to take pride in our home!” (expletives have been removed)

Stuck in drawer

Although I suppose it’s better for the kids to get the drawer stuck than for the kid to get stuck on the drawer.

Then today, I was talking about this article on the gay marriage debate on Facebook, and a friend commented:

I think we need to start with the notion of pride. It seems like pride is behind every sin. Yet we focus on the idea of pride in our schools, our athletic programs and eventually our careers. The word pride is painted on walls of many of our schools across the nation. I have seen children wearing athletic shirts with the word pride printed across it. We take this for normal. But would we respond the same to any other sin written in our schools or taught to our children? This has become so normal it barely registers a blip. We are setting our children up for spiritual difficulties by doing this.

Her comment got me thinking.  Is pride always a sin?  Does it always come out of a place of darkness and/or lead me into that darkness?

What about if I say I have Catholic pride?  Or that I am proud of myself for finishing my Master’s Degree?  Or that I have pride in my 8 year old son who went to talk with his Den leader “man to man” about the reasons he wanted to quit Cub Scouts instead of letting Mom & Dad take care of it all for him?  Or that I am proud of the teen who talked her friend out of having an abortion?

In my reflections on pride I came across Romans 15:17.

In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast in what pertains to God.

Paul was boasting about what God had done through him.  Being proud of God’s work is not a sin – it is worship.

The Devil cannot create anything new – he can only take what has been created by God to be good and twist and turn it into something ugly.  The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not ugly or bad, but the Devil took the goodness of that tree, the goodness of the free will of Adam and Eve, and twisted and manipulated them into the ugliness of Original Sin.

Paul tells us that pride is good – when it is pride in what God has done.  Sometimes, though the Devil takes that goodness and manipulates it with our insecurities and selfishness and twists into something so ugly it is one of the Deadly Sins.

The Devil is in the details…

When my pride in my home (or car, or boat, or kitchen drawer) is about the object itself, or when I find my own worth defined by that object, it’s a sin.  When my pride is really gratitude to God for the abundant blessings (that I live in a country where I have opportunities, that I have been blessed with the ability to get a job, that that job has blessed me with the money to buy these items), then it is a good and holy pride.

When my pride in my education is about how I feel, how I look, or how others perceive me, it’s a sin.  When my pride is really gratitude to God for blessing me with the intellect, financial means, and opportunity to get an education so that I can better serve Him, then it is holy.

When my pride in my son is about his Den leader thinking I’m a good parent, or about self righteousness in my own parenting decisions, or even about wanting my son to feel better about himself, it’s a sin.  When my pride is really gratitude to God for the chance to pass along life skills that will create my son into a man who will serve God, then it is holy.

When my pride in that teen is about what a great youth minister I have been to encourage her to stand up to the dignity of human life, it’s a sin.  When my pride is gratitude at God working through me and through that teen to save the life of an unborn child, then it is holy.

Pride goeth before a fall…

The line between sin and holiness, between holy pride and the sin of pride is thin and incredibly nuanced.  It’s a short hop from gratitude for my blessings into the idolatry of me.  It’s a quick slip from knowing I have dignity and worth because I’ve been created in God’s image to believing that what other people think of me is what creates my worth.

Maybe I can avoid that slip by changing the words I use.  Instead of telling my son I’m proud of him, I can express the same thing by telling him I saw God working through him.   Instead teaching my kids to take “pride” in our home, I can get the same result by teaching them that our home is a blessing from God.  Instead of having Packer Pride, Loyola Pride, or Hawk Pride, I can be grateful for the community that those institutions have created and show my fellow Packer fans, Master’s graduates, and high school classmates the respect they have earned as individuals created in the image and likeness of God.

There's a difference between being finding your worth in your sexual orientation and letting that identity determine how you relate to God, and finding worth in knowing I am created in the image and likeness of God and letting that identity guide how you choose to live with your sexual identity.

There’s a difference between being finding your worth in your sexual orientation and letting that identity determine how you relate to God, and finding worth in knowing you are created in the image and likeness of God and letting that identity guide how you choose to live with your sexual identity. See…nuanced.

What do you think?  Is pride always a sin?  Can changing our language help us avoid the slippery slope from goodness into sin?

Jesus Beat the Devil with a Big Ugly Stick

This middle part of Lent is always the hardest for me.  The strong convictions with which I started on Ash Wednesday have begun to wane.  The new routine of prayer that I’ve tried to establish has been interrupted and intruded upon by my family, my work and my life; I’ve slipped up at least once in my fasting.  I start to wonder if it’s worth it—whether or not I should stick with the resolutions I made at the beginning of the season.  I feel guilty for the ways in which I’ve failed to answer the call to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and I try to convince myself that it’s okay.  After all, I’m a good person, I’m loving to my family (most of the time), I give what I can when I remember to, and I’ve already prayed more than most other people have.

The Scripture reading for today (Thursday for the 3rd Week of Lent) seems perfectly tailored for my Lenten halftime slump.  It’s a reminder of an uncomfortable reality—one that is disturbing for many of us today.

We are often not comfortable with talk about demons or the devil.  Many Catholics believe that the devil is a sort of cosmic balancing power or a theoretical being.  The devil has the advantage over us in that he is an invisible powerful spirit.  One of his greatest tricks is convincing so many of us that he doesn’t even exist, a truly clever tactic. The incident with the demon in today’s gospel prompts a debate between Jesus and the crowd that discusses the forces of evil with disturbing levels of detail: naming demons and even discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the devil’s plan of attack against humanity.

Today’s gospel reading helps me acknowledge where my fading desire and conviction at this point in the Lenten season come from.  Jesus’ reminder that the devil and his demons are very real beings that pose a very real threat help me to recognize my temptations to laziness, de-motivation, and lowering of standards for what they are: attacks from evil against the strides toward holiness that my Lenten resolutions are gaining.  The devil is real—and he certainly does not want me to unite myself with the passion and suffering of the Cross, to improve my relationship with God through increased prayer, to weed out my tendencies toward sin through fasting, or to magnify God’s Love in almsgiving.

I know who is going to win this fight...but what about when Jesus tags me in?

The gospel for today also brings me comfort with Jesus’ reminder that he is stronger than the devil and that if I stand with him, I can overcome any attack.  So, instead of lowering my standards and accepting less, I’m going to try to step up my prayer an extra notch during this time of weakness and ask Christ who still has power over demons (and his angels) to help me be strong in the face of temptation so that I can continue to grow in holiness this Lent.

How well have you been living your Lenten commitment?  In what ways have you been tempted to abandon or modify the challenges you set at the beginning of Lent?  How do you recognize the attack of demons, the devil, or evil in your journey to holiness?