On Pride and the Middle
This post was originally published on the Integrity blog.
I suppose the great task of life is to have a true sense of self, and I have always found this to be a source of great mystery.
Be humble, the saints write to us. From the desire of being liked and consulted and loved, deliver me. That others may be preferred to me in all things, grant me the grace to desire it. The litany of humility always has a twinge of self deprecation for me. The great spiritual mystics implore us to consider our lowliness and nothingness before God.
In the same breath, I know that the profound reality of being sons and heirs of God does not exactly equate to nothingness. The whole of Western thought revolves around this central idea that man has intrinsic value and supreme worth because of the nature of his very being. For God so loved the world….
And as we sojourn through the turmoils of life, we’re supposed to come to a balanced living out of these seemingly opposite understandings of who we are.
I find myself nestled somewhere in the middle between nothingness and ultimate value, and I have struggled with reconciling humility and worth in the same breath when they seem so contradictory.
One of my favorite descriptions of the person of Christ is the median of all virtue. He rests in the perfect center between strength and weakness, between justice and mercy, between words like stern and gentle. He is all things and all faces, but He is especially in the very middle. I have always grown up hearing the phrase virtue is in the middle, and I think it’s true within ourselves, only that being in the perfect middle is almost impossible for us. Virtus in media stat.
While it’s hard for me to be perfectly balanced, I am able to recognize balance when I see it in my life. Deep down inside, I know and love it. I know that there’s a time and place to get dressed up in my Sunday best and set a table with candles and china, and I love the virtue that blossoms from a diligent effort. There’s also a time to wear my most raggedy pajamas and eat messy Chinese take out on my couch without an ounce of effort. There’s a time to bite my tongue and to endure hardship in sacrificial silence, but there’s also a time to be courageous and raise my voice and take a fearful stance in the midst of opposition. There’s a time to be fierce but also a time to be meek, and it’s the swinging back and forth between them and the wisdom to navigate this that makes all the difference.
Although radical humility and supreme, intrinsic worth probably seem like polar opposites at first glance, I don’t think they are. I think they are both clear and true principles that exist within the same circle of God, and that they may in fact have the same opposite, ugly vice. But I think this vice exists not at the opposite end of a line, but in a realm that exists only where humility and worth are so utterly absent and barren. I think of it like fire contrasted with a cold darkness.
I think that the opposite of both our human humility and human value is pride.
Because I see both humility and splendor in God, but never pride.
I see a man who hangs on a cross, feeling abandoned and crushed, or a man who washes the feet of others with his head bowed down. I see God becoming the form of a slave and “not regarding equality” with the Father. I see the example of lowly servant to follow.
I see God as creator and designer and bursting forth with words like regal, worthy, ultimate, adore, worship…love. There is no other being whose intrinsic worth is essentially so very royal, so very noble, and so very intensely beautiful. There can be no greater worth.
In His own words, “The greatest misery does not stop Me from uniting Myself to a soul, but where there is pride, I am not there.”
He is there in our moments of silent humility, and He is also there in moments when we come to grips with our supreme worth and hold our heads high. He is there in moments of lowliness, but He is also there in our proudest and happiest times. Because I think He revels in both glimpses and reflections of Himself in us.
It’s when we are so inwardly focused, so interiorly overgrown to the exclusion of Him, that we shut Him out completely. He cannot abide in us when we will not have Him.
But I believe He is in the middle of our humanity, very alive and present in the midst of our humility and our splendor, if only we will let Him rest with us wherever we are.
As Lewis put it, “If I may dare the biological image, God is a 'host' who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and 'take advantage of' Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”
Let us take advantage, and not put on the blindfold of pride that closes us off to such a humbling, soaring, and sweet exploitation.