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Philippa Martyr: Putting others in front is how you leave your pride behind

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With the sin of pride, Dr Philippa Martyr says that you can sit inside and admire yourself to your heart’s content. But you can’t see anyone else in there. Photo: Freepik.com
With the sin of pride, Dr Philippa Martyr says that you can sit inside and admire yourself to your heart’s content. But you can’t see anyone else in there. Photo: Freepik.com

Here we are at Palm Sunday for our last and deadliest sin: pride. If you’ve ever tried spiritual direction, you usually start by asking yourself, “What is my root sin, the sin that seems to be lurking behind all my other ones?”

If you don’t know what this is, you’re not going to make any progress in the spiritual life. So your spiritual director might suggest it’s sensuality, or vanity, or pride.

Sensuality is obvious—an excessive desire for your own comfort drives you to sin. Vanity is not just looking in the mirror—your excessive need for other people’s approval causes you to commit many other sins.

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And then there’s pride. It’s a popular root sin. It was also the original sin of humanity.

Pride is an excessive love of your own splendidness. Of course, you are splendid but that’s because you were created in God’s image.

You are also splendid because God himself decided to come down here, live a hard and boring life for around 30 years, be tortured to death, rise from the dead, and yet remain fully human to this very day, to repair your awfulness.

That is what makes you splendid. Not you.

“This degree of self-centredness is a foretaste of hell, but you usually can’t convince a proud person of that. Their unhappiness is always someone else’s fault.”

Pride is one of the hardest sins to detect in ourselves, but we’re great at finding it in other people. Pride seals up your mind and heart inside a steel ball of your own excellence.

You can sit inside and admire yourself to your heart’s content. But you can’t see anyone else in there. There’s just thousands of reflections of marvellous you.

Jesus hints at this when he tells us a certain Pharisee was “praying towards himself” (Luke 18:11), unlike the humble tax-collector. Pride also makes you despise other people (Luke 18:9).

This degree of self-centredness is a foretaste of hell, but you usually can’t convince a proud person of that. Their unhappiness is always someone else’s fault.

Proud people are right about everything. They have a colossal sense of entitlement, and respond with anger and lese majeste when they are crossed.

They can’t be taught anything or learn anything, because they can’t be corrected. They’ve always done everything before, and better than you did (or had it worse than you).

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

They’re also great blamers. Often the person they enjoy blaming the most is God. This is not new: Adam blamed God when he said, “it was the woman YOU put with me.”

This can even lead to spiritual pride—thinking you’re a victim soul when you’ve just made poor life choices. People who meditate on their own spiritual excellence often turn into bogus mystics and dodgy spiritual directors.

How many of us blame the church, the body of Christ, in the same way that Adam blamed God? Proud people who want the church’s harder teachings changed have almost always failed to keep those teachings.

So they dress their guilt up as “reform.” They lay heavy burdens on people’s backs by depriving them of the gift of repentance—the one thing that will genuinely relieve guilt and bring healing (Matthew 23:4).

It’s all piffle. And it’s not helping anyone.

So what’s the cure? Humility. That’s not sheepish hand-wringing and pretending you’re no good at anything.

“It’s not all bad. Humility creates space inside you. It allows you to learn new things about yourself and other people.”

Instead, it’s taking a fair inventory of the gifts and talents God has given you, and thanking him for them. It’s then using those talents for other people and their eternal wellbeing.

The Pillar editor JD Flynn recently shared a question his wife has been asking their children: “When were you last, today?”

What a good question to ask yourself—a daily audit of how pride has ruled your actions. When did you insist on going first, or knowing best? When did you push in, or talk over, or shout down? And when did you choose to let go, and be last?

When you ask God for humility, he will always send you humiliations. There’s simply no other way to learn. But today is a great day to consider what Jesus went through to show us what real humility looks like.

It’s not all bad. Humility creates space inside you. It allows you to learn new things about yourself and other people.

It’s at the core of the “growth mindset” we hear so much about—when you use adversity and failure as a way of learning and improving.

Next Sunday we’ll celebrate the defeat of pride by the humblest man on earth. But until then, happy Holy Week! I’ll see you on the other side.

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