“I’m just really struggling with pride right now.”
What the does that even mean?
Every believer has most likely said that first statement, in some form or fashion, at either a Sunday school class, discipleship meeting, or ‘Life Group.’ Pride is easy to talk about in general terms, but we must get to the root of it if we want to begin praying against this sin and relying on the Lord’s strength to overcome it. I didn’t recognize how much pride had a hold on my life until this summer, but once I did, I was able to start confronting it by acknowledging and practically cutting off the “symptom sins” that branch from pride. I’m not saying I have it all figured out, but now I can specifically name sins in my small group rather than generally saying I struggle with pride (which, if you didn’t know, is really hard for others to decipher and pray for).
Let’s peek at this passage in Esther and see what we can glean to help us with pride.
Then Esther sent for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs who had been appointed as her attendant. She ordered him to go to Mordecai and find out what was troubling him…Mordecai told him the whole story…[and] gave Hathach a copy of the decree issued in Susa that called for the death of all the Jews. He asked Hathach to give it to Esther and explain the situation to her and to direct her to go to the king to beg for mercy and plead for her people…Then Esther told Hathach to go back and relay this message to Mordecai…’The king has not called for me to come to him in thirty days.’…Then Mordecai sent this reply to Esther…’If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?’ Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go and gather together all of the Jews…and fast for me…I will go in and see the king’” (Esther 4:5-16, NLT).
We think this passage is so well known, but is it really? The main characters are Esther, Mordecai, and … Hathach? Wait, who’s that? You can barely tell he’s present in the story because he’s running back and forth the whole time. Even Microsoft Word made a little red squiggly under “Hathach” because it doesn’t recognize his name. When you look closely, he actually had a really important role. Through him, Mordecai and Esther were able to get information to each other and decide on a plan of action to save the Jews. Hathach did his job perfectly, and we never notice him even though he was submissive to authority and accurate in his reporting. When I read through this passage, it made me so frustrated that he wasn’t recognized for his job well done. Then, it was as if the Lord looked at me with His eyebrows raised and said, “Why does that bother you so much?”
Yes, I struggle with pride, but one of the “symptom sins” that branch from that is longing for recognition from others in my college ministry, work, school, and relationships. I desire for others to say, “Hey, awesome job the other day when you [fill in the blank],” or “Hannah, thank you so much for your advice about [this].” Words of affirmation are how I feel loved and appreciated (so keep those encouragement notes comin’, people). The Lord created me that way, but in my sinful nature, I have flipped it and made it something I think I need.
I have allowed Satan to tend to the garden of my heart and grow a vine of pride from which I suck nutrients. From this vine, the sin of loving praise for myself over God’s glory has sprouted. There are other sins that sprout from pride, including a lack of honesty because I’m worried about others’ perceptions, and neglecting rest because I want to be a super servant in my church. Artist Audrey Assad put it perfectly, “I’m Mary and I’m Martha all at the same time; I’m sitting at His feet and yet I’m dying to be recognized” (Luke 10:38-42; song by Audrey Assad). This, at times, has caused anxiety in my life. I say yes to everything because I don’t want people to think I’m unreliable, and maybe I’ll get some recognition out of the deal, too. Because I say “yes” to it all and never stop to rest, I get tired, anxious, and the joy from all of my activities gets sucked away. Now, I’m not saying that all anxiety or depression is caused by this, but I do believe that many women who struggle with these things haven’t set aside time in their busy schedules to realize that maybe they’re just saying yes to too many things, and maybe they’re saying yes to them because they want recognition. That was me, anyway.
But once we realize this, what do we do? How can we be okay with our name being passed over in a book or a red, squiggly line underneath it? How can we stop longing for recognition when the Lord created us to be encouragers and receive encouragement, especially in the church? Well, one way to start is by looking to the true Gardener, and the true vine that Jesus talks about in John 15:1-17:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…Yes, I am the true vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered in a pile and burned…When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father…I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (NIV).
I don’t know about you, but a useless, withering branch is sometimes what I feel like when I am tired and anxious from over-committing for recognition. When we remain in him, He promises that we’ll produce fruit, and only sturdy, effective branches can do that. He also promises that He’ll receive the recognition, not us. The more our hearts long for His glory, the more complete our joy becomes. Good branches don’t get praise for being good branches. Their Gardener does.
The most practical way to start this process of humbling ourselves and moving from a place of desiring recognition to working for God’s glory is through prayer. I don’t think this is the only way to pray, but it provides a spring board when we are struggling for words to say to our Father.
“Oh Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me. From the desire of being esteemed…from the desire of being extolled…from the desire of being preferred to others…from the desire of being consulted…from the fear of being forgotten…deliver me, Jesus. That others may be esteemed more than I…that others may be chosen and I set aside…that others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it” (Litany of Humility).