In my ongoing quest to be right (to have the right answers, the right actions and the right attitude), I ran across yet another foible in my character. To me, the idea of being “competitive” smacks of pride or even arrogance, so I would like to avoid it. When my boys were babies, for example, I steered clear of comparing their development with that of other people’s babies. How old was he when he doubled his birth weight, someone would ask. –No idea. How tall was he at one year? –You got me. When did he say his first word? –Dunno. I would celebrate those milestones as they came, but was not motivated (or was just too lazy) to keep track of them for comparison between my own two, or with other people’s kids.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I was chatting on the phone with a girlfriend / fellow mom, and she made the offhand comment that she thought I was competitive. To her, the word “competitive” was a neutral adjective, like “tall” or “red-haired.” But I felt insulted. The first thought that raced through my head was, Oh, yeah? I bet I’m less competitive than you are!
Was I actually competing to be the least competitive?? That’s when the light bulb came on and I knew I had it bad. The harder I tried to avoid a prideful attitude, the prouder I was of it. Oops, time for an apt and well-timed quote to deflect attention from my glaring inconsistencies:
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)
See, it isn’t just me. Apparently it’s a “human” thing. In his novel The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives us an imaginative behind-the-scenes look at spiritual warfare from the demonic point of view. The veteran tempter Screwtape offers advice to his inexperienced nephew, who is trying to lure his human “patient” away from following God. Here he deals with this exact same issue…
All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed. (Chapter 14)
Lewis is one of my favorite authors, and once again he has made me both smile and think. The text recalls the question that Jeremiah asks above, and Chapter 4 of the novel echoes the answer which Jeremiah gives in the very next sentence:
“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind…” (v. 10)
There is no point in trying to deceive myself as to my motives; God knows me inside out and He knows exactly what to do about it. Instead of my getting all wrapped around the axle trying to manufacture right and good motives (here we go again), how freeing it would be to laugh at the dilemma and simply rest in His grace. As I spend time getting His words into my life, He will change my motives to more closely resemble His.
As near as I can figure, life works best when I just trust and follow, and let God do the searching and changing. (I bet I thought of that before you did. JUST KIDDING!)
Thanks for reading!