One subtle form of pride is the belief that our problems, or even our sins, are somehow a special case. C.S. Lewis points out the pride is essentially competitive: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” It is easy to see this kind of competition at work things like money, social status, and ability, but a more subtle competitiveness can take place in the kinds of stories we tell about our hardships. There can be a temptation to dramatize and amplify our afflictions so that we feel superior to others who supposedly have it so good. In a perverse way, our ego wants to “win” in the game of who’s-got-it-worse.
One problem with this is that once we form an identity out of our hardships, we don’t want to let them go. We wouldn’t know who we were anymore if we weren’t fighting some battle. Instead of transcending the world, and taking up the “light” and “easy” burden of Christ, we want to play the part of martyr, carrying the heavy load while, we imagine, the privileged masses go about their happy lives. We have all known–or maybe even been–that person who just wouldn’t know what to do if they weren’t complaining about something.
Another problem with believing our problems are a special case is that we can resist reaching out and asking for help. Other people might have their little peccadillos, we say, but our sins are the real deal. They are too bad to involve others and get help.
In reality, no one gets through life without their share of pain and temptation. Maybe it comes in different forms and in different life stages, but it is there. Speaking to this notion of special sinfulness or special hardships, the apostle Paul said “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”(1 Cor. 10:13). Rather than create an identity and life story out of these hardships, we can do the harder work of change, repentance, and faithful endurance.
Sheldon Lawrence is an award winning essayist and author of the recent novel “Hearts of the Fathers: A story of Heaven, Hell, and the hope of new life after life,” available here.