When Pain Gets Proud

God knows your pain. 

He holds your tears in his bottle. 

Your name is engraved on the palm of his hand. 

Yes, right. I’m sure. And I’d hug, nod and grimace my way through these and dozens of similar sympathetic and kind encouragements.

Then I’d walk away from my would-be-comforters thinking, You’ll never know. You can’t understand my pain. 

Those words from you-you mother of five, holding your third sweet surprise-don’t console. Your words are water off a duck’s back. They don’t bring comfort. And not just your words, but the words from the kind widows and single sisters and the concerned co-workers. None can know my sorrow. 

Each heart knows it’s own bitterness, the Proverb says. But that’s no excuse to let common-to-man sadness morph into self-righteous pride. Here’s how that happens. 


Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen

Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, [by] casting all your cares upon him, for he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:5-7

The Devil, the Accuser, would love to separate us from God and the grace He gives to the humble. One of his big guns is to tempt us to doubt God’s love. Did God really say? Does Job fear God for no reason? He’d have us believe God doesn’t really care about us. Pain makes us easy prey when it leaves us preoccupied with ourselves. Nobody knows my sorrow.


Suffering can push us to God, refine us and result in praise, glory and honor when Christ comes again. It can help us plumb the depths of God’s love and rely on it more fully. The fellowship of sharing Christ’s sufferings is a sweet, sweet fellowship. But we forfeit the grace that could be ours.

We let pain puff us up and pull us away from the God of all comfort and the Body he lovingly equips to bind up our wounds. No one, we think, has felt the pain of my loss, abuse, miscarriage, marital strife or ___. Therefore, we reason, no one is qualified to comfort me.  

Marshall Segal’s assessment of the pain-pride link is so insightful. Segal writes:

Pain becomes proud because it believes no one else understands. No one feels what I feel. And so pain distances itself from anyone who might try and speak into its suffering. But pain afflicts itself even more the farther it separates itself from others. God has given us himself, his word, and each other to produce faith, and even joy, in the midst of pain, even the most severe and unique pain. 

One test to determine whether our pain is producing pride is to ask how we respond to encouragement from others, maybe especially from other believers who don’t understand our pain. Are we willing to hear the word and hope of God from someone who has not experienced or cannot comprehend our current suffering? If we’re unwilling, then pain has driven us into isolation, and Satan’s succeeding in his purpose for your suffering.

The humble let themselves be comforted. They take hugs. Paul didn’t let his pain isolate. I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, Paul wrote to Philemon (1:7). Aristarchus, Mark and Jesus, called Justus brought him comfort, too (Colossians 4:10-11).

Are you willing to let the Body do its healing work? Or will you let Satan succeed in his purpose? Will you humble allow God’s people to speak His healing, comforting truth into your pain? Or will you proud stiff-arm his hug? 

The Two Sides Of Pride


1. My Pain’s Worse Than Your Pain

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

This might not sound like it has anything to do with your pain or your pride. But it might. 

After a hard church parting and a decade of pain-filled estrangement, overlapping with more years that that of infertility, I now see how I used my pain to set myself apart and above. My year after year without pregnancy, the gut-wrenching loss of a dear church family and the mistreatment and injustice of it all. Clearly, my pain was worse. 

Pride is competitive. And since I can be too, my pain went mutant. Pride wanted to be the center of attention, so pride- so I– byway of pain, set myself above others’ others pain and their comfort. And, as Lewis said, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. 

2. Woe Is My Pity

But, you say, I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, so how can my pain possibly be proud? Only God knows your heart. But I know that there is another side of the proud coin. 

If one side is the boasting, I suffered more side, than the other side is the self-pitying side. It’s the side that says, This shouldn’t be happening to me, I don’t deserve this

Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego and the desire of the self-pitying is not really for others to see them as helpless, but heroes.  (John Piper, Desiring God)

Ultimately either side of pride can separate us, both from God and from others. Both sides won’t hear God’s comforting voice. Pride would silence the well-instructed tongue, he gives others, to know the word that sustains the weary (Isaiah 50:4). It would rather wallow than rejoice and look down instead of lifting eyes to the heavens, from where help comes. 

A God-Honoring Way Out


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort others in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

It is true that no one on earth has or will ever experience exactly my own little batch of suffering. But that’s okay. No one needs to have walked in my exact shoes to be able to offer me the exact right balm for my broken soul. 

That’s because God already gave the exact right balm for my soul: He spoke his Word. Marshall Segal notes,  

God wrote a book to overcome all of [the] inevitable ignorance and insensitivity. With the Bible, people can bring you the always-relevant wisdom and hope of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God.

And the all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God gave gifts to men. One of the gifts he gave was encouragement. Another, comfort. Another, teaching. And if, in proud pain, I stiff-arm the members of the Body he gave to comfort me, I forfeit those gifts. 

When we stiff arm His Body, we fall far short of His glory. Because, ultimately, pride is a worship issue. When we push away those who’d speak God’s word to us, we’re thinking more about ourselves and our pain, than of bringing glory to our God. Rather than glorify him in the day of trouble (Psalm 50:15), we wallow. 

The only way out of that proud mud is to think less of ourselves and more of God. The rivers of self-forgetfulness flow down from the Godward heights of worship. He alone is worthy of all worship and praise…Therefore, God’s children cannot be ambivalent about pride. We must hate it and hunt it down until it’s dead. (Jason Meyer, Killjoys)

Hunting down pride means stalking it to the strangest of places, like our pain. And killing it means taking up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). And that sword, the Word, might very well be wielded by a saint who doesn’t know your sorrow. 

But who knows One who does. 

Because, Nobody knows but Jesus. 


Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…

Isaiah 53:4a

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In (Wary) Praise Of Praise

Praise is inner health made audible. -C.S. Lewis

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, 

but a man is tested by the praise he receives.   

Proverbs 27:21

Why be wary of praise?

I recently put the bow on a big birthday. I pray this post is more than a rationale for posting birthday pictures and soaking in others’ kind comments. That day, paired with Facebook’s fast feedback forced the issue.

Decades ago, well-meaning friends would chide, Learn how to take a compliment. Don’t shrug it off. Little did they know. Blind to the depths of my heart, they didn’t see how my coming of age meant coming to terms with man’s praise.

But I’m onto it now. By what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:19b). Since I’m aware that pride dogs me, I’m wary of praise. I’m on guard, and sometimes it means I still don’t take a compliment well; I shrug it off. Battling isn’t always graceful.

We all crave praise to some degree. It’s built into us. The proverb says a man is tested by the praise he receives. It feels good to be affirmed. Mark Twain quipped he could last two months on a good compliment. But some of us can barely last two minutes.

If the praise buzz fades and you crash, beware. Likes and retweets and man’s praise are a short-lived highs when your hooked. If you’re slave to them, you’ll need another fix the second they stop. You feel unsteady, un-affirmed, and insecure without more pings and new notices. You’re addicted. 

If you’re a slave to praise and a lover of likes, be very wary. Be wary of places where wise, witty words get likes, and #humorous hashtags get tweets, and clever crafts get pins. Alcoholics avoid bars. If your right eye causes you to sin, Jesus warned. Maybe it means a fast from Facebook.

When a frenzy of likes finds us feeding there at that trough, high on human praise we must fight. It’s still with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. We call to mind, Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord. And, God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. And, The Lord regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar. 


Human praise can feed pride and leave us craving. But pleasure in being praised need not be a guilty pleasure.

When is pleasure in praise pure?

So how can we tell if our joy in being praised has crossed the line and turned to pride? 

C.S. Lewis parsed pride and praise in a most helpful way. Pleasure in being praised is not necessarily  pride:

Before leaving this subject [of Pride]: I must guard against some possible misunderstandings: (1) Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says ‘Well done,’ are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom. (Mere Christianity; Book 3, Chapter 8)


But pleasure in being praised is a good thing, provided we revel in knowing we have pleased another. To seek another’s joy is a good thing, and gettintan atta’ girl when you’ve hit that mark is a fitting reward. Paul urged, Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (Romans 15:2). Rather than sinful pride, what we feel when we are praised for pleasing is proud response, 

What, in the end, is maturing in the faith but learning more and more to find our joy and pleasure in pleasing Another? Whether we are at home or away, we make it our goal to please Him (2 Corinthians 4:9).  

The pure pleasure we find in pleasing God is intended by Him. It’s not “sub-biblical motivation for holiness,” Kevin DeYoung writes. It’s akin to a parent saying, “God is our Father and when you listen to what Mommy and Daddy say and you try to do what they want you to do, it makes God really happy. He gets a smile on his face when he sees you trying to do the right thing.”  

Why praise the woman (or man) who fears the Lord? 


1.  Praising the good in others glorifies God. Praising goodness in others exalts the God who gave them the good gifts.

Way back, St. Augustine observed, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with Thee which he loves not for Thy sake” (Confessions, X 40). When we praise a good thing- a son sharing a much loved Lego, a husband seeing patients gratis, or any man or women who fears the Lord-we’re delighting in what delights the heart of God. 


2. Praising the good in others encourages them in the Lord. Let’s be like Jonathan who went to David and strengthened his hand in the Lord (1 Samuel 23:16).

When we praise one who fears the Lord, we give them strength. To keep fighting the good fight; to stay patient in singleness, joblessness or barrenness. To keep casting cares to God, speaking truth in love, forgiving all over again. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30). 


3. Praising the good in others fuels our joy in Jesus. It feels good. Praise is not merely the expression of joy, Lewis wrote, but the consummation it. 

It happens when we drag your spouse out to see a spectacular sunset, or post the picture of it. How many times have the floodgates of thankful joy opened wide when I stop to jot a note of thanks! God uses our giving thanks and offering praise to release us from self-absorption and pride and discouragement. Praising others produces joy in the praise-giver and its receiver.

*      *      *      *      *   
I’m still a sucker for birthday wishes. I live long on a good compliment. I love kudos and bravos and plain old ‘atta girls. I do. But I will not be enslaved by them. Neither man’s praise nor Facebook likes will be my highest joy and my very great reward.

Church, we’re betrothed to One, and it’s his praise we seek.

His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” 
Matthew 25:23


End of an Odyssey

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, 
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Eccelesiastes 7:8 

That was our family’s van. The Odyssey had graced our lives for the past six years, since we’d been a two-child family. Apart from some electric door issues our Honda had been a very trusty, comfy, and utilitarian vehicle. It hauled all: bikes, boards, barrels, boys.  Until last Thursday.
Maybe I’m too introspective.  Or starving for material. Either way, I’ve been doing some analysis. After the immediate shock of slamming into the white pine alongside our driveway, I felt guilty. After Gabe’s tears subsided and he stopped crying, “My head hurts.” When Sam brushed the glass chips off his lap and asked for a book to read, when I noticed countless glass shards glittering up at me, then I grew dizzy with guilt.

I felt no specific pinpoint prick of conscience, mind you, but a nebulous sense of moral failure. Of weakness and frailty and guilt.  And embarrassment. That kicked in the moment I turned to wave Sam’s onlooking bus driver down the road. Then dread of tell my dear, hard-working husband. But the guilt was dominant.

Just call it a (very costly without collision coverage) mistake. An accident and move on, right? But I can’t.

Our Thursday morning routine had devolved into a mad rush.  In order to get Sam to school by 9:30, his piano lesson had to start at 8:20. I arose just early enough to work-out with Bob Harper via DVD, sit for breakfast with boys, dress and maybe slap on some blush, and dash out the door by 8. Then, the race was on: piano, Sam to school, Bible study, library, and groceries all before lunch. Minimal margin.

What was the divine instruction I was to take from my grand smash-up?  What was the lesson?  The root sin to be mortified?

I know, I know. Driver’s Ed 101: Always look behind you before you back up.  No doubt! But failure to look behind is just the tip of the iceberg.

Was it impatience? No denying I was in a hurry. Or that I morphed into a cowherd every Thursday morning, driving the boys to the van like unruly cattle.

I confess my sinful impatience to my merciful Lord. Guilt lingers. Go deeper.

Clearly selfcontrol was lacking.  Maybe that was the lesson?  Pulling down the driveway as I had was definitely rash. The discipline of looking over my shoulder clearly wasn’t in place. Nope-not deep enough.

I plumb the depths. Search me, O God, and know my thoughts. Try my and know my anxious ways.  See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlastingHe shows me a wicked way. I go deeper than my destructive impatience and excessive speed and see what slammed the van into the tree.

Now I see it, and it makes me shudder. I see a proud, haughty face that is mine. Maybe it was the kind of reflection good King Hezekiah had in the moments the Babylonian envoys left Jerusalem, after he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses.  Maybe guilt akin to mine settled in even before Isaiah had a word for him.

But, pride you wonder? Yes, pride. I could have risen 15 minutes earlier to get my work-out in.  Or cut out 15 minutes from it. Adequate margin for sure. But, no, I want my full exercise time. Or, I could just arrive late and apologize to the piano teacher. But, that apology would hurt. I had assured her this before school time was perfect! I said we’d be there at 8:20 and, by golly, we would!

It’s all image, Abigail. You want to look good- physically and spiritually. That rush you get from achieving- fitness, skills in my children, moral rectitude.  A righteous man swears to his own hurt, I quote. Pride is inordinate self-esteem.  Uh-huh.  

C.S. Lewis, with countless sages before him, pegged it as the essential vice, the utmost evil…Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.  I see it in me. It’s true.

Charles Spurgeon named the lesson:  No matter how dear you are to God, if pride is harbored in your spirit, He will whip it out of you. They that go up in their own estimation must come down again by His discipline. 

I confess again, and this time I know my conscience is cleansed. Now lead me, Lord, slowly, in the way everlasting.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before the fall. 

Proverbs 16:18