Most people we meet have a skill (or character trait or accomplishment) of which they are proud—and not “proud” in a negative conceited sense, just a sense of satisfaction.
I‘ve met bosses who are proud of (happy with) their leadership skills; and I’ve met employees who are proud of (satisfied with) their teamwork talent. I’ve met professors who are proud of (content with) their intellectual prowess; and I’ve met carpenters who are proud of (pleased with) their craftsmanship.
We all have things we are proud of in the good sense, be it the color of our eyes or the fact we’re not a jerk (like someone else we know). Someone I know befriended a street person who took pride in his independence of society’s “modern machine.”
This good pride of something good in us is good, but it may be missing a secret ingredient that can bring deep joy. It may be satisfying, but real joy is available.
Let’s pretend for a moment
Our self analysis can be inaccurate. We may not be as good of a boss as we think; we may not be the independent thinker we hope; we may more of a jerk than we admit.
But let’s pretend for a moment that our trait is every bit as good as we believe.
We also may not be as free from conceit as we like to believe. We may be a bit smug—maybe even arrogant—about our hard-working character.
But let’s pretend for a moment that we are simply content with it.
We also may be infected with “comparison-itis,” where pride comes from being better than others; where it’s not our leadership ability itself that satisfies, but only being a better leader than others.
But let’s pretend we are simply satisfied with what we have without comparison.
Even this purest form of good pride may be missing the key ingredient that brings joy.
A couple years ago a friend gave me a Smith & Wesson® knife as a surprise gift. I liked it and was sort of proud to have it, proud in a good sense I think. I’m a guy, knives are cool, and now I had an especially cool knife.
I think my analysis of the knife was accurate—it was a cool knife; I don’t think I was smug about owning it, I was just pleased with it; and I don’t think I compared my knife to friend’s knives—theirs may have been better or worse; I didn’t know or care.
Having this knife brought me great joy. (Okay, maybe just a little joy. But joy.)
Because it was a gift. It wasn’t repayment; he didn’t owe me anything; I hadn’t done anything to deserve the gift. His gift was just a gift. He had thought of me, then he had seen this knife, and he gave it to me as a gift.
And the secret ingredient is there
I have three other knives. They may be better or worse knives. I don’t know. But this new knife has a unique characteristic that makes it special. It was an undeserved, unrequested, no-strings-attached gift.
The freely given nature of the gift produced a heart sense of gratitude, and the gratitude produced joy. Pure joy. Real joy. Something that can’t be taken from me. Someday I may lose the knife—or it may be stolen or damaged—but the joy can’t ever be taken.
The part of my joy that rose from the “free gift” will exist long after the knife is gone.
Growing our joy
Let’s think back to the thing we are proud of (assuming we have it to the degree we think, and assuming we aren’t conceited and we aren’t comparing).
There is a common assumption that joy (or greater self-esteem) develops from having deserved something, as in, “I worked really hard and that’s why I’m the boss,” or “I’m a really good parent and that’s why my kids are so obedient.”
This “joy” is fragile and dangerous. It’s fragile because we could lose our job tomorrow, or our kids may rebel. And then where is our joy? And it’s dangerous because it can easily lead to smugness or conceit, as in “Why don’t others work as hard as I do?”
But when everything is a gift—something freely given out of love—we can be grateful and joyful. After all, even our ability to work hard (or be a good parent) was just a gift. We did nothing to deserve our “hard working” character. But God gave it as a gift.
Giving and Gratitude deepen relationships
My relationship with my friend is deeper because he freely gave me a gift as an expression of his love. No strings attached, just his giving and then my gratitude.
Even more, our relationship with the Father deepens as we simply recognize all the gifts he gives. In fact, the more we acknowledge his gifting, the more joy we have, and the more joy we have, the more things we can acknowledge are his gifts.
Isak Dinesen wrote, “Good pride is faith in the idea God had when he made you.” As we see each element in our lives as a gift—our gender, where we were born, our family, our unique mixture of skills and personality—we accept, find gratitude, and soon we rejoice.
Everything we have is a gift, even—if we dare admit it—the greatest difficulties. Understanding the “giftedness” of everything can change our lives.
By the way Gerry, in case I never said it, thanks for the knife. It’s really cool.
P.S. I’ve been reading a fabulous—even life changing—book on gratitude called, One Thousand Gifts. I cannot recommend it (or thank the author) enough. It’s a gift.