Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pride, Trust, and Relationships

I remember sitting outside the Pier Cafe in Cayucos a little over 10 years ago, on a beautiful sunny, breezy central coast afternoon.  Doug and I sat on the metal street benches, our infant in a stroller, enjoying ice cream cones and conversation with a couple of close friends.  I said something, prompted by recent events, that has stuck in my mind since: "I can understand not wanting to admit that you're wrong--I'm one of the most stubborn people I know.  I can understand having a hard time admitting you screwed up or that you've got some big flaws.  But I can't understand all of that being more important to me than having a relationship with my child.  I can't imagine hanging onto my pride so tightly that I just let my relationship with my kid die rather than admit that I was wrong."

I was 20.  I was naive about just how common it was for people to let important relationships die (or blow them up) for the sake of their pride.  The natural man is a terrible beast, somewhere in each of us.  All too often, we feed him with our insecurities, our angers, our injuries, and arrogance.

Often the offense for which people sacrifice a relationship seems terribly petty on the surface, and, in truth, it is.  But insecurity is like a mental Rube Goldberg device:  if I made a poor choice about this situation, then that probably means I was wrong about this other thing, and if that's the case then I must've been more at fault in this failed relationship or huge life choice, and if I admit that to myself it will crush me, so I can't possibly have been wrong about this petty thing that the person in front of me right now is upset about.  This, I believe, is why so often when confronted about a mistake, an insecure person will go on the offensive, rather than simply apologize without equivocation.  They will start assigning blame outside themselves, twist and misrepresent the words, behaviors and intentions of others, so that they can avoid taking responsibility for this one--small, easily forgivable--mistake.  And thus can a small mistake destroy what could otherwise be a good relationship.  And each time we let insecurity drive us to enlarge the circle of damage surrounding a mistake, we become more and more insecure, feeding a destructive cycle that reduces the circle of support around us.  Even people who love us deeply may begin to withdraw from us in the sad knowledge that they cannot trust us, no matter how sincerely they may desire it.  If we cannot be honest with ourselves, we certainly cannot be honest with those around us.

Insecurity is sometimes thought of as the opposite of pride, but it is in fact one of its many forms.  Ultimately, insecurity is a testimony problem.  We make the opinions of others (actually, worse yet, what we believe the opinions of others might be) more important than what the Lord thinks of us.  We, for whatever variety of reasons, don't trust that the Lord truly can and will forgive these particular failures, sins, or flaws.  Even if not consciously, we fail to trust that, through the power of the Atonement, we will be able to overcome them and leave them behind, and so we refuse to even acknowledge that they exist.  We call others judgmental and dishonest when they try to address how these failings have adversely affected our relationships with them.  We distort their actions and character to others, in order to try to convince third parties that the narrative we've created for ourselves is true--hoping that if we convince them we will convince ourselves.  But because it isn't true, we keep having to tell our tale to more and more people, never satisfied because what we are seeking can't satisfy.   We trust more in our own judgment than in the words of those who love us, and, much more importantly, more than in the Savior's love.  We cling harder to the hastily constructed, inaccurate veneer of who we think we are than we do to the relationships we claim are most important to us.  We cling stubbornly to our self-deceptions and half-truths, because repentance is painful and, sometimes, embarrassing.

But on the other side of that difficulty is the undimmed love of our Savior.  Its always there, bright and vibrant, but we all turn from it, to varying degrees and at various times, through our own stubbornness, resentment, and pride.  Often, because we believe in the Lord and his Gospel and we have committed no grievous sins, we convince ourselves that there is nothing to "fix"--at least nothing serious.  But until we can say, sincerely and humbly, that our confidence doth wax strong in the presence of God, there is always work to do.  The Lord has told us the necessary requirements for that personal confidence: long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, unfeigned love, kindness, pure knowledge, and an increased love toward others.  In other words, the traits and fruits of genuine humility.  We have to let go of what we think we are in order to be instructed by the Lord (and those he may put in our path to be teachers for us) who we are and who, through him, we may become.  Some of the things he'll show us will hurt.  Some of the things those mortal, and terribly flawed, teachers will show us will hurt our pride, anger us, or prick our hearts.  But if we trust in the love of the Savior with true humility, we will embrace the lessons.  We will offer sincere, unqualified apologies to those we've injured, and sincere, humble repentance before the Lord.

When we do that, we can be surprised at how quickly the Lord forgives, and how efficiently he can work to turn our hearts a bit more into a heart like his.  And, though it can be very difficult to believe, I think we can sometimes be surprised at how readily those who love us can forgive mistakes large and small--how patient they are willing to be with us, as we in return exercise patience with them.  In our insecurities, we tend to underestimate the love that our family and friends have for us--we don't give them enough credit for how much they want us to be a joyful presence in their lives.  Especially if they love the Savior, too.  Those who are actively, humbly seeking his forgiveness for themselves don't readily withhold forgiveness from others.

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