How To Keep Your Cool (De Ira) by Seneca. Book blog part 4

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“Whenever they win and do something worthy of praise, let’s allow them to hold their heads high but not to become boastful, for exultation follows rejoicing, and after exaltation comes inflated ego and too great a sense of self-worth.” (p.39)

 

There’s a fine line between confident and proud. I want my kids to be confident in their skills and abilities but I don’t want them to be prideful or arrogant. Seneca demonstrates a chain from “hold their heads high” to “too great a sense of self-worth.” The chain goes like this, hold their heads high → rejoicing → exultation → inflated ego → too great a sense of self-worth. 

It’s a slippery slope from confidence to pride. Men tend to struggle with this slide more than women because men tend to put their identity in what they do. You naturally want to defend yourself and if your accomplishments are who you are, then you’ll highlight your works with pride as a self-defense. We see others as contenders not only vying for what’s ours, but for who we are. I’m the best tennis player at the club and when someone else starts doing well, they’re not simply trying to elevate their competency and skill, they’re trying to strip me of my very identity. And this makes me very, very angry. But if we don’t find our identity in our accomplishments and simply enjoy the work we do, we won’t be so devastated when we lose our place on the podium. 

The end of the chain Seneca puts forth, “too great a sense of self-worth,” is actually worship of the self. Self-esteem is the #1 idol of our time. We lay everything down on the altar of Self, our marriage, our job, our time, our money. All of it becomes a catalyst in the mission of making us feel better about ourselves and give us more self-esteem, AKA self-worship.   

1 John 2:16  “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

We avoid pride because it’s of the world and it’s destructive. I want my kids to be confident and competent but the more they increase their skills, the more they will need to quell pride and boasting. It can be a good problem to have. I tend to struggle with the opposite. I have little confidence in myself in anything almost to the point of sin in denigrating my image-bearing self entirely. That’s not the right direction to go either. 

The balance between sinful pride and honorable confidence is found in gratitude. We can hold our heads up high in the way of looking up to God and thanking Him for our skills and competence and pray daily that we can use them for His glory. Pride looks down at the god of self, heaping praise and idolatrous worship. We must be thankful to God, for any skill or accomplishment we have ultimately comes from Him. We need to recognize this dependency in the midst of any accomplishments we may attain. This attitude of gratitude will keep our hearts in check in a posture of worship to the gift giver instead of the gifts.

 

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