Author: Rev. Russell Smith, Madeira-Silverwood
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians13:4-7)
“Love does not … boast”
There is a drive within us. We have a primal urge to be seen, known, acknowledged. We want our virtues to be recognized.
This drive is very human. We are bearers of God’s divine image. We have been fearfully and wonderfully made. We can sense the whiff of glory about us. It’s a distinctive glory, expressing itself differently in each human being: a meld of giftedness, interest, experience, achievement, curiosity, and passion. It is a glory that is as individual as our thumbprint. We want that God-shaped glory to be known. We want to be understood.
The rest of the world, unfortunately, doesn’t care. At best the rest of the world is indifferent. At worst, the world sees only your failures, your pettiness, your selfishness, and the bad things you’ve done.
OK, it’s a bit of an overstatement to say “the rest of the world.” I’ll wager that you’ve been blessed with family and friends who care and seek to understand. Perhaps you have been fortunate enough to have a mentor who saw hints of what you are capable of, and she did her best to call it forth.
However, even if you have been so blessed, you still experience only a partial, incomplete understanding of your giftedness and glory. No human being, not even the people who love you the most, can completely give you the deep understanding and knowledge that each of us so deeply craves.
And that is why we boast.
Boasting is a misguided, though understandable, way of fulfilling the craving to have our best selves known. We talk about ourselves, pushing ourselves forward. Some of us are ruthless in our boasting – we know exactly what we’re doing in demanding that people see us and pay attention. Others are unaware – they would never think of themselves as boasting. But the content of their conversation is always about them, their accomplishments, and their achievements.
Boasting is a demand that the other person in front of me acknowledge my inner glory. And that is why boasting is not loving. It treats the person in front of me as an instrument for my fulfillment. When I boast, I try to force the other person to meet my needs.
However, as I said earlier, no human being can fully meet our needs for acknowledgment of our glory. No amount of enforced human adulation will satisfy. Therefore, boasting is doomed to failure and frustration. Boasters drive people away from them and they gain a reputation for being a bore.
How do we let go of the practice of boasting?
First, as always, is awareness. Be conscious of your speech. Pay attention to your conversations. How much do you talk about yourself? How much do you feel the need to build yourself up in front of other people?
Second, try practicing curiosity about other people.
How much do you ask questions about other people’s accomplishments? How much do you give them the opportunity to speak.
A good principle is to practice asking questions of the other person. There’s an old adage quoted by Tom Stanley in his book The Millionaire Mind: “Me, me, me is dull, dull, dull.” If you make it a practice to get the other person talking at least for half of the conversation, then you mitigate against boasting. If you actively practice curiosity, seeking to draw the other person out, then you will go far in displacing boasting from your life.
Third, Cultivate a rich relationship with Christ.
You’ve undoubtedly started to see a pattern in these letters. Our virtues are forged in the quiet places where we get alone for conversation with Christ.
Christ sees us in our fullness. When we come to him, we know that we are fully known. Try memorizing this little prayer from Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
This is a frightening prayer because Christ does indeed see it all: all our failures, our sinfulness, and all the things that are not glorious about us. Christ sees our mess, our selfishness, our pettiness. He sees past our excuses and our denials. This is necessary for the forgiving and healing work that He does.
But the flip side of this truth is that Christ also knows all our virtues. He knows the inner glory that we have: our giftedness, our best intentions, our passions, our interests. He fully understands – indeed he understands our best selves better than we do ourselves. By His grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he calls forth that best self from within.
That is why Psalm 139 also says “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (139:14)
As we experience the loving eye of Christ on all our lives, he alleviates within us the need to boast. He deals with our failures and Christ draws forth our glory. When we spend long time in conversation with Christ, we find that we don’t need to demand that other people acknowledge our glory. We are freed up to receive the person in front of us with graciousness – and to receive what they have to offer with gratitude.