He spit in my face. Twice.
As a long-time volunteer at our local zoo, I had interacted with the llamas many times. A zookeeper had shown me how to properly greet Jackson, the male, and Ellen, the female.
When greeting one another, llamas march well past a healthy sense of personal space and stand face-to-face. They blow smooth puffs of air out of their nostrils if they approve of the newcomer, and they do the same with old friends.
They like to perform this ritual with humans, as well, so I was taught to stand my ground and let them come close to my face, at which point I was instructed to gently blow (not through my nose, thankfully) on their faces.
During my shifts when I was alone, I would often pass by the llama exhibit and stop to visit, practicing this greeting ritual over the fence. I still don’t know what caused the change, but at one point Jackson started to flick his ears back when we were greeting. Then he began to do the same from a distance. He would still tromp up to the fence-line, but his expression signaled his intentions might not be friendly. Knowing Jackson had a reputation for being temperamental, I decided to keep my distance.
Until that fateful day when something changed my mind. I passed by the llama exhibit as usual, but Jackson didn’t pin his ears back when I talked to him. Instead, he walked up to the fence and gave me a curious, seemingly complacent expression.
A cluster of four or so visitors exclaimed over his behavior, apparently amazed at my relationship with the llama. Jackson looked friendly enough, so I decided to risk the greeting.
All went well. For about five seconds.
Bullets of spit and food bits pelted my cheeks.
I jolted back, stunned and shocked. If you’ve never been spit on by a llama, take my word for it—spits can hurt.
But heat burned my cheeks behind the sting, as the visitors gasped and murmured amongst themselves. The humiliation hurt far more than the spit.
I should probably explain that I get attached to animals, so I also felt strangely betrayed by this trickster of a llama. I met Jackson’s stare. Why would he do something like that to me?
All of these thoughts and emotions swirled through me in about ten seconds, at which point the drive to fix things pushed me numbly forward. I tried the greeting again and got the same results. Another violent spit in the face.
I stumbled away, catching the visitors’ words in my burning ears as I fled. “Why would she let him do that again?”
A great question. One that stayed with me for a long time after I’d washed off the spit and physical evidence of the humiliation. It stayed with me until I could admit the truth.
I had approached Jackson in the first place because of pride. I felt important and special when the visitors noticed his familiar response to me, so I wanted to show off my cool animal skills.
The approval and admiration of those strangers was so crucial to me that I stepped back to him a second time in a pitiful attempt to salvage my reputation in their eyes.
The spitting episode and a few other less spectacular embarrassments taught me the truth of the old proverb—pride does indeed go before a fall. Put more vividly, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
Thanks to having some awful memories to remind me of that truth, I’ve learned to avoid most of those obvious moments of pride. I’m too afraid of the fall that comes afterward to risk it.
But if I have pride under control, then why did I not want to write this post? I’ve delayed it for months after the idea spawned. And even now I questioned the wisdom of publicly sharing this story of my ridiculous behavior. Never mind that it happened nearly twenty years ago.
Praying for guidance as to whether or not I should write this post led to a question: Why did I not want to? The answer was because I feared what you, my readers, would think of me if I shared this story. I want to present you with an edited, photo-shopped image of me at my best, and this type of story is not conducive to that.
Clearly, I’m still motivated by pride much more than I’d like to admit. And, really, that means I’m motivated by another fear, too.
Pride goes hand-in-hand with one of the most common and yet overlooked fears—the fear of disapproval. Or, as Liz Tolsma termed it in her guest post for this blog, people-pleasing fear.
How do we engage in battle against this pride-rooted fear? In my own fight against this fear, I’ve realized there are three steps that, if I put them into practice, can give me the victory over pride-inspired fear:
3 STEPS TO BEAT THE PRIDE BEHIND PEOPLE-PLEASING FEAR
1. Be Humble
No, this isn’t about self-esteem. I think C. S. Lewis is the one who aptly defined true humility by explaining that humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.
If you can master thinking about others instead of yourself, of focusing on God’s glory and doing His purpose by reaching and ministering to others, of truly loving your neighbor more than yourself, then you’ll have pride and the fear it spawns totally beat.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. – Luke 14:11
2. Be in Christ
If you must think of yourself at all, think truthfully. Realize and accept that we are all worthless on our own (Romans 3:10-18). Worse than that, we’re horrible, sinful creatures who deserve nothing but destruction and suffering for the evil of our hearts, minds, souls, and lives.
But, if you have repented of your sins and accepted the gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus, then God sees you differently. He sees you as beautiful and of infinite worth because He sees Christ’s sacrifice, perfection, and righteousness placed on you.
If you are in Christ, you are of infinite worth, but only because of Jesus, because He lives in you. Let that kind of worth shine to the world and boast only in Him (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
3. Be Watchful
Pride can take so many sneaky forms. Be on the lookout for hidden and obvious pride in your life. If you want to avoid the fall, you have to be on the lookout for the sneaky pride that will trip you up.
Ask God for wisdom and clear sight to recognize the disguised pride in your life. Ask Him for the power and humility to defeat pride and the fear it causes. He will enable you to seize the victory and live free from fear!
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:6-7
Have you experienced pride going before a fall? Do you fear what others think about you? Please join the conversation!