One of the most cringe-worthy moments in the Bible, for me anyway, is 2 Samuel 21:15-17:
David went down together with his servants, and they fought against the Philistines. And David grew weary. And Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze, and who was armed with a new sword, thought to kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel”
I can imagine David’s men in today’s language saying “that’s enough, gramps. You’re in our way. Put down the sharp object before someone gets hurt. ” How humiliating.
David Was King-ish
Officially, David was the King of Israel. He was their military leader. But when he thought to pull rank and jump into the fray like he always had, age caught up with him.
David’s men undermined his authority, and with good reason: their King was going to get them all killed if he didn’t sit on the sidelines and stop acting like a young man.
Sheesh. He just wasn’t thinking straight. King David’s pride got in the way of good sense and consideration for others.
He wasn’t considering the big picture, the practical realities of what happens when we try to overstretch ourselves. Someone else often ends up paying for our mistakes.
My Pride, Punctured
I work in the deli department of a grocery store, and one of our tasks is to cook whole chickens, which we sell hot each day. Raw birds are delivered to the meat department, we collect a trolley loaded with them, and then we unload the heavy boxes of chickens onto a pallet in our cooler.
The boxes weigh around 50 pounds each. An announcement comes on over the PA system “deli to the meat department,” and someone goes to fetch them.
Usually, this person is Gillian who is quite strong. I have done the unloading several times, but Gillian doesn’t like that because she knows my back is weak.
One afternoon, while she was distracted and busy, I answered the call and got to the meat department before she could stop me. She may be strong, but I’m quick and stubborn. The meat manager started unloading the boxes onto a trolley and we were chatting.
Then Gillian ran in, huffing and puffing, “do not unload those boxes!” “It’s fine, go back to the kitchen, I know you’re busy.” “No! You’ll hurt yourself!” The two meat cutters glanced back and forth between us and each other, completely puzzled as we half-heartedly argued, “I’ll fight you for it.” “I’ll win,” she replied.
Finally, I relented. “Okay, thank you, Gillian,” and walked back to the deli, embarrassed. My pride was bruised. What must the men have thought — that I was a weakling? An old woman?
I have always been physically fit and active, but I’ve been losing this particular battle for some years with poor grace. Even while thanking Gillian, I quietly lamented that I’m not the warrior I used to be.
Practical Discipleship and Pride
The trouble with pride, besides the fact that it leads to destruction and often causes problems in our lives (Proverbs 16:18), is that other people frequently suffer along with us. For example, if I had lifted the boxes, I would have hurt myself, almost without a doubt.
When my back is really “out,” I can’t even stand up straight. If I did enough damage, I’d have to call in sick for work.
My family would have to help with more of the everyday things I do at home like taking out the recycling, lifting the laundry basket, and carrying bags of groceries, even light ones.
There is a financial cost besides (potentially) calling in sick for work. I have to take painkillers and use medicated patches: medications can be expensive.
If I’m in real agony, I might visit a chiropractor. And pain is exhausting, so I’m more likely to buy ready-made meals or order take-out instead of cooking economically from scratch.
We constantly lift and bend in the deli. If I made it to work, my coworkers would try to compensate for me, even if I was stubborn and tried to do my normal tasks without saying anything.
We pay attention to one another, and the women in my department are kind. But the truth is that many of them also suffer from weakness and pain. It’s not fair to gratuitously, stubbornly endanger myself, and thereby take advantage of their kindness.
I can hear David’s men saying, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.” Gillian might say something like “you shall never go to the meat department for chickens lest you put us all in a pickle.”
We All Have Strengths
So, I’m not strong, that’s okay. I was built for speed. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. [...] All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 7,11).
I know that Paul is talking here about other gifts, like speaking in tongues or wisdom or faith, but this statement still rings true here. God did not make us all the same because he has a unique purpose for each of our lives.
How can I possibly resent that? I mean, sure, I can lift weights and get stronger, and maybe I’ll be able to heft chicken boxes more easily, but I have to remember that God made other people too. I don’t have to do it all.
In fact, trying to be capable of all things is prideful, sinful, disrespectful — ugh, that’s the worst part. I exalt myself and diminish others, making it all about me.
Meanwhile, here is an opportunity to lift someone up and emphasize her importance to our department, and to us personally; to take the spotlight off of my embarrassment and put it on Gillian’s kindness and capability. When she looks after me the way friends do, it’s stingy and ungrateful not to let her.
Know My Battles
Looking after our bodies is good; we should steward them well. I’m a healthy person with generally good eating and exercise habits. Lifting weights is an excellent idea as strong muscles and good core stability will help prevent falls, broken bones, and will also protect my back.
Maintaining a reasonable weight is important too, so I’ll keep on moving. But the motive behind all of this fitness stuff has to be right.
Not “I’ll show them I’m strong enough.” My battle isn’t to beat aging, but to let the Spirit work within me to overcome temptations, which emanate from sinful pride.
I’m not autonomous, none of us is. We need each other, and we need God. I’m constantly re-learning when to fight and when to relent.
I suspect there will be more days of embarrassment ahead of me, times when others are stronger than me, but also opportunities to be the strong one for someone else, and even then, my strength won’t be my own.
For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (Colossian 1:29).
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Boonyachoat
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.