Boast Only in the Cross

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At some point in my Catholic grade school years, I learned that pride is the root of all sin. That the sin of pride is worse than lust, or greed, or anger. I remember learning this, but not understanding it at all. Pride is what you have for your local sports team. Pride is what you hope your parents will have when they read your report card. On every newsfeed, billboard, and magazine you see ads with slogans like, “take pride in who you are.” So how could pride be a bad thing?”

Story Time

On September 24th, 2018, my oldest sister, Mollie, passed away from a heroin overdose. My sister and I had a complicated relationship. I loved her, but her addiction caused a lot of pain and trauma in our family. I prayed for my sister every day, but I rarely spoke to her. I had forgiven her a long time ago, and made peace with the fact that she would probably die from her addiction. So when I did inevitably lose her, I didn’t react very emotionally. I shed some tears when I first found out, and then I went back to work. When people asked how I was, I’d say, “I’m fine,” and I meant it (or so I thought).

Flashback.

Growing up, I had the 2 most beautiful older sisters. They were always well-dressed, with perfect hair and make-up. I didn’t like to dress up or to do my hair—heck, I didn’t even like to brush my hair! (This is funny if you know me now, because I literally carry a hairbrush with me everywhere). I was very self-conscious of my looks and my weight. Being around my sisters, I always felt like the ugliest girl in the room. One thing I’ll never forget was the advice Mollie gave me. She once told me that “confidence is attractive.” It didn’t matter how insecure I felt inside, so long as I appeared confident. After she told me this, I basically took on the mentality, “Fake it til you make it,” and tried my best to appear confident.

Apparently, I was successful. Throughout my college years, people often described me as confident. A good friend once told me that I looked as though I “had it all together.” Seriously? Me? I certainly never felt like I had it all together. I felt like a mess! Just like everyone else! But that’s not how I appeared.

Research.

In my college Family Studies courses, I came across the findings of a brilliant researcher named Claudia Black, who devoted her life to studying children of alcoholics (otherwise known as COAs). She found that COAs learn to be independent and self-reliant at a young age. They learn to take care of themselves, because they worry that no one else will. Many COAs grow up thinking they are stronger because of what they had to endure. They—or I should say “we” because I’m one of them—tend to appear confident, put-together, and are overall controlling and unwilling to ask for help. There’s no doubt that I fall into this category. I’ve spent much of my life patting myself on the back for being so strong, so wise, so resilient. I like to be in control, and I’m never willing to rely on others to take care of something, when I can just take care of it myself.

Faith.

Faith by definition is believing in, trusting, and relying on someone. Faith is inherently humble, because it means admitting that there is someone bigger and smarter than us. How can I be a person of strong faith and not be willing to ask for help? How can I say I love and trust God, and still act as though I can handle everything on my own? When my sister died, I wasn’t fine. I’m still not. But I wore a facade of confidence and self-reliance—a facade I’ve been wearing my whole life. I am afraid to let my emotions show because it means relinquishing control. It means allowing others to take care of me, when I usually boast of taking care of myself. And yet I know it says right there in Galatians 6:14: “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Boasting in the cross means willingly accepting the gift that Jesus gave us through His death and resurrection. It means that my cross—the addiction in my family—is too heavy for me to carry on my own, and I have to ask Jesus to help me with it.

The Point.

Taking pride in the Wisconsin Badgers is not a sin. Being proud of the person God made me to be is also not a sin, so long as I recognize that my strengths are gifts from Him. The sin is in trying to control things that only God can control. The sin is believing that I don’t need to ask Him for help. The sin is thinking that I can earn my own salvation through hard work and good morals, when in actuality it was given to me through the grace of Jesus Christ, poured out through the blood and water which flowed from His wounds. To clarify, we don’t believe in faith alone. I must actually choose to accept that salvation, and, in doing so, live a life of discipleship in accord with Christian morality and beliefs. But any good thing I do, any positive impact I have on someone else, is made possible by the grace of God. Today, I am confident that Jesus will do great things with me. I am confident that He will take care of me, especially when I don’t want to be taken care of. Overall, I’m confident that He’ll give me the humility to boast only in Him.


Mary Kate Van Wagner | LBH + Camp Gray Alumni