Bringing Your Ego to Heel
By Audrey Stallsmith
My Border Collie decided to nibble on rat poison the other day, which had me rushing to the Internet to find out how to make a dog throw up. (Hydrogen peroxide will do it, in case you are interested.)
After the struggle to force a couple tablespoons of the bubbly stuff down her throat with an old Coke bottle, and the drive to the veterinary for Vitamin K pills just in case, I concluded that my dog is much like my ego. Insatiable and willing to swallow just about anything--except antidotes!
All of us have probably, at some time or another, used flattery to get what we want from other persons. And we have been surprised at how much of that they will devour without questioning it. No doubt they have the same opinion of us!
Here on the farm, the guys usually stuff the poison into the rat holes, so other animals won't find it. And they have stopped using it since we got barn cats, as the cats seem to do a better job of rodent disposal anyway! But, apparently, one of the rats was smart enough to know that gifts from the enemy are suspect--and pushed a poison cube back out again.
Excessive flattery is often, I suspect, a gift from the devil. And it has a bloating rather than nourishing effect. When such fulsome praise comes from our friends, on the other hand, it is often meant to bolster us through a rough period. So, even if we don't entirely believe it, we do feel better through knowing that our friends care about us enough that they want to help.
Even flattery's opposite, the cutting remark, serves to keep our attention on ourselves rather than where it should be. Like the ego, my dog doesn't care what type of attention she is getting, as long as she is getting attention. Although she started out by just being scared of vacuum cleaners and thunderstorms, she now reacts to almost any unknown and unexpected noise by demanding sympathy. Obviously, I made a mistake when I comforted her over the thunderstorms!
In the same way, the more you try to comfort your ego, the more sensitive to slights it is likely to become. So, if you want to discipline your pride to come only when called, you need to learn to ignore its importuning at other times.
If that snide thing another church member said to you on Sunday is still pawing painfully at your recollection--even though you have either dealt with the problem or assured yourself there was nothing to it--you are being controlled by your ego. If you want it to go away, don't acknowledge it or try to reason with it. Just get busy with what you should be doing and ignore it.
I've found that yelling at my dog never helps, any more than berating myself too much for my failures is going to make me a holier person. Most of us will say meaner things to ourselves than we would ever dream of saying to other people. But that is just another form of egoism, because it shows that we really expected better from ourselves than we did from those other people. And it is obviously a love-hate relationship, because even the shouting allows my dog to keep the attention where she wants it.
True saints, I would guess, aren't as bothered by criticism, because they aren't as surprised by their own weaknesses. (I seem to recall that St. Francis of Assisi had the habit of tolerantly calling himself Brother Ass!) And put-downs don't make them feel insecure, because their trust is in God, not in themselves. They are, in fact, so enthralled with God and with the world he created that they don't think about themselves much at all.
Fortunately, for the rest of us, our work allows us to go out of ourselves for hours at a time in similar fashion. So our talents can be our biggest blessing--or our biggest curse.
We all have what are more accurately deemed "gifts." But, as the word "gifts" implied, they were given to us by God, so we can't take credit for them. Although we don't like to accept responsibility for our weaknesses, we do have a bad habit of preening ourselves over our skills. Which is probably why we get so bent out of shape when somebody takes a potshot at them.
The knowledge that we are stewards rather than owners--of both our talents and ourselves-- should allow us to adopt a more relaxed attitude. We can accept compliments with joy, because they reflect well on the God we love, and imply that we are making good use of what He gave us. But we should also so want to increase what our King and Father has entrusted to our care that we will be eager for any advice (criticism) that keeps us from hoarding or wasting His funds instead.
C. S. Lewis held that it is really the most abrasive people in our lives that do our souls the most good, because they rub off our rough edges and keep us humble. After all, it's often only our enemies, the mentally challenged, or small children who are truly honest with us. So, when tempted to be offended, we should clap our hands with joy instead and say, "Sandpaper!"
We should not, of course, take every criticism seriously. Some people just snipe in an attempt to pull others down to their level. But even these snipers do seem to have a strong sense of where their opponents' weak points are. So they can sometimes help us out without actually meaning to do so!
Not to mention that they are usually looking for a reaction. So we should respond thoughtfully instead with something like, "I can see your point. Yes, I certainly need to improve in that area. Thanks so much for your help." It will take the wind out of their sails, while keeping us from becoming too "puffed up" ourselves!
Trainers tell us that a dog which is put first, which is fed before the family is, has all his whims catered to, is not forced to obey, etc., comes to believe that he is the head of the pack. Strangely enough, however, this does not make him happy. Rather, snappish, irritable, and insecure. Deep down he realizes that, if he is the head, the whole family is in serious trouble!
In the same way, as long as I feel that I have to depend on myself, I am going to be snappish, irritable, and insecure. And any challenge to my ego will make me instinctively bite back. But, if I submit myself and take my proper place in a family of which God is the head, I can relax in the knowledge that everything is in much more competent hands than mine.
As we are finishing supper, my Border Collie begins to watch us expectantly because she knows it is feeding time. To her, we humans are the heads of the pack, the ones who go out and "kill" the table scraps and kibble. Although she does occasionally provide herself with her own snack of rabbit or groundhog, she knows that she doesn't have to depend on such things.
The wonderful thing about the family of God is that we are not treated like the dogs we must sometimes seem, but, rather, as beloved sons and daughters. Like any loving parent, God knows how much we need--and that excess can be dangerous to us.
What is most likely to separate us from Him is that niggling sense that we should keep part of ourselves independent. That we shouldn't trust anybody too much--not even God.
My dog gets a haunted look in her eyes on those rare occasions when all of us go away at once and leave her alone. Perhaps she keeps up her pursuit of prey to convince herself that she can take care of herself if, one of these days, the rest of her pack doesn't come back.
Many of us struggle so hard to be successful at our careers in an attempt to gain some other--more substantial seeming type of security. Or we put all our trust in other loved ones.
But we know how quickly the actor, writer, or politician who was once the big name can become yesterday's news. And how abruptly loved ones can be taken from us, either by death or the shattering of relationships. There is no security anywhere except in our eternal God who nether changes nor sleeps.
When we put ourselves under his control, we become much less frantic because we no longer have to prove ourselves, defend ourselves, or even provide for ourselves. About the only time we tie up the high-strung Border Collie is during a thunderstorm because, for some reason, she seems to feel calmer and more secure that way. Perhaps our having her under control gives her the illusion that we have everything else under control too.
With us, it is just an illusion. A tornado could lift away our home--and lives--in an instant. But our Father really does have everything under control. So, the sooner we allow him to be God and stop trying to set ourselves up as the center of the universe, the happier and more secure we will feel.