Several years ago when our children were still quite young I decided to take them for an afternoon visit to Timber-lee Christian Center, a Christian camp that has a petting zoo, just north of the Wisconsin border. We walked into the gated area and found goats, sheep, Shetland ponies, and oh yes, llamas milling about us. The children quickly noticed there were food pellets for sale in vending machines to feed the animals.
My pockets were soon emptied of quarters, so the children could buy and feed the docile farm animals. They were particularly interested in feeding the strange-looking llama. The kids giggled with delight as they reached out their hands and the llama approached them to nuzzle down the pellet. It looked like fun to me but there was one problem; I was out of money to buy food pellets. I decided to do the next best thing–I would pretend that I had pellets to feed the llama.
So I reached out my hand, and sure enough, the llama walked over in my direction. He reached down and nuzzled for food in the palm of my hand. It took a moment for him to catch on to the scam, but once he realized he had been tricked, he took one or two steps back, then reared up his head–and spit in my face. Suddenly my glasses went green. (I’ve since learned that llama spit is bile that comes up from their stomach. Just thinking about the ugly journey before reaching me is sickening.)
I’ll admit I was momentarily stunned by this brazen and unexpected display of disrespect. I did the only thing a self-respecting man would do in such a situation–I took one or two steps back, reared up my head and spit back at the llama. It would be difficult to describe the look of astonishment on my children’s faces at my behavior.
Later over lunch I heard them secretly whisper to Cheryl, “Mom, Dad spit at the llama this morning.”
“Oh, your father has been under a great deal of stress lately,” she said in my defense.
What causes a grown man to spit at a llama? I believe it’s the same word that motivates couples to slam doors, exchange dirty looks over supper, and threaten each other with lawyers.
That word is–pride.
Pride is the ultimate cause of all human misery and suffering. Every ill on our planet can eventually be traced back to this “the original sin.” The same is true of marriage. The origin of a hard heart in marriage can also be traced back to pride. The Bible is very clear about pride’s impact on our lives and our close relationships.
Have you ever stopped to consider what keeps us from being the first to apologize after an argument? Or what causes us to look at other men and women and admire their qualities, while shaking our head in disgust at our own spouse? Or why couples choose to sit across the room and say nothing to each other for a day or week or even a lifetime?
That’s right–it’s pride.
If we are going to maintain a soft heart in marriage, we will have to daily battle and defeat the ultimate enemy of our relationship–pride.
If it’s pride that hardens our hearts toward each other, then it’s humility that will soften our heart as no other force on earth can. It can break down the highest walls and cross the deepest divides of our marriage relationship. It can change us from cold and distant partners to loving and intimate soul mates. It can even reconcile our children to us, despite whatever alienation and hurt has taken place.
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18