This week, among many other activities that have kept me busy (visitations, anointing, administrative meetings, sermon preparation, two big writing assignments for doctoral classes, setting up a new Apple Watch, not to mention I was recovering from camp meeting.), Melissa asked me to install a reverse osmosis water filter system under our kitchen sink. According to the manual, it’s a one-hour job, so I decided to do it myself in order to save money. What was supposed to be a one-hour job turned out to be at least a ten-hour job with multiple trips to Ace in Estacada, many frustrations, and one night of tossing and turning because I was having nightmares about plumbing.
So why did this project take so long? Firstly, because my plumbing skills aren’t great and I usually do the work a professional plumber does in 30 minutes in about five hours. Secondly, I mistakenly cut a very important pipe that I thought was obsolete. I won’t go into the details, but I’ll just say it happened at 11:00 P.M. I was trying to finish the job before going to bed (big mistake), and instead I created extra work (like several hours worth) for the next two days. Before going to bed, Melissa had given me a suggestive look that said, “Are you sure you don’t want to wait till tomorrow to finish?” My mind had been made that I would finish. Not only did I not finish, but I created a water mess. My inclination was to blame Melissa for asking me to do this project, but the truth is it was my fault. I cut the pipe. I chose to work past my bedtime.
It’s not easy to admit that we’ve messed up. Our default response is to blame someone else for the problems we sometimes create for ourselves. In part, we fail to own up to our faults because we are trying to preserve our dignity. Ellen White wrote, “I counsel you to humble your heart and confess your wrongs… Put away pride, self-conceit, and false dignity; for these can be maintained only at the most terrible consequences to yourself” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 509). Dignity is defined as the “quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” Synonyms are self-respect, pride, self-esteem, and self-worth. Humans have a basic desire for honor, and a deep need to be treated as something of value. People want to see themselves in a positive light, rather than accept their weaknesses, limitations, and shortcomings.
Why is admitting mistakes a perceived threat to maintaining dignity? She tried to warn me. I once bought a car impulsively against Melissa’s wishes. After the fact, I realized very quickly that she was right, but was afraid to admit it. Perhaps I was afraid of confessing out of fear that it would open the floodgates to further accusations and conflict.
Sometimes we may be right, but we respond in a way that is wrong. We don’t admit and apologize for our unkind reactions out of fear that it would relieve the other party of any culpability. A husband once lost his temper with his wife and said things he should not have said. He had good reason to be upset, but should not have been at liberty to lose his cool and shame his wife. But he would not apologize for his unkind words and for hurting her feelings out of fear if he apologized she would feel excused for her wrong behavior. Some parents will never apologize to their children. Ellen White warned that some “fathers should unbend from their false dignity…” (Adventist Home, p. 220).
What we often misunderstand about dignity is that it is inherent, not acquired. Our dignity is in who we are as children of God, and not in our performance. When we come to grips with this amazing truth, we will no longer be afraid to confess. Rather, our confession will actually reveal our dignity. Ellen White warned, “How mistaken are those who imagine that confession of sin will detract from their dignity, and lessen their influence among their fellow men. Clinging to this erroneous idea, though seeing their faults, many fail to confess them, but rather pass by the wrongs they have done others, so embittering their own lives, and shadowing the lives of others. It will not hurt your dignity to confess your sins. Away with this false dignity. Fall on the Rock and be broken, and Christ will give you the true and heavenly dignity” (Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 326, 327)