This is one of my favorite passages from The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis:
All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.
Thank God for C. S. Lewis! It’s a blessing that I read this passage as long ago as I did, because without it I probably wouldn’t notice how often this very progression happens in my mind. And, if I did notice, I probably would spend all night wrestling with the devil, but now, thanks to Lewis’s good advice, I do laugh and go to bed.
The problem, of course, is that I think about myself too much, which can only lead to pride. Or to shame, which at its heart, is just the flip side of pride – the only reason it hurts to let others see my faults is because I think I am better than I am. It’s walking a tightrope, and it’s ridiculously easy to fall into either despair at my sinfulness, or the spiritual pride that makes me think I can merit salvation (even if I don’t voice that thought out loud).
That’s why I love that Jesus insists that love of neighbor is at the heart of loving God. Because when I wholeheartedly serve those around me, I don’t have time to think about myself, and so I can get off the tightrope and get on with my mission of loving God.