We saw the destruction Sunday morning when my dad parked in front of the church building. We got out of the car. Several tombstones in a nearby cemetery lay on their sides or in pieces, knocked down by a sledgehammer or some other implement. My granddad was buried there. My dad was livid. His stone was untouched.
My pastor found out youths were doing the same thing at various cemeteries around the area. Along with busting mailboxes and cow tipping (a decidedly Southern thing), toppling tombstones seemed to be popular for anyone with a few friends and a lack of respect for the dead.
Two of my cousins, a friend, and I wanted to make things right. We were 12 to 14 at the time, so we had the brilliant idea that – against our parents’ wishes – we would abscond from the worship service and run over to the cemetery to restore them to their rightful place. I wanted to make it right, but more importantly, I wanted the praise that would follow.
Two of us handled the first with relative ease. Some we could lift back into place; others we knew we couldn’t. One lay in the murky in-between of being too heavy, or just light enough to lift. The tombstone looked a lot like a standard church steeple and the gloss material that coated it made it slick in our hands. I knew the thing was too heavy before we lifted. Pride, however, told me I was strong enough. Everything was going fine until it slipped.
I watched as it fell and buried in the grass, along with my big toe.
The shock came first, then the pain. My cousins and friend quickly removed it and helped me hobble back to the church building. Thankfully my mom, ever the nurse, cleaned and wrapped my toe, and made sure it wasn’t broken. I had to sit back inside the sanctuary now, sniffling and drinking my coke, the young kid who hurt himself trying to do something good.
My toe hurt; my pride hurt worse.
People Aren’t Fixer-Uppers
Our church went through a great book titled When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself. As the title states, the book focuses on helping the poor in a way that helps sustain them in the long run. The concept is the same in all aspects of service: doing the right thing in the wrong way not only hurts those you’re trying to help, it also hurts you.
God didn’t call us to do the job only He can do. But that doesn’t stop many of us from being like the latest HGTV show, treating people as fixer-uppers, projects to be worked at rather than people to be loved.
It is the epitome of pride. We fixed their problem, now we get to show the world what we did. But look at where that leads. Yes, we get the praise from others, but Christ says if we publish to the world our good deeds, that’s where the reward ends (Matthew 6:3).
Pride, we know, comes before the fall. This is clearly seen in Luke 18 with the Pharisee’s prayer. The Pharisee Christ mentioned would be a model churchgoer today. He fasted, prayed, and gave tithes of all he received. His tithes helped many in need. Yet Christ said he left, unjustified. There’s a reason why Paul warns us from doing things from vain ambition (Philippians 2:3). Pride kills the soul.
I’m still learning that lesson after two years of serving as a deacon at my local church. People aren’t problems to be fixed. And most often the only way we help “fix” their problems is simply to be an open ear, a shoulder to cry on, or someone they ask to hold them accountable.
God alone fixes problems. But He’s given us the amazing opportunity to humbly be used by Him to walk in the good deeds He created for us in Christ (Ephesians 2:10). There’s nothing more pride-killing than knowing that any good deed I do, was in fact created by God before the foundation of the world. There’s no room for pride when you understand God does all the work.
I recently saw a crushed mailbox while driving around town. Curious, I asked my younger brother if knocking over mailboxes and tombstones was still a thing during his days of high school.
He said yes.
I can’t help but wonder if there’s another young kid out there who’s about to learn the same painful lesson I did about doing the right thing the wrong way.