Years ago, I had an experience at church camp that left a lasting imprint on my life. There’s something unique about being at camp in the mountains.
We checked into our cabins, got our personal things organized and headed out during free time to take a look around.
At our cabin meeting, our counselor informed there would be tryouts for camp pianist that afternoon. I knew that was for me. I was excited and eager to exhibit my talent. After all, I had been taking lessons since the third grade, and I thought I was qualified.
Confident I would get the job, my pride pushed away all my modesty. Foremost in my teenage mind would be that all my friends would be duly impressed when I was chosen camp pianist.
I went to tryouts, played my favorite hymn and even added some expanded base chords. I added a little flip with my hands when I played the melody. I impressed even myself.
Then the director chose a hymn at random from the hymnal, and I performed beautifully with a certain spiritual intensity evidenced by my arms, pauses, timing and shoulder movements. It was a production.
I strolled out of the open-air tabernacle with a feeling of pride and accomplishment, generally thinking: “Judy, you’re so lucky to be you.”
That night we sat in the tabernacle, and I waited for the announcement of camp pianist. The camp director took her place in front of the group of teenage girls to announce his choice. I tried my best to look natural so I could change to a surprised and overwhelmed look when the director called my name.
But the name she called was not mine. A girl from another city had been chosen pianist.
I thought to myself: “I can’t believe this. Don’t they realize that I am much better than she is? Maybe there had been some mistake.”
I was disgusted and disappointed. My ego was hurt. To make matters worse, the girl chosen got to start as pianist that night. I couldn’t wait until the night service ended so I could go back to my cabin. I was miserable all during the church service and did not hear a thing that was said.
I left after the closing prayer and started my lonely walk up the dimly lit footpath to my cabin. I knew I was better than everyone else, and I knew I was better than that girl. I was mad, perplexed and deeply disappointed.
Suddenly I heard a voice call to me.
“Judy, Judy, wait up,” it said. “Wait for me.”
I turned around. It was the girl who had been chosen pianist.
“Judy,” she said, gasping for breath. “I thought I wasn’t going to be able to catch you. I ran all the way. You should have gotten the job. You play so well, so much better than I do. But I really am happy that they chose me.”
Then she reached out to pat my arm. As she touched me there in the dim mountain moonlight, I noticed that her two middle fingers on her right hand were missing. A feeling of guilt just overwhelmed me.
“Oh … thanks,” I said. “But you’re great with the piano, and I really think you should have the job.”
I thought I was going to die right there on the trail with the dead pine needles and ancient rocks.
She left. I stood there for a minute and looked up at the million stars above me. I knew I had been wrong — I had really thought I was something and had acted that way. I knew God was not pleased, and I asked him to forgive me. I felt a sense of peace and realized now that I had wanted the position for all the wrong reasons.
That was 30 years ago. I’ve thought of that incident many times since then. Now that I am older and hopefully more mature, I think of the passage in Galatians: “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (6:3).
As I have grown older, I have come to the conclusion that pride in the Christian life is the greatest detriment to the person as well as to others.