There is just one more Deadly Sin to consider: vanity or pride.

We can have trouble understanding this one because we use the words in different ways. Pride, for example, is something we often present as a good thing. We teach our kids to be proud of themselves and rejoice in being proud parents, proud Americans, proud graduates of our alma maters, and proud fans of our football team.

As for vanity, we’ve cut its meaning down to being a little too conscious of our appearance. But we can see, in vain efforts and similar phrases, that “vanity” is about emptiness, about focusing on things that are unimportant.

I was a pretty girl, but thank goodness that was not the central focus of my life or of my sense of self-worth. It doesn’t last. Nor is it ever the most important thing. I can remember, when my daughters were younger, having people come up and say how beautiful they were. “It makes me feel,” said #1 daughter, “like a lamp.” That is, people commented on her beauty as though she were an inanimate object.

We shouldn’t do that to ourselves.

As for pride, C.S. Lewis makes the point that the sin of pride does not consist in knowing that you are good at something, but in forgetting that your talents are a gift from God. We should rejoice in the gifts and abilities God gave us and make use of them for His glory. False modesty is not the solution for the sin of pride. True humility is.

Humility is hard. Especially if you are not aware of God — though in that case you probably don’t need to be thinking about sin. Even if you are a Christian, though, it is easy to attribute your gifts and good fortune to your own qualities and efforts. It’s natural for us to be aware of what we’ve done to achieve the good things in our lives and unnatural to recognize that we are not that important.

We are born unaware of anything except ourselves, and all of life is a growing awareness that we are really not the center of the universe.

I think that pride and vanity are also encouraged by our culture. A superficial materialistic culture that values appearance way too highly and teaches “self esteem” from infancy on can expect to be troubled by this sin. It leads inexorably to other sins: we can treat others with lust if we’re focused on our own appearance to the point of objectifying ourselves, we can be angry and hateful toward others because we’re so much better than they are, we can be self-indulgent and slothful because we deserve it… Like the lady in the mirror, though, we all have brief lives. If we spend those lives on vain things like our looks and our self-love, it won’t matter to anyone that we lived.