A Surefire Test for Self-Righteousness: Try it today! :)

Self-righteousness is notoriously difficult to self-assess.

Pic: Pixabay Public Domain

Those of us who struggle with it the most are the least likely to recognize it within ourselves. When the infamous Pharisee pompously prayed of all the ways he outshone his fellow worshiper, I just don’t think he was quite aware of how self-righteous he had become. We rarely are.

But I think I may have figured out a way of doing just that. Go with me for a moment, and then I’ll try to explain what I’m thinking.

Here’s the self-assessment question that might–just might–help reveal if we are struggling with self-righteousness:

Am I more offended by the sin of those around me, or am I more offended by the sin that is within me? 

What gets you riled up? What makes you ache inside? Is it the sin within your own heart, or the sin you see in others?

That, my friends, is a surefire test for self-righteousness.

The Pharisee and the Publican, baroque fresco in Ottobeuren Basilica. By Johannes Böckh & Thomas Mirtsch via Wikimedia Commons.

Because I, for one, am far more willing to denounce others than expose myself. I can feel very good about my reaction to the pride and superiority in others–in fact, I can feel pretty . . . er . . . great about it. You can see where this is going.

And lest you think this is a soft-sell, I’ll be clear: getting over self-righteousness is not about becoming dull to sin. Sin is destructive. And we can hurt for the damage sin wreaks in someone’s life; we can mourn over the losses, the hurt and the pain, even when the person doesn’t realize the effects of what they are doing. When we witness tragedy, when we are present in the midst of aching chaos, when we see firsthand the devastation of betrayal and selfishness, we respond with broken hearts.

We can even be offended by sin.  I mean, aren’t you rightly offended when you hear of abuse in the home or an injustice in the workplace? Aren’t you enraged by bombs dropped on kids or the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women? Yes. We are and we should be. Sin is offensive. Sin is nasty. Sin hurts and destroys.

But, at the end of the day, as a general posture, who’s sin am I more offended by? Which sin makes me the most sick inside?

Is it “their” sin?

Or mine?

Because our answer to that gives us the greatest clue to the state of our own hearts, if we are willing to listen.

Following his classic aphorism to “judge not, lest you be judged,” Jesus said to first take the log out of own eyes, so we can then see clearly to help others with the twigs in theirs. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus’ teaching doesn’t imply “no judgment at all” but rather that we make ourselves the primary focus of judgment first before we then help others. Jesus wants us to be far more concerned with our own junk than the mess in other’s lives, remembering how easy it is to overlook our own sin. Unless we are willing to let Jesus extract the massive ugliness within ourselves, we won’t be very helpful conduits of grace and love for others. In fact, we’ll be dangerously unhelpful. Perhaps that is why the Apostle Paul warned us against harsh judgment of others?  Paul knew from experience how easy it is to forget our own sin in our fervour to “correct” someone else’s error. Prideful self-deception is most powerful when we are focused on someone else, forgetting our own susceptibility, our own ugliness, our own need for Jesus, our own log-jammed eyes.

So, I offer this question to you for thought, for consideration, one more time:

Am I more offended by the sin of those around me, or am I more offended by the sin that is within me? 

What do you think?

Would this question help you discern your own self-righteousness? Would this move you toward a greater awareness of your own need for the Father’s grace, and therefore a greater desire to show the Father’s grace to others?

I’m hoping so. At least for me.


Everybody Hurts, Sometimes: Six Practices To Increase Our Empathy

R.E.M was right. And we all know it: everybody hurts, sometimes.

Advice from the old song? Take comfort in your friends. 

So here’s my question: how can we become a comforting friend to hurting people?

It seemed like every day this last fall, I was being schooled in empathy. I was struck, again and again, by how much was really going on “behind the scenes” in people’s lives.  And the more I knew, the more the Holy Spirit grew my empathy.empathy

It’s so easy to judge others, isn’t it? We all know it’s wrong. We all quote “judge not lest ye be judged,” and, if asked, we all say we don’t want to be judgmental. But let’s be honest: we often are. It’s just so easy to assume things about others, based upon my narrow vantage point on their lives.

That kid freaking out in the store. What a brat.

That couple who constantly bicker. Immature.

That wealthy woman who has it all together.  Wow, what a snob.

That annoying teen age boy. Avoid, avoid, avoid. 

So, how do I become a non-judgmental, grace-filled person? By growing in empathy for others.

Here are six practices helping increase my empathy for others.

1. Always assume there is more going on than you know. Okay, so maybe there won’t be, but I’ve been consistently surprised at that depths and significance of people’s personal struggles, when I’ve got in close enough to care. Knowing that, I’ve started just assuming there’s more, especially in those times when I’m beginning to judge a person for their anger or their sharp criticism or their cool veneer.

2. Give grace. Assuming there’s more going on, I consciously extend grace to that person. I’ll even tell myself, “This person must be hurting,” or “I wonder what’s happening here,” cuing myself to do as Romans 15:7 instructs: Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (NIV) This helps me remember to give grace as I’ve been given grace.

3. Ask gently and prayerfully how they are doing. If it’s appropriate, I try to find out more about the person. Depending on my relationship with them, this may just be getting to know them at a basic level, even a simple, gracious conversation in the check-out line, or it could mean leaning in close and asking, “Is everything okay?”  I’ve asked that at a coffee counter and seen tears leap into the eyes of the barista. We may not have talked it through right there, but at the very least, I was able to express care and grace and give an encouraging word to another loved baristaperson.

4. Hold their story reverently. If people do open up, know that you are standing on holy ground. The stories of people’s lives are sacred material, woven by the grace of God, shot through with beauty and ravaged by sin. To hear anyone’s story is a precious gift, and we hold it reverently. We don’t make it about us, we don’t try to deny what they are feeling. We listen openly, giving people the space to actually share their real struggles. I’ve written here how we can become better listeners.

5. Pray with them and for them. If at all possible, ask if you can pray with them, right then and there. If they are at work, or you are in a place where prayer could embarrass them (especially if tears flow, which often happens in prayer), then either move to a more private location, or commit to pray for them after you leave. If you can pray with them then, make it simple and short: “Jesus, thank you for loving us. I pray you will give __________ your grace today.  I pray that he/she will know how much you love him/her. Amen.”  Natural voice, no theatrics. After you leave, write down their name where you can see it and pray for them for a week.

6. Reflect on how your view of them has changed because you know more of their story. Wow, I had no idea she was struggling with such deep depression. I did not know that boy’s dad left him and his mom high and dry last year. I was unaware of the fact that her mom was just diagnosed with cancer. And so on. Everything seems to change when we know more about a person’s life. Our understanding grows, our love grows, and we become more gracious and more empathetic.

R.E.M. tells the hurting people to hold on. Hold on. You’re not alone. 

As we grow in grace and increase our empathy, hurting people will know they aren’t alone, that they can hold on, that they are loved and heard by us, and by the God who made them in his image.

Let me ask you: What have you done to increase your empathy? 

What do you do when you find yourself judging someone?