The Pharisee in Us

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I sat at the kitchen counter in silence this morning, raw honey poised over bitter tea, Bible open to this morning's Gospel, and it hit me in a way that it never has before today. Late last night, I read an email from a reader that began, "I stopped reading your blog because it always made me feel bad about myself. Everything in your life is perfect and if it isn't, you spritualize it until it is." 

Stirred the honey into the tea, grateful for the sweet that chases the bitter.

I get some variation of that email pretty often. Usually, my reaction is to be sure that I write something very soon after that makes it clear that I'm not perfect, my kids aren't perfect, my life isn't perfect, and none of us are under the delusion that any of it is. Perfect. This time, though, it didn't hit me that way. This time, I sort of understood what she was getting at.

I read places and come away feeling less than, too. It's not so much about perfection, it's more about something seeming being better ::  more peaceful or more beautiful or more hopeful or holier. My favorite social media is Instagram. I love a picture. I really, really do. I love the way a picture can tell a whole story. Instagram (and all its sisters) is a slippery slope towards filling in all the blanks outside the frame and making a false idol of one's neighbor. 

Yep. False idol. 

Them are fighting words. I have to tell myself that fighting false idols is critical to my spiritual health. This morning, reading today's Gospel, I thought about that email.

 

Mark 2:23-28

As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath,
his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain.
At this the Pharisees said to him,
“Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?”
He said to them,
“Have you never read what David did
when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry?
How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest
and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat,
and shared it with his companions?”
Then he said to them,
“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.
That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
 

 

 In my early internet days, it was easy to see the Pharisaical Danger. That is, I could spot what looked like pharasaical behavior in the women who read other women's words and judged those women's lives "not holy enough." It seemed cut and dried. I'd been hurt by those women, and maybe that's why that kind of pharasaical behavior really wasn't a temptation for me.  I learned to avoid those places and, to a great degree, those people, on the web and in my day-to-day life. Those were the esay to recognize Pharisees, so concerned with the letter of of law that they missed the Love of the Lord. But there's something else here about that Pharisee.
 
And this Pharisee:
 
Luke 18:11-14

The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

 
There is the obvious puffed up chest-beating, but there's also a more subtle, more insidious, and simpler warning. The Pharisee compares and in his comparison, he makes two mistakes. He wrongly judges his neighbor and he wrongly judges himself. This pharasaical behavior is the one where we think we are one thing, when in the eyes of God, we are something else entirely and the one where we think our neighbor is one thing, but she's another altogether. We aren't the Pharisee who thinks he's holy enough, we are the one who thinks she's not good enough. Or just plain not enough. Further, we might even have a false understanding of the person to whom we are comparing ourselves. The take away? Don't compare. Pharisees compare. It can't be good.
 
Jesus did a lot of talking about the Pharisees. He really, really wanted to leave us with words which would help us to avoid false images of ourselves and our neighbors. The Pharisees were all about false images of both self and neighbor. 
 
My reality is that regardless of what my blog looks like and regardless of what the graph on my site meter page portrays, I am God's. I belong to Him. He suffered and died for me. It doesn't matter where else I click on the interwebs, I am of infinite worth to Jesus, no more or less valuable than my neighbor. And so is the woman who wrote to me last night. We have value. We are loved just as we are, in all our brokenness. In all the places that would make for ugly or boring or uninspiring blogging. In all the places that blogs don't accurately reveal. And in all the places that look beautiful. He is there. Loving the real us. 
 
It is true that I can click along and take suggestions and gain insight from people who walk with me. And that can be a very good thing. It is also true that I can make false idols of each and every stop on my blog reader. I fix my gaze on my own icon of my neighbor and on the distorted vision of myself reflected in my perception of her.
 
And then. We have a mess.
 
Then, I have just surrendered myself on the doorstep of someone else's life and not at the foot of the cross.
Then, I begin to live on my own power and I am destined to sputter to a stop.
 
Why do we compare? We toss about restless on a sea of images and words that could be used to encourage our hearts and instead, we compare. We become the Pharisee that Jesus was so careful to warn us not to be. 
 
God created me uniquely. Everything in my life–my husband, my particular children, my location, my gifts, my struggles, my infirmities–all of it is God's to use to shape me into His vision for me. His vision for me is different than His vision for my neighbor. He calls me uniquely. There is a life He intends for me and me alone.  And so, my life will look different from hers.
 
We can learn from one another. We should encourage one another. But comparing? Finding ourselves lacking in the light of someone else's life as it is portryed on the internet? That's not what He wants for us. He wants a community that encourages and builds up. He wants us to link arms and look together towards Him. He wants us to look to the community for support in living vocation. Unique vocation. 
 
The Pharisee compared himself to his neighbor. The simple lesson of this Pharisee: don't compare.
 
I understand why she stopped reading here. I've done the same thing elsewhere. And truly, my heart breaks for her. It breaks for the terrible feeling of clicking away from the beauty in someone else's life, the witness of what God is doing in another family, and feeling lost and forgotten, and not good enough. My heart has hurt in the just the same way. The Pharisees didn't carry iPhones. I wish they had. It would all be so much simpler if it were spelled out: "Don't be like that foolish woman who clicks there and thinks that. Isn't it obvious that's the near occasion of sin?"
 
But no. It doesn't work that way. We have to discern. 
 
The keys at our fingertips, the windows into another woman's heart, can be among the tools in God's hands to use for our good, to shape us into the person He created us to be. Can we do that without creating idols of the tools; can we look instead to the Master Craftsman to see how He would have us use them?
 
We have to. We have to leave the bitterness of comparison to be able to taste and see the sweetness of encouragement. 

Comments

  1. Stacy says

    I find it so sad that someone would write to tell you they stopped reading your blog. Let’s pray for her! I find your blog nothing but encouraging, I love your photos and peeks into the possible future of my growing family. What should I treasure now? What will I miss later? What do I have to look forward to? and always, always the encouragement to read good books to my children. Thank you, EF!

  2. Aunt Pippy says

    Elizabeth,
    Beautiful post. I have oftentimes found myself reading about your beautiful family on a rocky day of my life and feeling the same as that poor reader. But then I too realized…I had made an idol of someone else’s life and have betrayed the cross and the beauty of it in my own home. Really, anyone who has read your blog for any length of time would know that you never put up the pretense of perfect. Instead, you are real and open and honest. And always turning your readers to the beauty of the gospel….which is why I keep reading. I so appreciate your encouragement and admonition and glimpses into your beautiful family. Thank you for writing. Thank you for today’s post.

  3. Marla Lynch says

    I don’t think your reader’s reaction has as much to do with your blog as with whatever is going on in her own life. Perhaps she is dealing with very painful things. Perhaps it would be nice to email her back with some kind words, if you haven’t already. May The Lord grant us all peace.

  4. says

    Elizabeth, earlier this morning I joined the linkup over at http://www.lifeingraceblog.com. Instead of choosing a word of the year, many of us are choosing an UNWORD . What to purge from our lives instead of perfecting. I love this idea so much better.
    My word……COMPARE. I have suffered from it all my life.
    Thank you for writing this. To have a sister in Christ understand is heartfelt.

  5. says

    Thank you, Elizabeth. This has been such a timely post to read in many ways,and directed my morning prayer this morning. ( I’m in Australia, early morning here :-) ) you have been a blessing to me today. Peace.

  6. says

    Marla, I think you might have misunderstood and I want to clarify right away. I’m not complaining about this email. I’m not in any way condemning this reader or any of the others who have written to say similar things. I worked very hard to make it abundantly clear that I have wrestled with the same feelings of comparison and inadequacy.I laid my own faults out there in this post in a way that was actually pretty uncomfortable. I did it because I’ve fought this fight and I found something helpful in His Word that I thought might bless that reader and others like her.
    I’m not being unkind. I’m offering perspective that might help her–as it helped me–to look at that tendency to compare differently. Instead of making an icon of someone else’s online presence, perhaps she (and I ) can re-read these words:
    **God created me uniquely. Everything in my life–my husband, my particular children, my location, my gifts, my struggles, my infirmities–all of it is God’s to use to shape me into His vision for me. His vision for me is different than His vision for my neighbor. He calls me uniquely. There is a life He intends for me and me alone. And so, my life will look different from hers.**
    and these
    **My reality is that regardless of what my blog looks like and regardless of what the graph on my site meter page portrays, I am God’s. I belong to Him. He suffered and died for me. It doesn’t matter where else I click on the interwebs, I am of infinite worth to Jesus, no more or less valuable than my neighbor. And so is the woman who wrote to me last night. We have value. We are loved just as we are, in all our brokenness. In all the places that would make for ugly or boring or uninspiring blogging. In all the places that blogs don’t accurately reveal. And in all the places that look beautiful. He is there. Loving the real us. **
    And I wrote her privately last night and asked her permission to use the quote from her email. I would never have done so without reaching out to her in sincere friendship.
    I think the private words and those public ones *are* kind words.

  7. says

    thank you. As always, God’s timing is perfect. Thank you for helping God remind me that He is the One to whom I should compare if I need to compare anything!
    Many blessings to you and yours
    Karen

  8. MimiP says

    Wow, what a wonderful perspective. I too have stepped away from certain blogs because of a fault in ME. I know that blogs are simple glimpses into usually the best part of a family’s life so I like to remind myself of that and not be too hard on my heart. I feel that your blog shares a very balanced view of life. Love to read it everyday.

  9. says

    I like what you’ve written here and find it very thought provoking. It reminds me of John 21:15-23 where Peter, having just been told that his fate won’t be very pleasant, asks Jesus about the fate of John. Jesus’ reply:
    “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”
    In the end, that’s all that really matters isn’t it. Did we follow what God’s instructions to us to the best of our ability? Did we do all that He asked of us? Even when it seemed unfair?
    Thanks for reminding me of this. Have a blessed day! :)

  10. says

    Letting go of idols, even the comparison of blogs, is *freeing*. You don’t see something and notice your own shortcomings, you look at them and see them for what they are, pretty, uplifting, beautiful.
    In all honesty, I’ve never grappled with the idol of comparing. I have my own idols, to be sure, but comparing myself to others and finding myself lacking is not one of them. I have always deeply known the love of God in my life.
    As a person who has also gotten those emails and comments, I know how it feels to second guess everything. They are, essentially trying to shame you into being less than who you are, because the pain of comparing themselves is too much for them to bear.
    Be yourself, anyway.

  11. says

    Beautiful post, Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing. I will admit that this is an area I struggle with despite my knowing better. But I think you do a wonderful job of offering us inspiration and beauty, while keeping it real. It’s funny, because as you alluded to in this post, no one is really looking for a blog that is uninspiring or depressing. We want to see the possibilities and great ideas and lovely moments. Yet, we then complain when it all looks too perfect!
    Please continue to inspire us!

  12. says

    And maybe “complain” is the wrong word. Because I’m not saying that woman, or others like her, or me, is complaining. That would discount the pain that is very real when we allow ourselves to compare. But my point was that we go looking for something and then let that very thing deflate us instead of lifting us up as it should.
    Clear as mud? ;-) (and this is why I love to read Elizabeth’s writing and not my own!)

  13. says

    This one is flying to the top of my “favorite things Elizabeth has ever written” list. Comparison kills our contentment, we know that. But what we never talk about is how comparison is a near occasion of sin. If we aim to please God alone than comparison has no place in our lives. Yet we invite it in constantly.
    Thank you for this.

  14. says

    THIS moved me!
    “God created me uniquely. Everything in my life–my husband, my particular children, my location, my gifts, my struggles, my infirmities–all of it is God’s to use to shape me into His vision for me. His vision for me is different than His vision for my neighbor. He calls me uniquely. There is a life He intends for me and me alone. And so, my life will look different from hers.”
    Thank you for that passage! It is a powerful reminder that we should all be living intentional lives for God!

  15. says

    I think this might speak to the lonliness of this cyber world we are forced to be a part of much of the time. I have found that when I am lonely for real, personal companionship (moving many times and not having enough time to cultivate real friendship) then, I seem to feel as though my blog “friends” are somehow “real” and love me back..when in reality they do not know me or have time to know me. It can be a really lonely world for many moms.

  16. says

    Madeline L’engle frequently referred to words of wisdom she shared over and over with her children, “Comparisons are odious.” Indeed, they are. We either miss the mark and feel less than we are or we think the mark is low and pity the poor woman who isn’t like we are. Pharisees.
    And Paul said, “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” 1 Corinthians 1012
    Grace in Christ says you are loved, unconditionally, regardless. Take your eyes off yourself and look at me. Look to me.
    “We have to leave the bitterness of comparison to be able to taste and see the sweetness of encouragement.” Excellent, excellent words, Elizabeth.
    Much love …

  17. says

    You shine, Elizabeth. Thank you for your unceasing openness to the working of the Spirit in you. There wasn’t even a breath of unkindness in this post. And you hit on some truly important truths about the Pharisaic mindset that we so often miss. The world needs your words, my friend. Thank you for sharing them so bravely.

  18. LisaR says

    Gretchen a resounding YES!! some of us have chatted about dropping 80% of the time spent in virtual life and trying to “be present” – giving that much more of our time and our whole selves – to IRL people. Lots of personal examples but to each person I chat with it manifests itself into something unique for them. That being said, I do feel like I have found a few very unique and valuable mostly virtual friendships online. I hope, too that I have been a friend the best as I am able to women who I have “met” through online avenues first…

  19. says

    I understand this, and I’ve done this too. I think there’s a lot of fear under those feelings, at least for me…I want to post a sign on my head that says, “Yes, I’m at mass in yoga pants and a pony tail with no make up, my special needs child had a meltdown and it’s a small miracle I’m here at all, don’t judge!”….”Yes, my house is a train wreck right now, my husband is working 12 hour nights right now and it’s killing us, please don’t judge!”…we (I) have such a fear of being judged. This has gotten better as I’ve met people that sincerely *do not* judge, and I realize that the ones who do…those people are not worth losing any peace of mind over. And I’ve learned, too, to be kinder in thought to others, less judgmental myself, as I fall and stumble all over my own life.

  20. Amie says

    With the internet and social media there has come an idea, an assumption, that people’s lives are all public and open for comment. I love your use of the Scriptures about the Pharisees…and I agree. Christ was always reminding us that we should be examining our own hearts and showing grace towards others by trying to see their hearts and motives for actions or words. Longing for that grace in myself and in others…and I find that grace in your words and blog. Thank you for taking the heat of exposure by your sharing of your heart. I know it is a sacrifice, but it has often refreshed me. Blessings

  21. Amanda says

    I read this bit, just before reading your post. Such thoughtful words I needed to hear as I have been struggling a bit with this, from both you and Henri Nouwen.

    Often we want to be somewhere other than where we are, or even to be someone other than who we are. We tend to compare ourselves constantly with others and wonder why we are not as rich, as intelligent, as simple, as generous, or as saintly as they are. Such comparisons make us feel guilty, ashamed, or jealous. It is very important to realize that our vocation is hidden in where we are and who we are. We are unique human beings, each with a call to realize in life what nobody else can, and to realize it in the concrete context of the here and now.
    We will never find our vocations by trying to figure out whether we are better or worse than others. We are good enough to do what we are called to do.” Henri Nouwen
    Thank you for your encouraging words.

  22. says

    Elizabeth,
    I have read your blog for quite awhile now and always enjoy and very often, learn from it. I linked your post from today in my own , recently revived, and almost unknown blog. You have really blessed me.

  23. says

    Well I just LOVE your blog. I don’t know what else to say. As a cancer survivor, a mother, and a teacher myself, I am not sure how anyone thinks your life is “perfect”. Far from it! But you live the life God has given you in the most perfect way you can. I am happy if you can continue writing and sharing your life with others. It is a blessing to me and I know, many others!

  24. M. says

    This has been a life long struggle for me. In my heart I know that God loves me. In my head~ it’s a battle every moment of every day, and often I don’t need to look anywhere else to make me feel that way. I’ve cut back on looking at blogs so much that this is the first time I’ve opened yours up in my email to really really read. Convicted. Absolutely convicted. This is something I need to read every morning before starting my day. Thank you so much, thank you for bearing your soul as well. I’ve never had the courage?? to write such a thing to someone as she did, although have frequently deleted blogs from my favorites due to feeling the exact same way, I’m glad that you shared that. God bless, and please pray for me and the other women who struggle with this feeling of somehow being less than.

  25. says

    Dear Elizabeth, Thank you. What & how you wrote spoke directly to my heart. I am guilty of all sides of this issue but in the end you are simply right. Thank you again. – Danielle

  26. Maria W says

    I didn’t read blogs when my children were young. I often said I didn’t have the time or didn’t really care how others were doing things. But wonder now if it was because I was afraid of feeling like I wasn’t doing enough or doing the right things. And now think maybe I missed out on some helpful advice along the way. I came to your blog yesterday for possible information/ opinions about Tamiflu! And came back to day to comment on this wonderful post. (with continued mixed feelings about Tamiflu….)
    Comparison is a dangerous thing and sometimes difficult to resist. Almost as difficult as sometimes resisting the urge to feel better than another person for one reason or other. But I try to remember that blogs should be taken as they are – a snapshot in someone’s life, without knowing someone’s full story. And sometimes as a way to see that others who might seem different at first glance, really aren’t all that much different in many ways after all. Even in real life, one often doesn’t know the whole story – last week I attended a memorial service for a gentleman I had worked with for almost twenty years. He had lived over fifty years before I knew him and I was amazed at all I learned about him at the service….

  27. nancy says

    You hit the nail on the head. Women need to stop comparing their lives with others. I find an approach when reading blogs is to look for inspiration, creativity, ideas to try, books to read, lessons learned, etc., and to create a community of like-minded people that can help us on our journey.

  28. says

    Elizabeth, You read my heart, like you read hers. I am so happy this happened. Not that I am happy about the uncomfortableness but that in the end you have stated something so “real” We are all dealing with this at some level. I have gone through such terrible times of comparison. The , “Why does she talk to her more than she talks with me” “Why wasn’t I invited” “Why is it ok for everyone else to make a comment but not me?” I’ve been working so hard to discern and let things go. I’ve been trying so hard to give up my pride. I just keep holding on to this thread of thought. “God put me here at this exact moment at this exact time” It’s all I have had and then you bring this nugget of a revelation along! Luke’s quote I have always loved.. but bringing the two together for a real reveal!! Way to go! I don’t envy you.. I appreciate you but I know we are not all in the same place… What a beautiful expression of love and commitment. I thank you for clarifying that you wrote to her. I will read this again and again… If ever I feel myself slipping… God Bless you dear Lady, and your family and whoever else that might need it… I love you all.

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