Self Righteousness, Election and Healing

How’s this for the most pretentious opening line I’ve ever used for a blog post?

So, I was talking with my therapist yesterday . . . .

OK, maybe pretentious is too strong a word. But yes, really, I was talking with my therapist yesterday. Because when you’re going through so much and your support system is failing like a fat woman’s bra and you have a bunch of kids who might be adversely affected by watching their mother break into a million tiny shards, the responsible thing to do is to get a therapist. I’m just hoping I can get my shit straight before they start coming after me for all the co-pays, but that’s another story.

Anyhow, my therapist was going through the 8 types of emotional experiences/stressors which can end up being stored as unresolved issues in our autonomic nervous system. As she went through, I stopped her and said, “that one – unmet needs. That’s exactly what I’m hung up on right now.”

We talked a bit about some of these unmet needs – little things like the need for comfort, belonging, affirmation, knowing that someone gave a crap if I ended up as a self-sufficient adult or a hobo. Stuff like that. And for a moment, I started to feel that strangely narcotic thrill of self-righteousness. I’m sure every human knows just what I’m talking about – that simultaneous feeling of being superior and victimized. The one which allows us to use other’s wrongs to elevate ourselves while condemning them.

There’s something about feeling self-righteous which is so  . . . . satisfying. Ego boosting. Seductive, even. Over the years I’ve noticed that I can let go of many things pretty easily, but there’s something about this feeling of self-righteousness which feels almost like being in a warm embrace. Letting go of it feels like a loss in a way that letting go of anger or desire or frustration just doesn’t.

But as I sat there in the momentary thrall of this feeling of self-righteousness, my spirit whispered, “those people who didn’t comfort you, who comforted them when they were small and hurting?” Which brought me and my gloating pity-party up short.

The reason I think self-righteousness is so enticing is because it feeds on the knowledge that we’re right. We’re (at least in our own minds) innocent – or close enough to innocent to count. The other person is guilty. Not just guilty, but unjustified as well. What’s wrong with simply pointing out facts?

But the reality is that the other person has an identity that has nothing to do with what they did or did not do for me. No matter how satisfying it is to slap the name tag “Guilty, Unjustified” on their chest, their true identity is actually “Human, Image Bearer, a little bit broken”.

The truth is that my list of unmet needs exists in large part because those people I want to label “Guilty, Unjustified” have much the same list of unmet needs themselves. Someone who was never comforted, encouraged or affirmed will often be at a loss for how to offer comfort, encouragement and affirmation to others. What’s sad about it is that this can be true even when there is an enormous amount of love present.

People have a hard time leading others someplace they’ve never been to and giving others what they’ve never received.

Perhaps it hurts to let go of self-righteousness because it means letting go off our often-well-earned right to feel aggrieved. But it’s no virtue to feel superior to someone whose real crime is often having been broken themselves. God himself says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, so who am I to withhold mercy?

Of course, forgiving someone doesn’t mean that what they did no longer hurts. While I can offer mercy to someone else who hasn’t given me what I need, the need is still there. And just as importantly, I’m hardly the only one with such needs – every person I meet needs the same things from me as well.

I’ve done therapy briefly a couple of times before and one of the benefits for me has usually been that it allows me to see that I’m actually a surprisingly healthy human being. Despite everything I’ve been through. I’m hardly perfect and its an ongoing process to be sure. But all-in-all, I’m pretty awesome. ;p

Yet the only reason that I’m pretty awesome is because I didn’t have to depend on other human beings to give me what I needed. I’ve spent the last 25 years walking with the God of comfort. The God who tells me who I really am. The God who says, “you are mine.” It still hurts not to get those things from other people, of course. We are made for relationship with each other. But God isn’t broken or lost like we humans are. So he was more than able to give me what I need. And because he’s given me what I need, more often than not, I’ve been able to turn around and give those precious gifts to others as well.

The funny thing is, I didn’t chose to have this God fixation. And despite my best efforts, I’ve never been able to let it go. Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t something to the idea of election – that some of us do get chosen for relationship with God. But not so that we can spend eternity in heaven. Instead, maybe some of us are chosen to be in relationship with God so that we can do this work of receiving what humanity needs from His hand and then pass it on to others. Perhaps God is using his people in Christ to seed humanity with what it need to heal and reach redemption. That’s certainly worth letting go of self-righteousness’ embrace for, isn’t it?

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4 thoughts on “Self Righteousness, Election and Healing

  1. It seems to me that God really wants people that seek after Him of their own free will. Look at what it has cost God. We are on earth for a reason but we don’t know the reason and i think we’ll be surprised when we find out as it will likely not be what we think.

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  2. It makes most sense that we’re all elected, with some of us simply being earlier in line than others. Maybe it’s that way because: Our flaws sometimes help us find the way, sometimes help other people find the way. George Fox, after going through a brief moment of atheism, ended up asking God why — & was told it would help him understand other people who were trapped in a similar condition. [I’m inclined to think that much of the trouble you’ve been through has made your writing particularly helpful to many many others with similar troubles — who can learn from your experience more easily than they could figure out their own. It’s hard to figure out how to swim in the midst of a flood, but easier if someone with you has been through one….]

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  3. Can’t speak to election, but as far as self-righteousness is concerned — my pastor says everybody is always doing the best they can, and I find that thinking ‘That was the very best she could do, poor thing,’ about someone who’s wronged me is just as satisfying as feeling abused would be. Of course, I may be perverting the true meaning of my pastor’s statement.

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    • I actually hold to the idea that people are generally just doing the best they can figure out how. (There are certainly exceptions!) And sometimes the best someone can figure out how really sucks. But rather than “poor thing”, I tend to view it in terms of our common humanity. We’re all broken in some way. Plus, the older I get, the more I realize what a burden it is to carry past errors and sins which can be forgiven, but can never be fixed. It’s no fun to be on the receiving end of someone else’s crap. But frankly I think I’d rather have to deal with that than have to go through the process of facing, repenting and living with having hurt and even damaged people I love. Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve gotten to a place where I’m pretty content to just let God work it all out.

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