“Good evening, my name is Paulette, and I’m a Pharisee.”
A little applause rippled around the room. Assuring nods of understanding and acceptance bobbed a few heads around the circle. A couple of others winked at me. Then the familiar phrase…in unison…
It was my first meeting. I fought it. No one wants to admit, they are a Pharisee.
I had taken all the familiar paths to arrive here. I had been living in denial so long, a conscious refusal to face the truth, that I didn’t even remember the simple joy of my First Love.
Friends tried to intervene, but I refused to listen. I kept telling myself, who are they? I am so much better than them; way more spiritual…they have no right to criticize me.
But here I stand, in a church basement, surrounded by a circle of chairs, holding strangers, who suffer from the same debilitating disease … we are all Pharisees.
I was at Pharisees Anonymous.
Oh the shame! Oh the relief! Oh how did I ever get here?
Like so many others, it took a tragedy to wake me up to the realities of my Pharisaical addiction. And when it happened, I felt so defeated. I kept kicking myself over and over…how could I have been so blind? How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so…so…self-righteous!
Pharisees Anonymous was the last place on earth I thought I would ever be. I had read about the group. I had heard stories about their membership. I use to pity them. More accurately, I use to judge them.
“How could anyone be so stupid to go down that path?” I use to muse to myself. “I mean everyone knows how addictive and how destructive Pharisee-ism is. I just don’t understand what’s wrong with these people. Don’t they understand it’s like drugs? Everyone thinks it will never happen to them. They can take that one drink that one hit and stop. They can control it. They can stop at any time!”
…but you can’t!
Then before I knew it, I was hooked. I was addicted to deriving personal esteem and worth by the sanctimonious belittling of others. Satan was so subtle in weaving his deception. It was such a little thing to begin with. Who would have thought doing one act of kindness, for purely selfish motives, could become such a trap!
Yep, I can look back now with 20/20 hindsight and see exactly how I was lead astray down the path of self-righteousness. That first time I was asked to pray in Sunday school. No one else would. They were all too nervous. Not me. I had been practicing. I was ready to prove to the world how spiritual I was. I was going to show these kids how tight God and I were. It was going to be great!
And it was!
My Sunday school teacher was so impressed. All my fellow classmates were awed. In six months I was presenting opening devotionals for worship service.
I was amazing!
And my behavior! There was no kid who was holier than me. I never cursed. I wasn’t doing drugs. I wasn’t having sex. Why I was just a regular pillar of virtue in the community. Parents were pointing to me as a role model for their teenagers and I was just nine!
My reputation spread. I was being invited to give seminars and lectures to area Bible clubs and youth groups. My pastor took me with him on his summer revival circuit. By the next year, I was the youngest speaker in my denomination's summer camp!
It was all so heady!
The years swiftly flew by. I finished high school, college, grad school and took my first job. I was the model employee. I never wasted company time. I never gossiped. I never stole a paperclip. I was absolutely perfect…and I made sure everyone knew it!
When someone had a problem, I was the first to point out why their lives were a mess and what they should have done to avoid it!
“If you had just listened to me! If you had just followed my advice. If you had just done what I told you!” was the mantra I spouted with all the compassion of an ancient Biblical prophet.
They all knew I was right. I had told them with absolute authority I was. Why I had the answer for everyone, about any situation.
And at church! Why you could count on me for everything. I was on every committee. I sang in the choir, taught Sunday school, served on the mission board, made children’s Christmas musical costumes, gave in every offering, tithed and was the first to deliver food baskets to the homeless when I dropped of cancer patients for their chemo! No one knew more about serving Jesus than me.
I was the perfect model of the ideal Christian. Just follow Paulette’s Path and you’ll end up wealthy, healthy, holy and wise – and on the front row of the holy grand stand when Jesus comes back!
Then one day the mound of my good works came crashing down. I simply snapped! Someone had the nerve to judge my activities and worse… the motives behind my activities!
Jesus had stepped into the middle of my path and exposed my heart!
That’s how I ended up here… at a P.A. meeting…ashamed, humiliated, tired and broken…
The path of self-righteous crossed the pathway of grace!
What a relief!
I’m better now. Christ in me is the hope of any glory. Occasionally I feel those old urges; that thirst for power scratching in my throat. My hands start to shake. My pulse quickens. Sweat breaks out on my forehead. The need to god.
When those times come, I dash for a gulp of Living Water!
Sure I’m a Pharisee, but thank God I’m on the path to recovery!
© 5/22/04 Lissa M. Lee