Love Thine Pharisees

Working on the front line of Care at a large church affords me an up-close invitation into crisis, sickness, relational pain and more. Thankfully, God has equipped me in a way that allows me to be involved in hard situations without them weighing on me in a debilitating way. I truly care, but I also have faith that circumstances, even hard ones, do ebb and flow. There are certainly people who seem to have a disproportionate amount of hardship and for that, I am saddened and mystified, but in most cases, we all have blessings to count amidst the hard places.

The most devastating choice anyone can make in hardship is isolation. We see it time and time again: God heals and restores what we willingly bring into his light and share with safe fellow believers. No matter how bad it is, the solution is never to hide it. As many in 12 Step recovery like to say: “You are as sick as your secrets.” Brokenness often gets rid of pretense and allows people to bond through empathy and humility, which really is the balm needed.

And yet, the Care Team periodically finds itself aware, through concerned friends or family, of someone who is hurting and internally crumbling from life’s circumstances or perhaps their own choices but unwilling to admit it to us.  We often try to reach out by having someone on the Care Team with an existing relationship make contact and check to see how the person is doing and get brushed off with the “Everything is great.” mantra.  But “everything” is never comprehensively great.  Sanctification alone should be offering us hard places in our daily lives if we are paying attention.  When someone refuses to admit hardship or accept help, there isn’t much we can do but wait for the bottom to fall out.  That breaks our hearts on the Care Team, but there is no point trying to help someone who isn’t ready to be helped.
But here’s where it gets extra tricky, “The everything is great.” person has invested in a narrative that requires them to attempt to convince themselves and others that their life is rolling merrily along. This stance makes transparent connection impossible and builds walls, not bridges. To make matters worse, perfect people with perfect lives are annoying. And people pretending to be perfect when miserable are even harder to stomach. In their attempt to protect themselves from embracing their humanity, they are actually cutting themselves off from authentic relationships.

Believers who buy into the lie that “having it all together” is the best way to walk with Jesus are a modern day version of the religious leaders in Jesus’ time. Those leaders got their comfort from being right (based on their own definitions) not from being in relationship with God. It can seem righteous to get your comfort from perfection. And yet, Pharisees have a way of making those around them feel less than as they desperately try to feel like enough.  Inauthenticity can lead to relational wounds.
But we are called to have compassion on both the openly broken and the Pharisee among us. Behind each set of issues (even religious pride) resides an image bearer of God. Our job is to always find the person behind the problem even when the problem may be faking perfection. Loving like Jesus means loving people where they are in hopes that they’ll end up where they need to be.  And maybe even being on the lookout for the Pharisee within.