Yet another harrowing indictment of modern family life recently came across my newsfeed. “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” chronicles the ways in which American family life is falling in on itself. Apparently things are worse than we thought. We are surrounded by our belongings, our children are staring at screens, and no one is going outside. Also, it turns out everyone is eating chicken nuggets. Dammit, America, haven’t we talked about this already?

Mostly, all of the nuerotic-as-I-am mothers are posting articles about this book and wondering what we are doing to screw our kids up. We see ourselves somewhere in the book’s sad evidence: if it’s not the hours of Disney Jr., it is the backyard swingset that no one is using. 

The thing that I find most jarring about these scary assessments is not the information they hold but the clarion call for self-righteousness that they herald. Some people read this stuff and feel the weight of their sin, and some people read this stuff and feel very shiny in their righteousness. I worry about the latter group, but I wasn’t always this way. I used to see self-righteousness as a kind of earned right. Maybe some people really are firing on all cylinders? Maybe they do poop sunshine? Maybe that Promise Ring really did everything you promised it would?

A decade in ministry alongside my husband has ruined that fantasy. The more “together” people want to tell me they are, the more I just assume (actually, know) that their lives are completely falling apart.

I forever want to be clear that it is not just the world out there that talks this way. The church, too, is a foolhardy enterprise of self-righteousness, much to her own detriment. If I have to hear another sermon about running a 5K (Hey girl! 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) or another mention made of the domestic prowess of the Proverbs 31 lady (everyone forgets she had servants), then I am going to lose my religion.

Just kidding. I’m going to cling to it. Because I am a needy sinner. Who does not run 5Ks, hates doing laundry, and needs a word of grace.

I don’t know what this says about me, but when people go into full blown self-righteousness mode I worry that the world has not broken them enough. And I don’t mean major life trauma. I mean, like, colicky babies and fender benders. Because if they have been through these things and still not seen the fallenness in themselves and their fellow human beings, I get really worried about them. Like, eternally speaking.

I know, we don’t usually write about hell on this site, and we certainly don’t suggest who goes there (we did take an inner-office poll and decided that I was “Most Likely”), but it’s worth remembering that some people are already in hell, and they don’t even know it. Because self-righteousness cuts a clear path to dinner with Satan, party of 2. When people are unwilling to show mercy to others, or to see their own sin when they see other people’s struggles, you know they’ve got some dark tracks running in their brains. 

I’m convinced that there is nothing worse than waking up in the morning with the self-satisfaction of being “better than.” It is burdensome and lonely. You cannot satiate that beast, because it lives in an eternity of self-justification. You are a slave to your choices and will never meet your own standards. And even when you get to check off “better than those people” on your mental list, there’s always a lack of satisfaction in being that kind of right because, it turns out, that kind of right is very, very wrong.

Of course, there’s a precedent for this in the 18th chapter of Luke:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

We don’t read the Gospels every Sunday morning for tips on how to be Jesus #2. I know it may sound that way in some circles, but that ain’t the gig. That was never the plan. We made that part up.

Whenever you want to know what you would do in any given Gospel passage, just look at the people who are getting it wrong. They are there for a reason. God could have given us a whole body of scriptures with nothing but miracle stories and some solid life advice. Instead, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus and his group of bumbling jackwagons who ask too many questions, fall asleep like cranky toddlers, and betray the savior of the world for a bag of coins. Take it or leave it, but that’s us. It ain’t cute, but it’s true. 

You know the mothers who make frozen meals every night because they work all day? Classic disciple move. Or the ones who are home with their children full-time and turn on Dora the Explorer so they can just breathe in silence for twenty minutes (okay, an hour)? Total tax collectors. Or maybe you know those fathers who are working so late that they never make it home for dinner? Hey, St. Martha.

The plan was once, always, and forever for our salvation through the righteousness of Christ. Not through our judgement, our better than’s, or our ability to “keep it together.” Our together was never together to begin with. 

As a Christian, I know it sounds strange to read a bleak article about marriage/parenting/diet and not find all of the ways that you are so different. For the record, you are so different. But not because you are eating dinner with your family and making chicken nuggets with an actual recipe. You are different because you belong to Jesus, and the chasing-your-own-tail game is over. So find something else to talk about. At best, our judgement and self-righteousness keeps us away from those who need us. At worse, it prevents us from knowing how much we need Jesus.