After writing a piece in my head for over a year, I finally got it down on paper. My words came as they usually do; after spinning lines and words together in a giant tapestry in my brain, I parked it in front of the computer and frantically typed it out before they escaped again. This piece, oh it was good, too. Powerful, convincing, tightly written with a great flow, it was one of my most coherent pieces yet. It was good, but it was so very, very wrong.
I felt a tug in my heart giving me pause before publishing. “Is this fear or conviction?”, I wondered. I decided to email the piece to a few trusted friends and, thanks be to the Lord, I’m so thankful I did. Some friends gave me a hearty thumbs-up. Apparently my rant was also on their soap-box repertoire, and I had struck a familiar nerve. One response was different. This friend very graciously took the essay, point by point, and held it up to the lens of the Gospel. When I finished reading the response, I was a puddle on the floor. I was undone by my own sin staring up at me, glaring through the words that minutes before I was so proud of. I realized my words were tearing others down while building myself and my tribe up. What made me do this? The answer has been staring me in the face ever since: old car righteousness.
We can usually spot self-righteousness a mile away. The mom bragging about the superiority of her school choice, the man sneaking in details of how important his job is, the parent opining the virtue and perfection of their child. But there’s a sneaky breed of righteousness that is just as deadly a cancer, yet doesn’t show up on the typical scans. “Old Car Righteousness” is a term coined in the pulpit by our beloved pastor and has been volleyed around my circle ever since. The story goes that as he drove his old clunker of a car through his college campus, he began reflecting on how nice everyone else’s car was, and how good he must be that he didn’t need a fancy car like everyone else. He was content, dagnabbit, and he had the junky car to prove his lack of materialism. He soon realized his self-righteousness was just as real, whether found in the shiny or new or the haggard and old. He was in that moment finding his goodness outside of Christ, and no matter the strain, that virus is still deadly.
I find myself doing this every day. The biggest indicator in my life is looking at what I am most defensive about. Is it my school choice? Our parenting style? Our food preferences? Our method of worship? I can either esteem my choice “better” than others, or judge others for making the “better” choices, assuming that they think they’re doing so out of spite. (I love Glennon Melton’s story about how she once felt that another mom was feeding her child an avocado AT HER as she crammed pizza down her children’s throats). The truth is, we find entirely too much importance in our own selves, whether glorying in our success or smirking in our failures. But our righteousness, whether shiny and new or clunky and old, is still but filthy rags compared to the perfection of Christ.
Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 9:23-24
In my case, the lovingkindess of God looked a lot like failure and conviction, forcing me to face my own ugliness and run back to him. I have a good Father who won’t let my self-inflicted cancer spread, and that, dear ones, is the best thing to boast about.