Recovering Your True Self: A Twelve-Step Program

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces . . . The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” — Matthew 23:1-7a,11-12

Hi, my name is Edward, and I’m a ‘recovering pharisee.’ Yes, ‘pharisees’ like the ones Jesus criticized are still around; I can vouch for that personally, believe me. How I got to be one goes back to my childhood. From early on, I was branded as being different; people began calling me “the odd one.” Early on I knew that I didn’t easily fit in, but, like everyone else, I wanted very much to be accepted. So, I chose the only other response I could think of, and made a decision that would cause me and others a lot of suffering for a good part of my life.

I resolved that since everyone kept telling me I was different, I would be different, but I’d be better than everyone else! What a burden I took on! I would define myself over against other people and would think of myself as superior to just about everyone. Of course, instead of getting people to respect and think well of me, this disastrous strategy had the perverse result of making people want to steer clear of me and of my many badly-concealed insecurities.

I had become a junior member of the ‘pharisees club’ and over the years kept adding to my own persona many of the same traits Jesus criticized in the hypocrites of his day. They didn’t practice what they taught; I talked a good religious game, but my constant striving kept me far from living my core beliefs. Some of the Pharisees expected much of everyone but wouldn’t lift a finger to help them; I grew quite critical of others; compassion wasn’t my strong suit. The posers of Jesus’ day did everything for show; I tried every way I knew to make people think that I was something special. Many Pharisees sought status and honors for themselves; I accumulated a lot of letters after my name and was ever on the lookout for the best positions.

To be honest, isn’t there a bit of the ‘pharisee’ in all of us, and more than a little in a lot of us? Jesus begged his followers, to avoid at all costs this toxic approach to life. But how easily we become pretension-dependent parvenus, addicted to boosting our egos and losing touch with our true selves in the process. Well, every addiction should have its recovery program, I believe, so here’s a twelve-step plan on how not to go though life like a ‘pharisee.’ It’s called, “Twelve Steps to Recovering Your True Self.”

Step 1: Believe that you are gifted. You are a unique individual with distinctive gifts to offer. So much of the posturing of pretentious folks comes from a secret conviction that you don’t think you’re really worth that much. But to believe what scripture teaches is to think of yourself in quite different terms — it’s to believe that you are of inestimable value. You are created in God’s image, (Genesis 1:26), you are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) You are  God’s masterful creation, a masterpiece of love. And so take . . .

Step 2: Know that your are loved. I wish I had learned much earlier in life to link my faith in God with God‘s great love for me. When we’re unsure how lovable and worthy we really are, we try to win acceptance as if it were a commodity that we produce on our own. That just doesn’t work. But, when we give up on our own striving and simply acknowledge God’s deep regard for us, we find that the whole world now sings us a love song. Accept your acceptance, be assured that you are the apple of God’s eye, (Psalm 17:8), that your name is written on the palm of God’s hand, (Isaiah 49:16). When you’re convinced of this, you won’t need to look for acceptance in poses and pretensions and you can take . . .

Step 3: Accept that who you are is more than enough. When your life is driven by your insecurities, you see what little you have as not nearly enough. You neglect who you are for some anxious ideal of what you think you must be. For too long a time, all the worrying about who I wasn’t kept me from seeing and celebrating who I was truly meant to be. It’s the unique gifts that each one of us has been given that are the best guides to who we should become. Thus. . .

Step 4: Embrace your gifts, they are your destiny, the key to your true identity. Be grateful for them, since they make you who you are. They will reveal your purpose in life. Develop them, and they will become your way to bless the world. For years, my insecurities led me privately to discount my gifts while publicly trying to get people to see just how great I was. The way out of this deception is humbly to acknowledge the talents you’ve been given while taking . . .

Step 5: Acknowledge your limitations. This can be quite liberating for someone like myself who felt the impossible pressure to be good at practically everything because I was trying to be better than just about everyone. Realistically assessing your capabilities and acknowledging your limits saves you from the curse of grandiosity. What’s needed is a clarifying honesty so you can stop striving to be what you were never cut out to be in the first place and take . . .

Step 6: Become who you are. When we follow the path of pretentiousness with our over-inflated egos and ever-ambitious strategies, we are really living outside of ourselves, hardly recognizing ourselves because we’ve become something very different from who we truly are. Trying to gain the whole world, as Jesus put it, we risk losing our very soul, (Mark 8:36). Decide simply to become who you truly are and are meant to be, and, as you do, take . . .

Step 7: Never forget that your gifts are gifts. The gifts you have didn’t come from you, they’re something you’ve been given. Pray that prayer, “All things come from you, O Lord,” (1Chronicles 29:14b). and mean it. That should keep you straight about who you really are, and what you’re truly worth. Another remarkable thing about those gifts that aren’t really ‘yours’ comes with . . .

Step 8: Remember that your gifts aren’t for you alone. You’ve been given your capacities so that you have something to give to others. That’s the way talents work, they’re useless if not used for the sake of others. As Jesus put it, if you want to be the ‘greatest,’ go into service! (Matthew 23:12). This is no sentence of punishment, however. In fact, it’s an invitation to joy as you take . . .

Step 9: Rejoice: the more you give, the greater you are. Usually we think that if we give something away, we’ll have less for ourselves. But using our gifts to benefit others has the very opposite effect. We get better with experience in sharing our talents, we gain others’ respect, we’re more alive doing things that really matter and make a difference in people‘s lives. In fact, our relationship with others begins to change radically as we find the courage to take . . .

Step 10: Decide not to make comparisons. Through my many years in Pharisee mode, I developed the habit of mentally ‘sizing someone up’ as soon as I met them: were they smarter than I, more talented, better liked? Could I outshine them? It was all rivalry and contention. How could I hope to win friends when I looked on everyone as a potential rival? On my way to recovery, though, I started looking for people’s gifts instead of looking for something to criticize about them. Everyone has something that you can admire. Make that the most important thing about them for you, and let it become a point of real connection between you. That will lead you to . . .

Step 11: Realize that competition kills, but compassion creates. It’s amazing how your own need to be loved, accepted and appreciated gets filled to overflowing when you reach out to someone else with love, acceptance and appreciation! When you care about others, joy is your reward. Compassionate people are trusted, respected, valued and loved — all things that ‘pharisaical’ types desperately want, but rarely receive. This is the exaltation of the humble that Jesus offers (Matthew 23:12), encouraging us to take the most important step on the path to recovery . . .

Step 12: Commit to live only and always from your God-given self.

So, that’s the program, and yes, by the way, I’m still with it, still on the way to recovering my true self.

One Thought on “Recovering Your True Self: A Twelve-Step Program

  1. Michael Dufresne III on October 31, 2017 at 12:14 pm said:

    Ed, thank you for your wise, humble and humbling words. While we may all struggle to “know” what we want to be when we grow up, I suspect most of us know who we are deep inside. That small voice of the true self competes with the cacophony of external voices attempting to direct our path. Perhaps one more step would be to take time, impossible as that seems, to sit in silence and let the whispering inner self and the gentle urgings of the spirit emerge. Then have the courage to follow.

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