The Deceiver can magnify a little sin for the purpose of causing one to worry, torture, and kill oneself with it. This is why a Christian should learn not to let anyone easily create an evil conscience in him. Rather let him say, "This error and this failing pass away with my other imperfections and sins, which I must include in the article of faith: I believe in the forgiveness of sins.
On the surface I have appeared mostly confident in my life... underneath however I have historically struggled with self esteem and depression. Those who lived with me could see it, along with my closest friends. My wife of course would be most familiar with this part of my character.
I’m an over thinker, I always have been… reexamining conversations as they happen and then sometimes even 30 years later rehashing them again, and of course in the courtroom of my mind I am guilty before proven innocent. This has had the effect of overcompensation to impress people, including my wife and kids.
I think I’ve come a long way, my mind is generally not in that chamber of second thought… though occasionally, like a few days ago it gets into that rut. I shared a story of something that happened to me and my rather unflattering response to it with someone close to me. The person I was talking to expressed a rightfully negative comment to my poor response saying "that's a bit harsh". He was right... but of course I knew that. Old patterns would be to start a spiral of negative thoughts from a genuinely caring critique of something I did or said. I could sense the need to fix it and the accompanying spiral stirring in my mind.
I wanted to apologize, but I’ve learned some things over the years:
Sometimes when someone who struggles with a negative view of themselves, their own self condemnation tries to make fix it fast... they end up apologizing for things that just aren’t a big deal. In the case I mentioned here I just quietly prayed “Jesus you are my light and my peace”. No big flashing lights or aha moment… just a deeper understanding of Christs sufficiency in my lack. I knew I’d have to work through my inner doubts and self condemnation alone with a heavy leaning on the Holy Spirit.
People who struggle with this sober chamber of second thought will often move into apologizing for things that are of no impact to the other people in our lives. We do not grasp that our family and friends are simply not bothered by are humanity. The fact that we are not expected to be perfect by those who love us is beyond our comprehension because we are our own harshest critic. As a matter of fact, when we allow our self condemnation to guide our actions we can create uncomfortable conditions for our families through our oversensitivity.
I’ll give you an example of this from my own experience. I dread gift buying… I want so badly to buy the right thing for those I love. When I give that gift I’ve got a tendency to apologize and offer to exchange it even before they open it. My family used to make fun of me on this… and I’ve improved a great deal over the years in managing that fear of rejection when I get them a gift. The fact is that my insecurity made the experience less enjoyable to others because of my own self condemnation.
For a Christian that was raised in a church that was steeped in legalism and a lack of positive messaging this can add to that already poor self esteem. Someone who already struggles to see their own value will absorb the idea that they can’t do anything right will never fully accept that they are not loved for what they do but rather for who they are.
In addition to feeling the need to constantly apologize there are additional outcomes that arise from this constant over evaluation of ourselves. One thing I’ve struggled with is an over sensitivity to criticism, it’s difficult to explain but in essence I used to flare up in anger when corrected or criticized. I’ve improved massively in this but I am also still working on emotional wellness. One aspect of this is employing a 24 hour rule to work through my feelings before responding. Often, after processing things I feel much more at ease after that and have no need of involving others in my personal well being.
Finally a third result of my struggle with self condemnation is appearing over confident. Sometimes the “bully” is the one with the poorest view of themselves. I don’t recall being a bully, though I am sure I have also been that. I WAS however bullied for much of my teen and young adult life however and developed what some would regard as a super thick skin in my young adult life. This can manifest as confidence but those who knew me best could see it was not confidence but rather a drive for validation by others since I could not validate myself.
Ah… but that WAS me. My value came from my work, my ministry, accolades or criticisms from my boss, my family, even coworkers or staff. Today however those feelings do not control me, they arise and I process and manage them against what is actually true. When confronted with well founded documented critiques, I apologize and take steps to change.
I wrote this article over two days… the second day I could largely shelve the need to bring my friend into the conflict of my mind. Now I could work on the internal guilt… I recognize where I need to go long term and to improve the relationships affected but I’m also okay with my humanity. There are people who expect perfection from me... but I’m okay with not measuring up to the expectations of overly critical people. I am interested however in working on my genuine character flaws so that the people around me aren’t wounded by them!
The voice of condemnation may still be there… but it is now largely ignored background noise. My value comes from an eternal place. It does not come from my work, my wife, my family, my friends or my ministry. My value comes from this DEEP place where Christ has taken my brokenness and my woundedness and placed HIS TRUTH in all of these places.
My heart no longer condemns me… that is the change. First John says this:
“for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;”
Then there is Psalm 139…
“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.”
Scientists estimate that Earth contains 7.5 sextillion sand grains. That is 75 followed by 17 zeros. We cannot even comprehend a Creator God that is outside of time and space and YET within its smallest details at the same time… but IF God were constrained by time... it would mean at 30 seconds per thought God would have spent 59,027,777 days... or 161,719 YEARS thinking about EACH person… including me. If my math is wrong let me know lol.
Beyond understanding how God views us we need to understand that our view of ourselves needs to align with God's view. In Luke we read of an interaction between a rich man and Jesus. They discuss the two central Christian commandments. The one I will focus on is this one that evangelicals and even non-believers love to quote, that is to "love your neighbour as yourselves". We see a core truth about our humanity that many evangelical churches overlook in these words... In order to love others we must FIRST love ourselves! This command is found both in the Old and New Testament and is a central requirement for worshiping our God in spirit and in truth!
We read further in Ephesians that "No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it". There is a version of loving ourselves that is warned against in Scripture... that form of self love is referring to pride and a requirement by ourselves to force others and God to validate our feelings as true. This is referring to the spirit of the antichrist which is in my view largely narcissistic. That's not what I am talking about here... what I'm talking about is agreeing with God on His love for us. We are ALL sinners... ALL of us. As a matter of fact the Bible says "there is no one righteous, no not one" in Romans 3.
Basically... everyone is a screw up and you are in the same darn boat everyone else is. Your lack is okay - His sufficiency is all that matters! Love yourself are and stop focusing on who you want to be instead. That beautiful or crazy successful person you think has everything together is just as flawed as you are... you just can't see those flaws on the surface.
Love yourself... it sounds so simple...
This is not something that occurs overnight though! For myself it was tons of journaling and prayers. Laying out the worst of myself until there was nothing left inside me and it was all written down. In that place God was able to speak into the void. Out of that journaling I developed a love for writing which I may or may not continue to do publicly. What I have realized is that what I do is not connected to who I am. I have intrinsic value to Christ to the degree that He would have died for me if I was the only one. Those voices saying that I am worthless are merely the jealous voices of spirits who can never experience Christs love.
There is a movie that was inspired by events in the life of John Forbes Nash Jr., and in part based on the biography "A Beautiful Mind" by Sylvia Nasar. The story is a dramatization of John’s journey towards mental wellness even as he functioned intellectually as a world renowned mathematician who made substantial contributions to game theory, real algebraic geometry, differential geometry, and partial differential equations.
There is a part of the movie near the end where John is approached by a colleague inviting him to an award event… the Economic Sciences Nobel Prize of 1994. In the movie:
John looks at the colleague, then turns to the person who he knows is real standing next to him and asks “is this person really there”. After he is comfortable with this answer he then continues his conversation with the colleague. The colleague asks him in a round about way if he’s crazy… to which John replies “I AM CRAZY, I still see things that are not there… I just choose not to acknowledge them”.
Most of us, including myself are not battling with schizophrenia as John did. Many however do battle with self condemnation, anxiety, depression and other forms of deception about ourselves. Like Mr Nash we can learn to redirect those lies over time and grasp firmly on what is true, both in the spiritual and emotional wellness sense. We need not be discouraged if it takes a long time and if it’s occasionally a roller coaster as God can handle our humanity. As well, I should point out that loving ourselves does not mean embracing our sin, our failures or our vices, instead... together and in partnership with Christ we can chart a path to a life increasingly grounded in authentic truth!
The truth after all… will set you free