How to Forgive the Fiend in the Mirror

For many of us, the deepest grudge we hold is against ourselves. We can ignore it or pass off the blame on others, but we know it’s there, eating away at us with all the things we’ve done and all our missed opportunities. It tears at our self-confidence, telling us that we’re bound to fail again, that we’ve learned nothing from all of our past mistakes and are thus doomed to repeat them.

There are three types of things you hold against yourself: simply being who you are, the mistakes you’ve committed, and missed opportunities.

The first is a difficult one because even though it’s often based in failures or missed opportunities of some sort, it goes beyond that to a general feeling of worthlessness, to a sense that even if you had not committed a certain sin or had jumped on an opportunity, you still wouldn’t be successful. This feeling of unworthiness is actually at the heart of both your sins and your missed opportunities, making you sabotage yourself so you can collect evidence to prove you’re nothing.

It sounds crazy to hear it put like that, but I did it for years. I was terrible around women, but instead of learning from my mistakes, I’d proudly display each successive failure in a mental trophy case. It was a sick cycle, with my belief in certain failure causing more failure, which then strengthened my belief in yet more future failure.

And in much of this, I blamed God. I couldn’t find anything wrong with what I was doing, and so I reasoned it must be a part of who I was. Since He made me, I blamed Him almost as much as I blamed myself. Blaming Him removed some small amount of the hatred from me, but kept me from seeing His wisdom and blinded me to what I was doing, to myself and those around me.

I used to have a false image of God as some cruel tyrant who made me as some sort of sick joke. He is now my loving Father, my King, my Teacher, and much more. And I am not the cruel joke. In fact, there is nothing wrong with the way He made me. I am His beloved son, valuable enough that Jesus would have come to earth and died just for me. I am formed specifically this way for a purpose, one that I am so grateful God has revealed to me. I am His, now and forever, and He is my Father, my everything in this world.

God has a purpose for making you the way He did as well, whether your purpose is in your talents or so He can use you as He did with Moses or Gideon, making His strength perfect in your weakness. God has a use for you if you will let Him work in your life. Realizing this will help you let go of any grudge you have against yourself for being the way He made you. Embracing your future in Christ is the only way to truly let go of the past.

It’s important to separate these things you don’t like about yourself into two categories: things that are actually wrong and things that aren’t. For example, my lack of confidence was horribly wrong. Not only was it ruining my life, but it was a slap in the face to God to say that He had messed up when He created me or that He was cruel in intentionally making me a failure.

For the other category, these are things that make you who you are, such as being a melancholy. There is no right or wrong in being introverted or extroverted, being melancholy rather than phlegmatic, having one love language instead of another, or not liking certain things. You need to embrace who you are. God does.

The second category of grudges against yourself is for sins you have committed. Every last sin is worthy of eternal separation from God. The good news, though, is that Jesus has already taken your punishment for you.

Imagine that you had done something terrible, worthy of being beheaded. There’s no doubt about your guilt, and you’re sentenced to death. Then the judge offers to take your place on the chopping block. This man only asks that the jury give him a year before carrying out the execution, so he can see what kind of person you’ve become with your new life.

Do you really believe your benefactor wants to see you muddle through that next year, continually kicking yourself and not trying to do anything with your life? No, he’d want you to wake up whistling every morning because you’ve been forgiven, because someone else was willing to take your punishment. The law doesn’t affect you anymore because the debt has been paid, so why should you live like you are still in chains? This man would want you to make the very most of the life he has restored to you.

God doesn’t want you to live under the burdens of your past sins. He is willing to forgive you, to erase all of them. He died to set you free, so why would He want you to live in bondage?

No child of the King should ever be beating themselves up over something or calling themselves worthless. To do so is a sin against both God and yourself. Everything has already been forgiven by the One whose opinion matters.

Consider this aspect of the cross for a moment: Jesus was on it only once. One sacrifice for all sins, for your entire life, and for everyone who believes in Him.

Not only does this mean you’re forgiven no matter how many times you’ve messed up, it means that God isn’t looking for evidence against you. If He was, He wouldn’t have to look for very long and just one sin would doom us for eternity. He’s not looking to harm you; He sent His Son to die to save you.

Right now, think of the very worst thing you have ever done in your life. However painful it is to think of, however horrible and despicable it was, concentrate on it for a moment. Now realize that according to God, that never happened, that your sin has been washed away and you are free. When God looks at you, He sees someone as spotless as His Son. Is it more than you deserve? Without question. Is it more than you could ever hope to repay? Absolutely. Is it still yours just for the asking? Yes.

There is conviction when we sin, a feeling of guilt that drives us to repentance. Once you have repented, though, there should be no more shame. To say that shame should remain is to say that Jesus’ blood is strong enough to wash out only part of the sin, that He can wash away the spiritual effects, but not the emotional ones. He died so you could be completely free, not just partially free.

If you’re holding a grudge against yourself, you’re saying that your life has been messed up by your actions or inactions past the point of God’s ability to restore you. Not only is sin an indictment of a lack of faith in God, but so is unforgiveness. It takes realizing that God can fix anything for you to be able to truly forgive yourself.

It’s not easy to forgive yourself of your sins, but what is much harder for most people is realizing Jesus died to free them from their missed opportunities as well.

Most people have that one person in their life that they’ve had a really deep crush on yet never pursued or that one opportunity they knew they should have gone for but didn’t. It’s a horrible feeling looking back on it because you always wonder what could have been had things been just a little different, if you had said or done something a different way or at a better time or if you had been bolder.

For me, the one that got away was the opportunity to go to my first-choice college. I ended up at another school instead, where I was offered a floor leadership position my freshman year if I’d move to a different floor. It was a rare honor, but I declined, not even knowing why I said no.

I became friends with a guy on my floor who eventually got me a job in Virginia, where I was blessed with enough money to pursue writing as a career. Had I moved off, it’s unlikely he and I would ever have become friends, so I wouldn’t have gotten that job and likely wouldn’t have made as much money in any job I did find.

By passing up one opportunity, God opened another, which led me down the path He wanted me to take to get where I am today. I certainly made some decisions along the way that were outside His will, but He knew the decisions I would make and planned things to bring me where He wanted me anyway. All of the other opportunities I passed up and all the ones I should have passed up but didn’t weren’t enough to take me from His plan for my life. I don’t know how things would have worked out had I gone to the other school or moved off the floor, but I know now God had a plan for me that whole time.

Think about the one that got away from you, be it a person, job, or other opportunity. Now realize that you’re idealizing it in your head. You don’t know what would have happened in 99% of the cases and in the very small chance you do, you don’t know that it would have been better off for you. Most lottery winners are back at their jobs with no money in less than two years. No person you’ve set your eyes on is perfect. And every job comes with its bad days. The certainty is that if it is not in God’s will, it will lead you to a worse place than He would.

Even if that thing you wanted was as good as you’d imagined, your life with it would still be worse for you in the end than if you had followed God’s will for you. Why? Because God’s will has something that nothing else does: more of God.

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The Grudge List: Your Path to Forgiveness

Today, I’m going to give you a very useful tool to aid you in forgiving everyone. First, though, let’s talk about what sin is. Sin is any thought you dwell on or any action that is against God’s will. God created the Universe and all that is in it; therefore, it is His rules we are under. It’s not a sin to be tempted, to have a thought flit through your head, but it is a sin to dwell on it and imagine yourself giving into that temptation.

We can wrong others, but even then, our sins are 99% against God. Imagine that you had a golden retriever puppy named Goldie (because you’re so original with names) and someone, even a good friend, comes over and kicks your puppy. Not on accident, just being a jerk. Even thought the dog is wronged and nothing was done directly against you, you still take offense because you care about Goldie. She’s yours, and so the offense done against her is taken personally as one against you.

How much more so do you think God takes it when we wrong His sons and daughters or even non-Christians, since He loves us all?

Also, when we wrong each other, we’re breaking God’s will because He tells us to love each other. This makes our wrongs against each other sins against the Creator of the Universe. Just as stepping on a roach is a lesser crime than spitting on another person, so is anything we do to each other compared to the crime of disobeying Him.

I mention this because we all need to be forgiven of our sins. There are no perfect people on this earth, so we all need forgiveness and grace. And, as I wrote yesterday, God will only forgive us if we forgive others.

But not all of the things that we take offense at are sins, are they? There’s the woman who gets in the express checkout lane with 19 items instead of 15, the coworker with the annoying laugh, or the guy with no social skills whatsoever. These things may get on our nerves, but they’re not sins. We need to let go of these grudges, too.

So, how do we let them go?

The best way I have found is by using what I call the ‘Grudge List.’ To make one, start by writing down the names of everyone you can remember. I recommend going by periods in your life (grade school, high school, early 20’s, etc.), then by location (church, school, work, neighborhood, family) so you don’t miss anybody. If you remember a person, but not their name, write down enough of a description so you can remember them when you go through this list.

Next, go through each name on this list and think about the person for a moment. If you have any negative feelings about them, write their name on another list. This is the beginning of your Grudge List.

On your Grudge List, for each name that made the cut, write down all of the offenses you can remember and how they made you feel. Resist the urge to sum up; be specific so you can let go of all the wrongs done to you. It will take time, but it’s better to do a thorough cleansing than a light rinse. Don’t be overly nice here, either. They won’t read this unless you show it to them, so say what’s really on your mind. You can lose the benefit of this exercise by not being completely honest.

Next, write down your own sins against the person. I highly recommend this because it will let you see that you were wrong, too. Don’t put in any statements like, “I wouldn’t have done this if you hadn’t started it,” or, “It may not be as bad as what you did to me, but…” This is the time for you to just admit to yourself that you were wrong, regardless of who started it. You’ll be able to see the argument better from the other person’s point of view, too. Doing this will help ward off the pride that is sure to fight you.

Finally, write a statement of forgiveness for each person. Keep out language such as, “You may have cheated on me, but I have someone way better now, so I can finally forgive you.” Your forgiveness can’t be based on what’s happened in your life since the event; in fact, that’s part of the point. You have to forgive based on what Jesus did for you 2,000 years ago. Forgive because you’ve been forgiven of so much more.

Doing this once probably won’t get rid of all the negative feelings you have against everyone, so you may have to keep going through it. Each time you do, though, it should get a little easier. Some of the minor grudges you may be able to cross off immediately, some may take months (and might still pop up years after you thought you’d forgiven them). Just have patience and keep reminding yourself of what Jesus has done for you…if you forgive as He’s forgiven you.

Our Greatest Enemy, Part 3

Pride also affects our ability to share our burdens. We can refuse to share our secrets and trials when we’re afraid others will judge us, but we can also keep them to ourselves when we think we can solve the problems on our own.

It seems men are particularly prone to doing this. We like tinkering. We like finding our way without asking for directions (though this is largely a bygone trait now with GPS’s and smartphones). There are far more women who are in counseling than men, even though the gap is shrinking.

We (and here I mean those of us with pride issues, not just men) don’t want to admit weakness or that we need other people’s help to do things. We want to be seen as competent and in control of our lives. And this pride is killing us in several ways.

First, we don’t get the help we need. We’re not as wise as we like to think we are. We can’t see all sides of a situation, determine all outcomes or their likelihood, or see all options available to us for our complex issues. By definition, we can’t foresee the unforeseen, so even wise decisions can backfire.

When we let our pride get in the way and force us to keep our issues to ourselves, we rob ourselves of the wisdom, insight, experience, and creativity of our friends and family. Someone you know may have the perfect solution to your problem, but they can’t give it to you if you don’t let them know you what your problem is.

Second, we keep ourselves from true Christian community. In Acts 2:44, it says the early Christians were together and shared all things in common. They shared their possessions and were with each other constantly. I have to believe that they shared their trials as well, or else how could such a community thrive? They had a tight bond with each other, and that doesn’t form between strangers. To really be knit together, we have to be helping each other with our struggles and trials and that requires letting ours be known.

Third, that pride can lead to looking down on others who are sharing their problems. “Well, fix it!” or, “If I had that problem, I’d keep it to myself rather than whining to the whole group,” you might say. These are the wrong attitudes. It takes God to change a heart, and our hearts are at the root of nearly all of our problems. God usually uses others in His works, whether to offer encouragement or a much-needed rebuke or to be an accountability partner or just to listen and understand.

Another way to look at it is to imagine your life like an automobile factory. No factory is run by just one person. It can be overseen by one person, but there are specialists who put the doors on, make the engines, put the wheels and tires on, etc. There are also other workers who are in charge of shipping, receiving parts, and accounting. Few people, if any, have enough knowledge to do all of the jobs in the factory competently. So they seek the help of those who know about a particular job.

Likewise, your life has many facets and, though you have the final say in all, you don’t have all the answers. Seek help and wisdom, from God first, but also from others, and you will find your burdens greatly lifted and be able to help others with their burdens.

Our Greatest Enemy, Part 1

Many of us seem to think our greatest enemy is the Devil. Some think it’s their nemesis in real life. A few think it’s time that has turned against them. In reality, our greatest enemy is none of these. It’s our pride.

Satan can’t do anything to you that God doesn’t allow Him to do. Job makes that very clear; God tells Satan how far he can go and he has no choice but to obey. He can’t make us sin. He can’t do anything to us without God’s permission. Likewise, others can’t force you into things or do things to you that God didn’t allow. He won’t control their actions, but He does have power over the effects of their actions and has decided to allow them. And He controls time as well, so that He could give you 15 more years as He gave Hezekiah or take you today.

One thing He has chosen not to control is your free will, and the greatest impediment to choosing Him with that will is your pride. Pride affects many areas of our lives, but I want to focus on four major ones: forgiveness, not sharing our burdens, sins, and not pursuing God.

Before we get to these four areas, though, we should look at where our pride comes from. I think it can be traced back to the Garden of Eden. The serpent told Adam and Eve they weren’t good enough and that God was holding out on them. They let pride sneak in and tell them they should be in on all of God’s secrets. They wouldn’t have had this pride, though, if they believed they were good enough already and that God was truly loving and holy. They doubted their worth and His goodness, which are the two necessary ingredients for pride.

Pride is not really being full of yourself so much as it is seeking to fill yourself. When we’re proud, we may have a lot of good things going on in our lives. It’s not enough to have these things, though; those around us must be aware how that we have them. We could also tell ourselves that we deserve what we don’t have or that whatever power we believe in – whether God, the Universe (which seems to be just a way to say God without the implications of moral judgment), or whatever else – wants us to have it. We tell ourselves that we know better than God and that His will matters less than our will.

You can also have abundant humility, which is pride sneaking in subtly. There are people who are proud of their humility, not realizing the irony of their situation.

True confidence has no need for pride or false humility. We’re more valuable than any number of accomplishments could ever make us, but we also recognize how little we deserve it. We’re not humble because that’s holy and right, but because we honestly recognize how great God is compared to us.

I’m not suggesting finding a middle ground between pride and false humility; I’m suggesting living with both an extreme view of your self-worth and an extreme humility at the same time. The result won’t even be a middle ground, but a higher ground, to where pride, even pride in your confidence, doesn’t exist. If you can remember that you are valuable enough to God that He would sacrifice His Son for you and that you are completely and utterly worthless without Him and doomed to Hell without His sacrifice, there will be no way for pride to rule your life. You will have both more value than you’ve been seeking and so much humility that you dare not dream of deserving what you’ve been given.

Bearing Others’ Burdens

Marriage has been a blessing in so many ways. I am amazed that it has been nearly four months already while simultaneously astounded that it has been only four months. My life has entirely changed. There’s another person here with me almost all the time, another person I have to make plans with, make shopping lists with, and split the chores with. I have my best friend with me nearly always, and we’ve had some very intimate conversations.

There is no one on this earth who knows my strengths and weaknesses better than Leah. She knows me well enough to finish my sentences a lot of the time. She laughs at the jokes running through my head before I even make them. And she knows the issues I struggle with on a daily basis.

With her help, grace, and wisdom, I have gotten better with certain issues, though I’m a long ways from being perfect. Her bearing my burdens, though, whether it’s having conversations with me, praying for me, or working with me on the books, has helped me immeasurably.

I know that not everyone who reads this will be married. Some of you may not have many close friends or anyone you feel you can open up to entirely about your life. I don’t know how you’ve been burned in the past (and nearly all of us have experienced the sting of betrayal or abandonment), but I do know that faith in God can help you overcome these fears.

It seems we have a much easier time bearing each other’s burdens than baring our own burdens to others. We like being trusted, we like the emotional intimacy and close friendship that comes from being open. We often just don’t want to be the ones who open up first.

A lot of this reluctance comes from a fear of rejection. Much of the rest comes from a fear that we’re just unloading on that person unfairly and they don’t really want to hear it.

As someone who has been deeply hurt in the past, let that hurt cause me to be a very private person, and has opened up again, I’m going to encourage you to do a couple things you might be uncomfortable with. I want you to tell someone what you’re going through. If you’re married, tell your spouse. Tell a trusted friend. If you have neither, tell a pastor. Find someone and just tell them something about your life that you’re not having an easy time with.

And then find someone and ask what they’re going through. Many people feel ignored and insignificant; just letting them know that you honestly care is often enough for them to open up, or at least be friendly with you. It doesn’t take much time, and the results could change the rest of your life.