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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God: The First Grudge to Go

The first grudge you need to let go of is the one you have against God. How do you view God? Do you feel He’s let you down in the past, that praying is like rolling the dice? If you don’t have faith in Him to always do what’s best for you, it’s very likely you are harboring a grudge against Him.

Consider Adam and Eve in the garden. They were sinless until the serpent gave them something to hold against God. He had held out on them, and that was something they didn’t like, so they briefly had a bone to pick with God, a bone large enough that they disobeyed God and changed the course of humanity.

What makes this particular grudge curious is that you can’t forgive God because He’s done nothing wrong to you. He’s never sinned against you, hurt you, or plotted against you. There’s been no betrayal or abandonment. God is the only one you’ve ever gotten close to who hasn’t done anything bad to you at all. He’s always been on your side and His mercies are new every morning. He forgets our sins willingly and protects us.

Also, God doesn’t owe you any sort of explanation for what He does. He is bigger than the Universe He created, more powerful than you can hope to fathom, and infinitely wiser than all of the people who have ever lived combined. Who are you, that He should be mindful of you? (Psalm 8:4) It’s not wrong to seek to understand why things are happening to you, but some Christians get this attitude that God owes them an explanation, that He somehow serves them. It’s the most arrogant attitude possible. All you have earned from God is eternal separation from Him; the salvation He’s offered, much less anything beyond that, is a gift, given solely because He’s decided to love you.

If you are angry at God, you are actually sinning against Him because you are unjustly accusing Him of being anything less than holy, loving, and righteous. Not only are you questioning Him when you don’t have and could never earn that right, you are judging Him and finding Him unworthy. You need to not only let go of your grudge against Him, but apologize for having a grudge against Him in the first place.

Of all the grudges you carry, the most important one to let go of is the one against God, even more important than the grudge you carry against yourself. The reason is that though you can love someone you have a grudge against, you can’t want to draw closer to that person. You don’t want to be around someone you’re angry with or someone you don’t trust at all. The only way to want to draw closer is to let the grudge go.

You need a strong relationship with God, not just because He is the most important relationship in your life, but because it is only when you are close to Him that you can have enough faith in how He sees you for it to transform your life, which is necessary if you’re going to forgive anyone else.

So why do we carry grudges against Him? Because our understanding is limited. When I was young, a well-meaning pastor said that if we were righteous, God would answer our prayers. I did my absolute best, but most of my prayers went unanswered.

When it didn’t work, I took the promises of God to be a load of bunk. I stopped praying, stopped reading the Bible, and stopped paying attention in church. When I got to college, I rarely went to church. There was no desire to draw closer to God because I didn’t think He heard me or cared about my family. I reasoned that if my prayers were falling on deaf ears, why should I get to know the Being ignoring me?

This developed into a deep hatred of God. It wasn’t just the things I had prayed for growing up, it was being in my mid-20s without ever having a girlfriend while my friends seemed to be in a new relationship every couple of months. It was people in my company getting promoted faster than I was, despite not working as hard. I felt He’d let me down not just by ignoring my prayers, but by making me a complete failure.

It wasn’t until five years after I graduated college that I began to slowly change, to start opening up to God again. Once He started chipping away at my walls, I knew that there was a lot of growing that I had to do. I was a stubborn student and my heart deceived me more times than I can count.

Yet God was with me through all of it. He never left me, never stopped loving me, and never stopped leading me. With endless patience and unwavering grace, He kept drawing me closer little by little, teaching me something whenever I asked Him to, even when it was a lesson He’d taught me dozens of times before.

Through this teaching process, my anger at God lessened somewhat, but my love for Him didn’t increase much. The grudge was still there, even if the fury of it had somewhat subsided. Despite all the abuse I piled on Him, He never failed to be there for me. He loved me in spite of myself, and it was realizing this that finally helped me let this grudge go and start loving Him again.

There are still a few areas where my trust in God is not as strong as it should be. I still worry about finances from time to time and I still let some things upset me that shouldn’t. These are signs of a lack of faith in God’s goodness (since I have complete faith in His power), which are likely related to a hidden grudge that I have not fully explored. There is something in my past that still whispers that God may let me down like I believed He had.

There are two reasons I mention this last part. The first is that getting rid of this grudge against God is a very deep and potentially long process. It is not enough to say, “Oh, God hasn’t done me any wrong, so I trust Him completely now.” It’s incredibly unlikely that you will trust Him in everything after just that.

Instead, examine the areas of your life carefully, one at a time. For each, ask whether you’re trying to make it on your own or trusting God fully. Be brutally honest with yourself. For every area you find where you haven’t given yourself over to God, ask why it is difficult for you to trust Him completely. The answer is almost certainly some instance where you feel He let you or someone else you know down.

A second reason may be that you aren’t used to relying on God; it may be more of a lack of knowledge about who God really is rather than a grudge against Him. The same lack of faith can still be a problem, however, if you feel abandoned in a particular area. For example, if your father ran out on you, leaving your mother to support the family alone, it may be difficult for you to trust God with your finances because you remember the hard times your family had. Feelings of mistrust from one party can be applied to another, but when we apply them to God, we sin because we are indirectly accusing Him of being no better than the person who harmed us.

Instead, we need to think of all the times He’s been there for us, even before we became Christians, and learn what the Bible says about His faithfulness and goodness. Only when we have let go of our grudge against Him can we trust and love Him the way we should. We need to trust Him so we can believe what He says about us, and we need to believe what He says about us so we can forgive ourselves and others.

All That Was Needed

“I cannot do this!” I cried out,
And to this I heard no reply.
“I failed again!” did I shout,
But God did not answer why.
Angered now and so full of shame
That not good enough was my best,
I stormed off cursing my name
And knowing I’d failed God’s test.
“What you want from me I don’t know!
Nor do I think I have it to give;
I need to let this burden go
For this way I cannot live.
I tried to live, God, by your rule;
I failed, I sinned so many times.
And being human, hence, a fool,
I repeated one by one my crimes.
I tried to witness but cannot speak
Your truth in a way they would hear;
I’d be on missions, but am so weak
And crippled still by my fear.
I cannot do this!” I cried out,
And this time my cry was heeded.
“I know,” God said, “Without a doubt;
But your heart was all that was needed.”

What You Know

I touched on this in the last post, but contentment is based on what you know. Your level of contentment is a relative thing, subject to change. For example, if you live in a 600-sq. ft. apartment, you might find an upgrade to a 1500-sq. ft. house to be heavenly. If you’re used to a 12,000-sq. ft. mansion in the Hamptons, the downgrade might be horrible.

With either case, though, the house is still just the house. It hasn’t changed. It still has the same yard, same rooms, same siding, same everything.

If you’re deciding whether or not to make a change, it might help to view what you’re looking for objectively first. You might find that you’re setting your goals too low. That house, for example, might be a great next step, but would it be big enough to raise four kids in? The same applies to your job. The promotion might be great, but is it where you want to end your career?

We have a tendency to do one of two things: shoot for the moon and get frustrated when we don’t get it or shoot for something too low. Instead, we should have a high, but reachable, target with several intermediate, smaller goals along the way. Each step will feel like a huge accomplishment and give an increased feeling of contentedness, but a high goal will keep you from saying, “This is as good as I deserve or as I’ll ever get.”

Another important thing with goal-setting is to remember where you’ve come from. Keeping your past successes in mind will help you deal with failures more easily and remind you that you have indeed made progress. My wife had to remind me of that this morning about my journey toward self-confidence. I was down on myself and she reminded me how far I’ve come in terms of both being a writer and in my confidence.

Lastly, remember that while forging ahead is a wonderful thing, it is not where our value comes from. Our value is set in stone, regardless of whether we succeed beyond our wildest dreams or completely fail. If your changes line up with God’s will, however, you cannot help but accomplish His purpose in your life.

Loathing the Honeycomb, Part 1

I was reading Proverbs this morning and a verse jumped out at me in a new way. (Don’t you just love when that happens?) Proverbs 27:7 reads, “A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet.”

There are two pieces of this verse I’d like to delve into. The first is that, to a hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet. You’ve probably been out on a really hot day, walking around or perhaps doing yard work. I remember the 100-degree summers in northern Illinois and doing two paper routes in the afternoons. Sometimes, one of my customers would offer me a soda and it was the sweetest, most refreshing thing I’ve ever drank. 

People are like that where their happiness is concerned, too. No drug addict thinks that cocaine is a health enhancer. Nobody who sleeps around thinks herpes would be a wonderful thing to catch. People do these things because they’re desperate for a pick-me-up. They know the risks and still engage in these activities because they’re longing for something to make them feel better.

Too often, those of us who have stayed away from these vices tend to judge those who have fallen into them. I’ve never tried illegal drugs, never had a gambling addiction, and I waited until I was married to have sex. None of that gives me the right, though, to judge those who haven’t lived as I have. I’ve sinned in other areas, and all sins are enough to condemn the sinner to hell. If anything, my heart should go out to these people because they’re looking for an answer in the syringe or bottle or between the sheets. 

The next time you see someone who’s homeless, who came to your country illegally, who cheats on their spouse, who treats you poorly, who sins in any way, try to see the hurt and the need that are driving the sin. That person, regardless of what they’ve done, is someone thought valuable enough that He offered His life to save their soul. That person, no matter how they treat you, is someone God loves passionately. Just as you justify the reasons for your own sin, they justify theirs. Look behind the mask and see if you can help the hungry person underneath.

I’ll discuss the second part next time.