Prisoners of War7:25 AM
Perhaps it is, like our mothers say, a stage, a no big deal, an all-in-our-heads affair. Still, it doesn't make it any easier, feeling like a slave to our negative self-opinions, our fears, our insecurities. I spilled a little of my heart the other day about how I bully myself -- and how hopelessly the cycle of negativity and doubt spins. On the one hand, I dare not hate myself altogether, for God is a gracious and loving God, but on the other, how could I not hate myself when forced to cohabit with a girl as arrogant, insipid and unspiritual as I? I cannot force myself to deny my worth before God, lest I offend His mercy, but I cannot in the least admit any accomplishment or good in me -- I might become vain.
Worst -- what if God's love is a big lie, after all, concocted by liberals who want to soothe seared consciences?
I'm not alone. I've big sistered several girls as they fought their inner bully, fought for grace. It's not as if we don't know the truth -- we parrot back all the right answers. God loves me. Check. I'm forgiven. Yep. Christ conquers. Sure. It's just that we don't know it. All this grace and mercy stuff floats somewhere in the second hemisphere, while we're wallowing in a thought rut. And it is a rut. Emotional self-mutilation is not a healthy approach to sin, is not a Gospel approach, and is an improper thought according to Philippians 4:8.
I often think I ought to go about in rags, fasting, weeping and scourging my soul. I must be doing something right if I feel like I walk on beds of nails all day. Surely complaining about how rude, stupid and acne-beriddled I am will earn me accolades before angels. This is humility, is it not? But that's the lie -- true repentance leads to restoration. This false humility is a most dangerous sort of pride, the kind that leaves no room for a big, gracious God. Festering grief, lies and shame slices between God and girl. It is not humble to constantly tear ourselves down. It is not noble to feel like a failure. It is not spiritual to keep our sins close to our bosoms, nourished by doubt and negativity.
As long as we try to fix our sins -- whether by being "good enough" or aching that we were "good enough" -- we are not walking by faith but by fear, by works, by the flesh. Our God is big enough to handle our messes. He did not rend soul and flesh for imaginary spotless people. We stand before God forgiven and clean on Jesus' righteousness, not our own.
I wish I had a silver bullet that would make the Bully-in-Your-Head take cover forever. But this battle rages minute by minute. In it we take thoughts captive constantly. We make our thoughts prisoners of war -- we control them and not the other way around. And we must be vigilant to not just root out negativity but load up on truth. Starting with the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ fixes everything -- no secrets-just-for-teens book ever offered a newer life and a greater peace than the Gospel.
Sometimes we need to stop yammering about what we ought to do but what Jesus already did. Put the self-help book down, sister, and go read John and Hebrews back to back.
The amazing thing is that the Gospel really works. Why? It addresses both our need for grace and our need for justice. It deals with our broken hearts as well as our filthiness. It took me years to realize that to take thoughts POW, I needed to wield the Gospel -- not my own "righteousness." Take hope from a girl who went into the blackest depths of her heart: I haven't entirely beaten this bully at her game -- but I have broken free from her.
A dear sister wanted to know how. Here is the incomplete guide.
1. You don't have to be a slave to yourself. Anyone who has felt driven to the most desperate measures because she couldn't get a handle on her thoughts and emotions has bought the lie that she is enslaved to herself. The truth of the Gospel is that you are free. Tell that to yourself over and over again -- even though they're real and mean and loud, the thoughts don't have to rule your life. Jesus does. It takes a great leap of faith to go from mentally knowing God has forgiven to actually letting Him apply that forgiveness to your soul.
2. God does not hate you. Make sure that you're running to Jesus 24/7. And not just as a judge and a confessor but as one who knows exactly how you're being tempted.
3. Justice was served. As a girl struggling with performance issues, deeply believing that only good girls won affection, I could not bring myself to fully accept the outrageous truth that my sins were paid and cleared off the table. Christ was not crucified so we could struggle on under the Law. You are concerned for your sins and your general sinfulness -- good. Know then that Jesus bled His life out for those sins. God handled your messes and your mess-making. He loved you at your worst; He gave all at your worst -- an unrepentant rebel. Surely He would not do less for His own children -- for you?
4. Humility is enough. An attitude of brokenness and humility is what He wants -- not perfection. He already took you through the court system and pronounced you innocent on account of Jesus. Now He wants you thriving in Him, not groveling.
5. You can be completely real with Him. I walked through dark days with God on all sides of me. I sat underneath apple trees and on gravel driveways and in closets and I clung to Him until He gave me a blessing. I told Him exactly what I was feeling and how I wanted to feel, where I was and where I wanted to be. I didn't listen as much as I should have and I blubbered a lot. I made a mess in front of God Almighty. And I can say that He was perfectly faithful and gentle the whole way. He cleansed me where I needed cleansing, shaped me where I stuck out lopsided and filled me where I needed the whole of His love.
6. Focus on Christ Jesus. Retrain yourself to be sensitive to the good and beautiful in everything, turning your mind to how great God is instead of how horrible you are. No girl can grow or bless stuck in a rut of self-pity and paralyzing negativity. Another thing? You will grow and you will produce good fruit -- you walk in the company of Holiness Himself, after all. Allow yourself to see that goodness in you -- goodness afforded by God, not yourself.
7. We've won the battle -- but it isn't over. The biggest thing that helps me control these debilitating thoughts is to recognize that Satan purposefully discourages and accuses the children of God. Whenever you've experienced a spiritual "high," know for certain that you're in for a rough time of temptation. These thoughts and emotions aren't unique to your situation or reflective of your salvation, your worth or how God views you. They are merely routine battles of every day life.
So treat them as such -- don't let them get you down and start defining you. Christ has conquered. You have conquered through Him. The minute "I feel really ugly today" becomes something bigger than "Oh, brother -- I feel teenage melodrama coming on!" is the minute Satan has the upper hand. No daughter of God need surrender to the abuse of him. And I think it is important that we allow for Satan to be the tempter and not place all the blame on ourselves. Even our perfect Savior faced temptation and was not sullied. These thoughts do not reflect who we are -- they only suggest who (and whose) we could choose to be.
After reading this, if you're trained well, you may think this is all psychobabble for the emotional, that no Christian needs such goofiness as a tender God or such a soft salvation as merely trusting in Jesus without contributing an ounce of personal effort to our standing before God. But this is Gospel truth, plain and simple: Christ died for sinners, of whom I am chief. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. Nothing separates us from the love of God. Satan hates us and tempts us. We have conquered.
Conquer in the name of Jesus.
How do you make prisoners of war?