Christians who want to do right can be far too quick to self-criticize and self-correct.
- A single man in his forties has the impulse to leave halfway through the church service because the affectionate couple in front of him reminds him how lonely he is. “You’re here to worship God,” he reprimands himself, “Not to think about yourself!”
- A young woman feels a familiar tug to indulge in pornography. She thinks, “Something’s seriously wrong with you! Porn is something men struggle with.”
- A guy driving home from work sees another man jogging without a shirt on and feels drawn to him. “Why am I so gay? Other men don’t feel this way.”
- A married pastor is only half-listening to the person talking to him because a beautiful woman from the congregation is headed for the exit. “You’re a terrible pastor,” he thinks to himself as he realizes how often during his sermon preparation he’d imagined her thanking him for such an “amazing message.”
When thoughts or desires like these (and soooo many others) come to us, we can be so quick to criticize ourselves, believing self-criticism will help bring about the change we need in order to become who God wants us to be.
But self-criticism and self-correction can be our ways of keeping from God the parts of ourselves we think God won’t like. And when we do this we compartmentalize sacred from secular, sexual from spiritual, good from bad.
Said another way, it means the parts of our lives that need Him most see Him least.
This is akin to hiding a festering wound from the doctor because we know we should have come to the hospital weeks earlier. Or shoving a dangerous convict into the closet when the police arrive because we know we’re not supposed to be harboring criminals.
There’s a more effective way to respond when you experience feelings, desires, or temptations that seem wrong to you:
Practice opening what you’re experiencing, whether good or bad, to God.
This isn’t about passively doing nothing, sinking into a self-pitying entitlement that demands God needs to change you or you’ll indulge in sin and blame him for it. It’s about instead of striving to align yourself with God, bringing your unaligned self to Him for realignment. As much and as often as needed.
This can be difficult because it means being honest with God (and others, too) about the good, bad, and ugly in your life. It means bringing yourself to God and others as you are rather than as you think you should be. It’s about entrusting yourself to his care more than to your own.
And it’s also about getting to know Jesus better by allowing him to actually relate with you, rather than just pre-empting his movements toward you with self-corrections of your own.
(In my experience, one of the most life-changing things that happens as we practice this is discovering the ways he responds very differently than we’d always imagined.)
One more note: If you try to open yourself to God as I’m describing but find you’re mistrustful, resistant, or not ready to give up a pet sin, then can you find in yourself a willingness to open that part of yourself to him? He is not unfamiliar with the mistrust, resistance, and love of sin found in within us, nor is he offended when we need his help even with these.
Emmanuel means “God with us.” And if the gospel is true, than God with us is good news. The only question that remains then is whether we’ll let him be with us or only the fictional versions of us we wish we were.
Question: Can you relate with the urge to self-criticize and/or self-correct? What do you think makes it difficult to open ourselves to God “as is” instead?
Opening as is,
Awesome word Josh!!! I struggle with that all the time and didn’t even realize what was going on.
I will begin to practice what you suggested.
Thank you very much.
Glad it’s helpful, Duane! Glad to be with you on the journey, brother!
Well said Josh. I work as a counselor and I recognize how self-destructive it is when my clients are overly self-critical. You have framed this in a very helpful way for me and hopefully it will be a blessing to others. It is very interesting to think about our self-criticism as being a way of hiding ourselves from God. Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts out there. Many of them have been very helpful to me.
You’re welcome, Matt. God bless you as you walk alongside others seeking more of his life!
You know, I hadn’t thought of self-criticism in this light before. But now that you mention it, there does seem to be a certain seductive quality to it. What are the reasons I might find my own pattern of self-criticism to be so appealing? Well, maybe I can identify some basic reasons. First of all, when I criticize myself it often seems as though I am identifying some very real shortcomings that I have. Yeah, there might be some genuine insights there that hit upon the truth about my shortcomings. But while I may have hit upon some truths about my shortcomings, maybe I have also failed to understand the relational context in which I should be identifying those shortcomings. Maybe I should be identifying those shortcomings in an open, honest conversation with my Father God, instead of mentally shutting him out of the conversation and engaging in morbid introspection with myself about my failures. But why is it so hard for me to overcome that impulse to hide from him? Maybe that’s because, while I have correctly identified some ways in which I am really deficient, and have also come to an intellectual understanding of God as my loving Father, I am still stuck on this image of Him as being this stern, merciless tyrant who is poised to squash me like a bug because of these deficiencies. Yeah, maybe I have identified some elements of truth in my self-evaluation, but maybe I’ve also done that in the context of essentially buying into a big lie about God, and a big lie about myself. The seduction of those lies is that they often seem to be very spiritual. They tempt us into believing that we can appoint ourselves as Judge, Jury and Executioner over ourselves, instead of entrusting ourselves to the care of a Father who already knows everything about us and yet loves us anyway. Yep, I’ve been there and I’ve done that. And it’s fair to say that I’m still unpacking what might be some practical ways of dealing with this kind of deception, but the first step, of course, is to recognize the nature of the problem. This has been very helpful–thank you for making these conversations available to us online. — Weber
Well said, Weber! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and observations!
It is difficult to give up my self-monitoring and criticism because of my need for control. Receiving the pure, vast, unconditional love of God is such an out of control feeling for me. Frightening! Easier to hyper focus on my flaws and shield myself from an emotional plunge into the unknown.
You’re not alone by any stretch of the imagination, Tara! Which is exactly why added the encouragement to open our mistrust and resistance to him where it gets in the way. For example, you may even begin praying, “Holy Spirit, I feel afraid and don’t want to let go of control. Can you come into my fears and need for control? I’m afraid I’m only able to open the door a tiny bit to you. Can you make yourself small enough to squeeze through? Because I do want you here. Please come.” See what he says and does in reply.
And if you’ve got someone who is practiced at listening prayer, that could be a real help, too. God bless you, Tara.
Josh, you are so right-on! I have had the exactly the same kind of thoughts you describe her, and it so good to see that other people also experience the same kind of thoughts
You’re not alone, Dick, not at all!
Wow! Once again you reveal the gentle heart of God! The light that shines not to condemn but to illuminate and love more deeply. I thank God for you and your ministry.
You’re kind to say so. Thanks!