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,