After I woke up, I spent some time thinking about my life (yes, I know, I always think about my life). I had a difficult night’s sleep, and I tossed and turned all night with dreams and thoughts about the academic peer review I had yesterday at GCU. It is not the first time I have been reviewed. I am reviewed like this each year, but this time, my department mentor came and reviewed me, and frankly, I didn’t feel like I did my best for her. I felt like I lumped on through the class, and when it was over, I was just so embarrassed and concerned that I let my feelings of overwhelm (from my dissertation process) cloud my abilities to teach my students well.
In truth, I am sure I did fine, but I simply felt that I did less than my best, and that thought just stuck with me the entire day. More so, I think the reason why I was worried was the fact that I really respect my mentor, and as such, I wanted to show her I could teach this course (a literature course) and do it really, really well. I walked around all day yesterday, feeling like a failure, when in reality, I am sure, I did well. It was just that I felt like an utter failure. So even after rationalizing my actions, my thoughts, and my behaviors yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking about my review. I dreamed about it, and even woke up mid-sleep, sometime around 4 a.m., with thoughts of absolute terror that I had failed this review. I remember having a conversation with the Lord at that same time, some where in between sleep and wakefulness where the Lord cautioned me about letting my thoughts and feelings take control of what I know to be true. In the end, I did drift off to sleep, but I woke up this morning still feeling as though I failed or at the least, that I was still under conviction and/or condemnation. Anyway, after getting up this morning, dealing with the headache, I ended up letting the whole matter go. I told myself that I did my best, I showed up, and I did what I felt was good. I’ve tried to not think about it, but even now, I am blogging about the experience, which says to me, that I need to do some more digging, some more investigating before I will be able to really, to finally, to completely, let this habit (this bad, nasty habit) go. Sigh.
I am a People-Pleaser
I guess this whole “people pleasing” thing has just come back to me — YET AGAIN! I dealt with my need for approval a couple months ago when I blogged about the fact that I had made the decision to no longer seek the approval of men; instead, I would seek the approval of God in every area of my life. I made the decision that if the Lord was pleased with me or my performance, then I would be pleased with myself or the way I performed. Yes, I decided to listen to the Lord, to accept His confirmation, and to stop letting my incessant worry, doubt, fear, and need to be confirmed and approved drive me insane (in some ways, truthfully, insane). I thought I was doing pretty well, but Tuesday, after my phone call with my professor, and the conversation about my revisions, etc., I came away feeling like I was not being my best overall — in everything — I mean. It didn’t take long then for “condemnation” to rear its ugly head, and before I knew it, I was acting highly critical of myself, my actions, my deeds, and my work. Yes, in a short amount of time, I went from confident to busted, and as a result, I began to loathe myself, and I started to nit-pick my every move, thought, or attitude. Yuck!
Subsequently, yesterday seemed like a day of conviction to me. It seemed like no matter what I did, I was convicted of doing something wrong. No matter how I tried to shove it away, the thoughts I mean, and convince myself that I am doing my best, I kept hearing condemning thoughts that said otherwise. Failure. Loser. Fool. And what was worse, I started to believe what I was hearing. Rather than standing up and crying out “no harm, no foul,” as in “we all fall short, we all make mistakes, we all mess up,” I let my enemy rout me and beat me down for failing to “do my best.” Sigh. My enemy likes to needle me about my performance, and even when I give all the credit and all the responsibility to the Lord, he still attacks me where it hurts most — right in my fragile ego!
What is more is the fact that I know this is an area of pride for me. I know that I struggle with pride, and as such, my enemy tends to stick me where it hurts most. He knows right where it pains me, and when I begin to think critical thoughts about myself or my performance, he gains an open door to do some damage. I know better, really I do. I know I need to stand up, defend myself with the Word of God, and not let my enemy hurt me in this way. Yet, when I am weakened, beaten down or so overwhelmed or tired, I am an easy target, I am such “easy pickings” as the saying goes.
So today, after sulking a bit, I decided to give God the praise. Yes, I decided to do as the Word instructs and humble myself before the mighty hand of God. In James 4:10 NLT it says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” I took the steps head of my enemy and his chants to humble myself before God. I took the steps as the Word says in verse 7 of James 4, and my enemy had to take flight: "So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Please know that while I am not seeking honor, or so I say I am not, I also know that there is this need for approval within me, and that means that I have this strong need for confirmation on how well I am doing or if I am succeeding. I need to hear someone say to me, “You are doing great, Carol. Keep up the good work!” When I hear these words of confirmation, I feel so much better. I don’t need a lot of praise, but I do need some words of encouragement and confirmation to help me feel like I am on the right track, doing the right thing, and moving in the right direction.
Normal confirmation is a good thing, and the Word tells us that we are to be building up the saints regularly. This means that we should be exhorting and encouraging one another regularly, feeling giving grace and approval to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should be doing this for one another, and while I am not saying that I don’t get some confirmation, because I do, it is more so that I allow my desire to be “approved” run off course at times. I allow it to consume me, to drive me, and even to cause fear within me. Let me explain…
One of the issues humans struggle with is understanding what constitutes acceptable pride (in a good way) and what constitutes unacceptable pride (in a bad way). Dictionary.com says that pride is defined as “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.” In an of itself, pride doesn’t sound like such a terrible thing. Taking satisfaction in one’s achievement can help boost self-esteem and build confidence for future tasks. Furthermore, it feels good to be recognized for our achievements. It feels good when we overcome some hardship or we achieve some goal. However, pride can become excessive or even over-weaning, when we take too much pleasure in ourselves or our achievements. Moreover, excessive pride can lead to behaviors such as arrogance (“having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities”) or even egotism (defined as “the practice of talking and thinking about oneself excessively because of an undue sense of self-importance”). Pride, is in my view, a slippery slope, which is why I think the we read about the dangers of pride throughout Scripture.
As I think about pride in this way, I realize that when we do the opposite, as in self-loathing, which is defined as “an extreme dislike or hatred of oneself, or being angry at or even prejudiced against oneself” (Wikipedia), we not only engage in behavior that is sinful and damaging to our self-esteem, but we also are acting prideful. I know it is weird to think that self-loathing or “self hate” talk is prideful behavior, but it really is. Whenever we judge ourselves harshly, we are acting as God in such matters. We are saying, in essence, that we think we know better than God when we say that His creation (our person) is not valuable, good, or even worthy to live. This practice of self-loathing or self-hate is a behavior that is not pleasing to God, and when we do it regularly, we run the risk of suffering conviction by the Holy Spirit. Remember that our bodies — all of our person — is under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Word said that our body is a living temple that the Holy Spirit inhabits. Thus, if we treat our body as something loathing, we are impugning God’s integrity and His choice of habitation. It is a difficult concept to grasp, but I think many Christians engage in this type of thinking and speaking, and they offend the Holy Spirit who lives within them.
GotQuestions.org, in writing about self-loathing and self-hate says, “According to Scripture, anyone who continually practices iniquity injures himself and shows that (in a practical sense) he despises or hates his own life (Proverbs 29:24; 8:36; 15:32)” (para. 3). More so, they assert, “If you hate yourself because you do not ‘measure up' according to worldly standards, realize that in doing so you are showing hatred or anger toward God who made you as you are and placed you in your current circumstances” (para. 4).
It is important to understand that self-hatred or loathing is something the Devil likes to tempt believers into practicing. He desires that Christians come to hate themselves so much so that they spend more time thinking about how awful they are and less time remembering just how special they are in the eyes of God. Yes, he would rather they focus on themselves and the lies he feeds them then the truth of God’s word, which clearly tells us that we were redeemed with the most precious price — the price of His only Son, Jesus. Thus, God has great love and affection for His creation, which in Genesis we read, He pronounced as GOOD. Therefore, when we become fixated on our lack of worth by worldly standards, we are saying to God that His creation (all of it) is somehow not good, not worthy, of His love and His grace. And, while we know that we are not worthy because of our sinful condition, this doesn’t change the fact that God said He would redeem us, and He set about to do it through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Consequently, we have been set free from condemnation (Romans 8:1), and we can now live as redeemed creatures that are loved deeply by their Creator and Father.
What this means is that as I have struggled with self-doubt for so many years, I have come to believe that the only measure of my worth is found through my people pleasing and my effort — my achievement — and as a result, the only thing that mattered to anyone was my work (the quality and quantity). I worked hard, so hard in fact, that I often made myself ill, just so I would hear someone tell me that I was “good” enough. This need for approval stems from my childhood, like I said, but over the course of my life, I have still struggled when I don’t receive confirmation or when I don’t receive credit for my effort. I have tried to overcome these thoughts, these doubts, but they cycle through my life, and so at times, I can be incredibly confident in my own abilities and then at other times, absolutely assured that I am an utter failure and worth nothing. Sigh!
My heart knows the truth (as does my head), yet, I still struggle. I want so much to be free from these thoughts, these feelings, these accusations in my head. I want to finally be free to no longer think, feel, or even contemplate that my work is not “good enough,” and by extension, I am not “good enough.” God has already labeled me — stamped me — as REDEEMED.
Dealing with a Critical Spirit
As I have come to understand my own thought-patterns, I realize that I have a critical spirit. In my case, I am not critical of other people. I don’t spot their failures more than the next person, per se, but rather, I am overly critical of my own self or my own actions. It is interesting to note that a critical spirit lacks an attitude of thankfulness for God’s work in redemption (CBN.com). It seeks perfection in others, and it judges other people for their failure to measure up to God’s standard. The funny thing is that no one measures up to God’s standard of perfection, yet, we often expect others to do what they are not capable of doing. The Bible is clear that as Christians we are to forgive one another. We are to extend grace to one another freely. We are to be considerate, because we do not know what another person is thinking, feeling, or even doing; thus, when we judge without the facts, we act rashly and unwisely.
But, there is another aspect to having a critical spirit, and that occurs when the criticism and judgment falls on one’s own failures. We will most often call this perfectionism or the need to be perfect in all things. Yet, this behavior is born out of a critical spirit. The desire to judge others is a result of a good gift gone awry (as in sin). The gift of judgment was reserved for the people of God so that they would have ordered and ruled societies (morally and ethically good). However, because of our sin nature, and our fall from His grace, this desire to judge has escalated to a hatred of anything or anyone that doesn’t live to the standard we think is best. We are critical of other people, of their customs, their manners, and as such, we judge one another regularly. We also just ourselves, and we often feel condemned for failing to meet some measuring stick.
The only way to deal with a critical spirit is to confess it to God. I think this is an unconfessed sin in the church, and until people realize how easily they are ensnared in criticism of others, they will not experience healing and freedom from the constant judgment and hatred that ensues. In my own experience, the first step after confession, is to begin to freely give grace. The more grace we give away, the less critical we will be. For example, I pray often to be gracious with my students. I am often in a situation whereby I could be punitive or gracious. I am stuck between a rock and a hard spot at times because my department wants me to be punitive, but God is asking me to be gracious. Thus, I choose grace. I give grace. The more grace, the more freedom I receive and the less critical I become. Furthermore, the more grace I give, the more I am able to experience His grace in my life. It is a beautiful fountain that splashes water everywhere so that all the people standing near by are sprinkled with cool refreshing spiritual blessing.
My heart has been healed of this need to be self-critical. I asked the Lord to heal me, and I am believing in faith that He has done so. Now, I must regularly practice grace. I must give it freely, just as it was given to me. I must think the best of people, expect the best in them, and treat them with the very best intentions, so that I am always able to be gracious toward them. It is His will for my life, and I know it. I have known it is so for years. He wants me to be gracious to others, and I have decided it is time to start acting — consistently acting — as a grace-filled, grace-fueled, and grace-based person. After all, I am REDEEMED.
As I close out this blog post, I cannot help but think that God is gracious and good. And, despite my failures, He knows me well. He understands me, and He has me so well-covered. I am in this very good place today, simply because my God has chosen for me to be in it. I give Him praise and honor, and with every fiber of my being, I look to His hand, and I say, “Thank you, Lord, for your mercy. Thank you for your grace, and thank you for your goodness this good, good day.”