Bobby Flay’s cat has more Instagram followers than I do. This fact plays havoc on my self-esteem. As someone who battles the constant torment of comparison, the fact that a celebrity feline makes a bigger splash in people’s lives speaks only to my own self-judgement; I can’t help but condemn myself.
I once sat with an elderly gentleman who told me that whenever he would step out of line, his father would wag his finger and declare “God will get you for that.” He heard this phrase so often that it stuck with him, becoming the very basis of his picture of God. Despite his years in the church, the countless sermons he listened to, and the hours spent in prayer and ministry, he couldn’t unhear a message of condemnation. It was like a bell that could not be un-rung.
Are you worried about something? Go and pray. Give everything over to God. Let it all go. Trust God enough to give God everything. That takes a lot of trust. Whatever it is in your life right now, give it to God and actually trust God with it. Don’t let it be yours anymore. Pray that prayer.
Every week we put out the garbage. We take the orange peels, the plastic wraps, the used yogurt containers, and place them in the bin outside the house. We remove the refuse from our lives. It might not be an enjoyable process to go through it, but it’s necessary. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to bring the garbage from the outside bin back into the house. I have never wanted to be re-surrounded by my old garbage. It just doesn’t happen. Why then do we do this with our spiritual lives?
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that God blesses everyone else but you? Have you ever felt that, despite your best efforts, you can never climb the spiritual heights needed to “earn” your place in God’s good graces? Henri Nouwen once wrote that the greatest danger to our spiritual lives is our self-rejection.
Molly LaCroix writes: The (often young) wounded parts of you are the ones who believe things like, “I’m unlovable,” or “I’m not good enough.” They think it’s their fault bad things happened, that they are defective. Until their wounds heal, you will struggle with fully accepting God’s gracious, unconditional love.
We can live our spiritual lives under a spirit of duty and demand. Our spiritual practices become burdens we must undergo, activities to begrudgingly plod through. When we live this way, our spirituality feels lifeless, and we can’t help but feel condemned. No matter how hard we try, we rarely perform our practices a perfectly as we would like, or as we believe they should be performed.
Henri Nouwen is one of the authors I read a lot from. His words plumb the depths of the spiritual life in profound ways. So, when I started dreaming of my parish's Lenten program for 2022, I knew that I wanted to structure it around the works of Henri Nouwen.
It was uncomfortable to disclose my need for help. It felt awkward and out of place. Didn’t this person have better things to do than mow my lawn? How could I be so foolish! I condemned myself for my selfishness. But that Saturday, he came. There was no frustration in him, no judgement, just the offer of loving help. As I watched him push the mower up and down my lawn, I had a deeper experience of Christ’s love that I have ever experienced.
Forgiving ourselves begins with Christ’s forgiveness. His grace quenches our thirst. He understands our human conditions, creates community, and ultimately calls us to lay down your guilt and regrets. It is finished. We are free.