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"I Declare Me Guilty!"
by Cate Russell-Cole
11/02/2015 / Self Help
Are you, like me, your own worst judge? Do you mentally put yourself down and "nag" yourself over things you have done wrong? I get caught up on little things I do which I consider to be failures, then I doubly I berate myself for blowing it in the big things, especially if I have accidentally hurt somebody. I've been told, and quite correctly, that I am way too harsh on myself, and it has, at times, led to destructive self hatred. I expect myself to adhere to my standards, regardless of anything that gets in the way. Thinking this way can come from being in an abusive family or marital situation and being constantly told you're wrong. You can also blame it on perfectionism, or you can put it down to having low self esteem. It doesn't matter which one it is, it is as important to be able to forgive yourself and let go of the disappointments from your own behaviour, as it is to forgive other people. We can become bitter towards ourselves, and even vengeful, punishing ourselves for not being perfect all the time, or because we said or did the wrong thing. Holding on to our self judgements produces as much poison in our souls, and is as destructive to our mental and spiritual health as being bitter towards others.
Forgiveness is letting go of the hurts and wounds of the past, and not allowing yourself to build up hatred or bitterness. It builds bridges rather than burns them, and enables inner healing. It acts with mercy, kindness and compassion, and doesn't shut us off from growth or healing. Forgiveness is simple and powerful, and essential to being able to move on towards emotional wholeness. It's opposite, unforgiveness, eats away at us mentally and emotionally. Over time unforgiven incidents mount up, causing us to feel like we are not the kind of person we should be, and believe that we are worthless and have failed. Letting go of our expectations of ourselves is tough, but it is worth it! One of the teachings of Jesus that I have the most trouble with is the one where is doesn't matter what you have done wrong, regardless of whether you have just accidentally hurt a loved one or have murdered ten people, you can still be forgiven. I believe God feels that way, but I don't forgive myself that easily. I have a picture in my head of what I want to be like, how I want to act. I can never live up to it. Part of me is convinced that to be worthy of love and acceptance by God and others, I have to be totally correctly behaved all the time: think right, live right, and be essentially perfect. God knows we would never achieve that. As Paul said, "Have some of you noticed that we're not yet perfect? (No great surprise right?) ... I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, enabled me to do it." Galatians 2 The Message
I lived by solid rules for eighteen years, believing I would always stick to them, be perfect and pure, never a big sinner, never need forgiveness on life's big issues. I failed. Not because I was out to rebel, but because I was human, had needs that required meeting. It didn't feel like sin, but I knew I was wrong, and I had to find a way to look God in the eye, tell Him what I had done, why I had done it, and work out what to do. Then I really began to learn about God's understanding and His acceptance of us. I also started to see other people through new eyes, and God started teaching me about mercy and unconditional acceptance. I realized, to my horror, I had become a bigot. I had my standards which were black and white, and I was judgemental with anyone who didn't keep them. How that changed when I was the one on the wrong side of the law!
We all fall away from our ideals, and we all act in ways at times, which really disappoint us later, and hurt ourselves and others. Everyone has regrets, and everyone makes a mess of things from time to time. The challenge is in doing the very best we can do, and learning from our mistakes rather than constantly beating ourselves up over them. Certainly we should never deliberately go back to doing what we know is wrong and destructive to ourselves and others, but it isn't realistic to think we'll never drop the ball and make mistakes. I don't always have the inner resources to be kind to myself, and often I have to ask God for help. I am comforted in knowing He understands why I did what I did, and I am so thankful that it is Him, not me, who is ultimately my judge. God is much nicer! "This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again." John 3:16, The Message
You can go overboard and be totally self centred trying to develop a good healthy self-esteem. You can also be too humble and self-deprecating. The ideal is the middle ground: be kind to yourself. Credit yourself with enough value to take care of your physical, mental and spiritual needs even if you don't believe you deserve it. It is an asset to aim for high standards, but we need to also know that if we don't achieve them, we're still valuable, and we have a compassionate, understanding God who will wipe away the tears and heal us when we're in need.
"O Lord, You have examined my heart and you know everything about me. You know when I sit or stand. When far away you know my every thought You made all the delicate inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvellous, and how well I know it Search me O God and know my heart, test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life." Psalm 139 The Living Bible
This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Written in Australian English.
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