You Are Not Alone

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It’s a simple statement which I have found incredibly encouraging: “You are not alone”.

Poor decisions have led me down some lonely paths. One of the most enslaving things over most of my adult years was the thought that I was the only one experiencing the things that plagued me. Of course I wasn’t the only one in a universal sense, I knew. Others were dealing similar things. But I was convinced that I was the only one in my circles. Other people like me were ‘out there’. Where that was, I don’t really know. I couldn’t point to it on a map, or name a particular socioeconomic group where they were concentrated. But they were certainly not among the people that I was among.

Certainly not in the church. The church was full of people who had it together, people who didn’t have big struggles. Everybody in the church was quick to admit that they were far from perfect. But the offenses they confessed were often superficial: things that many commonly confessed to, or that were generalized to the point of non-descriptiveness. In the end, the ledge these believers stepped out on wasn’t really too far off the ground. And after all, who could blame them? Not me, I’m just as guilty! And, past mistakes aside, certainly nobody in the church was currently struggling with anything really heavy.  (Allow me to interject here that this is not intended as a judgment against anyone in the church…it describes my impression as an observer/receiver, completely removed from any presumption as to the intent of the actor/sender).

In my mind, I was the only twisted and broken and hopeless one in my world. The only one who had done something in my past that would cause people to step back and gasp if they ever knew. The only one who was still plagued with weighty struggles.

But at least, thankfully, I was keeping it hidden.

And then, through a series of events, it surfaced. And, long story short, since I could no longer maintain the mask of the have-it-together-Christian, and it was now obvious that I was broken beyond what it seemed anybody else in my church was, I found myself spiritually ‘on the street’.

Being in that place, though, turned out to be an amazing blessing. Because finding myself forced to seek help elsewhere led me down paths I may never have traveled otherwise, and led to the discover that freeing truth: I was not alone.

The reality was, the assumption that I was uniquely broken was completely off the mark. There were people with shared experiences all around, ready and willing to show grace and testify to freedom. People who were where they were because circumstances had exposed them as broken people, and who had thought they were the only ones.

So, here’s the takeaway: No matter where you are, you can rest assured that someone has already been there. You are not the only one. I promise.

I heard that last thought, and you are right – I don’t know what your story is. I don’t know what mistakes you agonize over or what struggles you wrestle with. But I do know what it’s like to think that if people see what’s inside they would never be able to love you again. And I also know that people will love you. And people will come alongside you and help you. Because you are not alone!

Use and Care Instructions – When Not to Follow the Label

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Labels are damaging. Labels are self-fulfilling. Labels are a tool of the Enemy. Labels undermine us at our very core. All this is true, insightful, compelling…and completely useless, unless you know what to do about the labels.

What are we to do with the labels? Merely knowing they exist does nothing to pry us from their grip. Action is required for freedom to be attained.

First, we need to identify them. You have to have something concrete at which to take aim. And the best way to identify labels? Simple….listen.

When you make a mistake, what is the first thing you hear from yourself?

What thought goes through your mind? Often that knee-jerk initial thought is something that goes by without much notice, so stop and pay close attention.

What do you hear yourself saying outwardly? Self-deprecating humor usually holds more truth than humor. Muttering “I’m sorry, I’m such a dummy. ha ha ha” can usually be simplified down to “I’m a dummy”. Look at it for what it is.

Self-talk is where your labels become most evident, but you have to be listening. Because it can be hard to recognize. But just because we don’t recognize it, that doesn’t mean it has no effect on us. It has a deep effect on how we think, act, make decisions, and relate.

Second, once we identify the labels, we replace those labels with truth. Who does Jesus say that you are? Does God say I’m a dummy? No, He says “that in every thing [I am] enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge” (1 Cor 1:5).

This is a simple example. Our labels are usually much more complex. But complexity doesn’t change the face of them.

Here’s a suggestion:

Carry a small notebook with you through the day. When you recognize a label, write it down on the top of a page. You don’t have to do anything with it on the spot, just write it down, and leave a few pages blank for later.

Then, when you have time, try to write down what caused you to think that way. What thought processes helped form that label? What assumptions did you make? Writing these things down helps you to think through the underlying patterns that form the label, and in many cases those underlying thoughts, assumptions and patterns will look much different on paper than they sounded in your head.

Now turn the page and write down what the truth is. Write down anything that comes to you about the things you just wrote on the previous page. If an assumption looks silly now that it’s on paper, write that down. If a thought process that seemed rock solid in your mind dissipates into mist on paper, make note of it. Pray and listen to what God has to say about the label. If scripture passages come to mind, write those down. This is essentially a brain-dump. Write freely. No one has to see this but you, so write what comes up.

In time, you can go back and look at these exercises, and focus on the truth pages. Replacing inaccurate labels is a matter of practice.

This is one suggestion, something else may work better for you.

But regardless, when it comes to labels, we need to put the status quo behind us. Don’t keep plodding through life letting negative labels define you. You’re better than those things. I know you are. God says so!

The Labelmaker

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Loser. Bad Parent. Addict. Cheater. Drunk. Pervert. Stupid. Incapable. Poser.

We are good at labels. We can generate a vast array of them. From mundane to outright cruel (how cruel? Ponder this: some of the labels we create for ourselves are labels we would never think of attaching to others…am I right?).

And we wear these labels everywhere we go.

Oh, we certainly don’t wear them on the outside. Truth is, we often don’t even recognize them on the inside. Most of us have layers upon layers of labels, constructed in such a way as to hide them from even ourselves. Our clever inner voices create one label, and then create another one to throw ourselves off of the scent of the first one. Then we need another label to cover for the second. And a fourth to compensate for the third, which is covering for the second, which you’ll recall is a red herring defense mechanism against the first.

Wow, that is exhausting just writing it down. But that’s how our psyche’s work. So we find ourselves carrying labels nested so deeply we can’t even see the bottom. Some of them we recognize, and maybe do something about, but more likely dismiss as commonplace or unchangeable. Some of them we don’t see at all. But all of them affect how we relate, interact, and live our lives.

And all the while, we are carefully covering the whole lot of them so no one on the outside can see what we think about ourselves on the inside. Because if they saw that, it would be game over.

Serious business, these things called labels. Label-making is the Enemy’s favorite endeavor, I think. It’s the most effective one, because he can get us at the very core of our being and undermine everything we do.

But the labels we carry are often exaggerations, if not outright lies. They are our views of self, and often deep down we are much harder on ourselves than we should be. We should expect a lot of ourselves, but there is a difference between expecting much of ourselves and being overly harsh on ourselves.

  • We should expect to present ourselves well in a meeting, but that doesn’t mean we should kick ourselves for every verbal slip-up we make.
  • We should always put our best foot forward in everything we do, but that doesn’t mean we dismiss ourselves as failures when we realize we could have done or said something differently.
  • We should expect a life of purity from ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we should condemn ourselves for every errant thought that slips in (remember temptation does not equal transgression).

The other danger of labels is they are self-fulfilling prophecies. Remember the Temptation Does Not Equal Transgression blog post? When you allow the thing that tempts you to become that which defines you, you’re on the road to living a life of enslavement and defeat.

So, be careful of labels. Take the time to stop and identify them when they bubble up. And don’t allow them to get – or keep – a foothold. Freedom from labels is within your grasp.

Self-Forgiveness

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I have been told that the concept of forgiving one’s self is not in the Bible.

And admittedly, you can’t find any variation of the phrase ‘forgiving yourself’ in scripture. But I have to differ with those who state that because it isn’t called out specifically, it is not a valid concept. I believe that argument comes out of a misunderstanding of biblical forgiveness.

Let’s examine.

First, we should revisit Mirriam-Webster’s definition of ‘forgive’:

“to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone): to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)”.

Forgiving means releasing the debt. As has been said, it’s not about ignoring the hurt, denying the pain, or excusing the offense. It’s about accepting reality, and then choosing not to hold it against the person who hurt us. It’s not about absolving the offender from guilt – only God can do that, as Jesus acknowledged in Mark 2:5-12. But forgiveness from our perspective is about releasing the person from the responsibility of having to make it up to me for offending me. And hence, breaking the chains of bitterness that unforgiveness brings.

I also can’t give that release to a person on behalf of someone else. I cannot on behalf of Frank forgive Bill of an offense against Frank, and declare he doesn’t owe anything to Frank – only Frank can do that. And Frank needs to do that, because it’s his heart that is in bondage given the alternative.

I hope that made sense. Because all of that is important to understand before we get to the next question…

What happens when the person who has offended me is me?

When I make poor choices that I have to live with, when I have put myself in a bad position and caused myself pain and angst – in a very real sense, I have offended myself. Given this, I can choose two avenues: (1) I can live my life in regret for that thing that I did and continue to hold myself (the offender) in bondage to self-loathing and remorse, or (2) I can choose to loose myself (the offender) from the responsibility of having to make it up to me, and break the chains.

When we think of it that way, option 2 is obviously the biblical response.

This in no way excuses what I’ve done. I can’t say “I’ve forgiven myself and so everything is okay now.” It also does not absolve me from accountability – only God can do that. (However, I can claim 1 John 1:9 that says very clearly that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us.”)

Neither am I forgiving myself on behalf of others who were offended by the same act (just like I can’t forgive Bill on behalf of Frank, I also can’t forgive myself on behalf of someone else who I hurt).

You see, it all comes down to forgiveness being a matter of healing for the hurt person, an avenue of freedom to the offended. That’s the biblical concept.

So, whether the term self-forgiveness is or is not in scripture, if one has the proper understanding of what forgiveness is about, it can and should be applied to anyone who offends us…even ourselves.

Forgiveness

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Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. -Colossians 3:13

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

It’s a tough gig, this forgiveness thing. Especially when you are deeply hurt, it is incredibly difficult to even think about.

But Paul found it necessary to make nearly the exact same statement to both of these churches. Because although it is tough, it is also important.

Jesus spoke of forgiveness on several occasions:

“Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” – Matt 6:12

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Matt 6:14

Jesus even told a story in Matthew 18 known as the parable of the unforgiving servant. It’s the story of a servant who was forgiven an incredible amount of debt (one he could never repay), only to hit the street and demand the few dollars owed him by another. The result? Because he failed to show the same mercy he’d received, the master imprisoned the servant until he could pay every last cent of his large debt.

We sneer at the unforgiving servant, and we cheer the master for his intervention, resting in our satisfaction that justice was served.

And all the while, we are not much different from this unforgiving servant.

As Christians, God has forgiven us a debt that we cannot even fathom, let alone repay. He sent Jesus to a brutal death to pay that debt so we could be forgiven. And all the while we hold against others offenses that are minuscule compared to that debt He released us from.

Mirriam-Webster defines ‘Forgive’ as “to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone): to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)”.

Notice it doesn’t say that forgiveness is “to deny that you were hurt.” It doesn’t say “to pretend nothing happened.” It doesn’t say “to forget what was done to you.” Forgiving is not ignoring or dismissing. It says “to stop feeling anger and stop blaming and stop requiring payment.” That definition presupposes that you first acknowledge the offense.

This is what the master did to the servant when he initially forgave him – he recognized what was owed and then made an intentional decision to not expect repayment. This is what God did through Jesus’ sacrifice – He recognized our offenses against Him and then made a conscious decision not to lay blame to our account. This is what is expected of us – not to ignore the hurt, but to stop laying blame, being angry, and expecting payback.

And as with most of God’s commands, He doesn’t make arbitrary rules that He expects us to follow ‘because He said so.’ The rules He makes are for our own good. The act of forgiveness is freeing, healing, and life-giving…to the one doing the forgiving!

So let loose of that death-grip you are holding on whatever was done to you. Release it. Drop the stone from your hand. Forgive. Be free!