One of the many things they don’t prepare you for as a kid is the applause and affirmation to stop.
You don’t win many awards or get recognition or compliments or words of encouragement when you’re an adult. And if you’ve started to rely on those things as a child without realizing it, their absence is a confusing knife to the chest.
By age 26, I was bluntly confronted with what were many harsh realities for me.
Since my pre-teen years, I understood myself to be a devoted Christian with many confirmed talents who was going to live life the right way and do huge things for the Kingdom of God.
At 26, my faith was on life-support as I’d proved in my eyes to be an utter failure to a silent and absent God, who had completely wasted his talents, ruined his own life and the life of his new child by failing to keep together a relationship with her mother, and accomplished jack crap in life.
I felt, to the silent jury of my peers and the world at large which had provided the affirmation I’d grown to rely on, I was a straight up loser. A waste. Owner of a useless degree with no prospects, no love, no money and no hope.
Every lie I’d learned by rote as a child in panic gathered strength as voices in my head: “Look at yourself, you’re pathetic. You can’t do anything right. All the talent in the world and you do absolutely nothing. What will people say and think about you?”
God, if he was there, had seemingly dangled one last, thin little life line that held some possibility that he might actually be there in the person of the friend I’d made at my now-lost job and the group of guys I’d befriended who appeared so much like me.
So, broken, I started going to their church to give God one more chance.
It was incredibly different from my experience as an evangelical-esque Methodist – High Church Anglican, with a lot of the trappings of Catholicism. Very alien, but intriguing in its complete difference.
Now, I’d found some semblance of life years before exploring Church history and learning of ancient practice because I thought, well man, if anyone had life to them, it would’ve been the peeps closest to the time of the disciples, so maybe this old stuff (and, hey, I love old stuff) has some legitimacy to it.
This particular church was peculiar though, not for its high liturgical worship, but because its priest also preached a lot like a Baptist (well, he’d been a Baptist, come to find out), and it happened to believe that the Holy Spirit did still go about doing the things scripture claimed he did back in the day, namely, healing and empowering people.
And like I said, these guys I befriended were smart. Smarter than me, even, and I wasn’t accustomed to that, but it was very welcome, since I was dead tired of being looked to for answers when I didn’t have any.
This was exactly what I had in mind for a church to look like if it was going to be alive – to actually actively go about looking for and seeking the power of God as described in scripture. Though I really didn’t like the liturgy and vestments [I love them now]. So, you’re up God, what you got?
God had a lot of prayer by a lot of different people. Prayer for the Spirit to heal my heart, to heal my mind, to heal my soul, to heal my history. Prayer during Sunday worship; prayer by special appointments with different people; and calling out beliefs I had about myself that, well, according to scripture, were lies. If I believed scripture, I had to call a spade a spade.
The difference is, there is head knowledge and there is heart knowledge. All I knew about was head knowledge: the stuff you learn by reading books and hearing people lecture and remembering facts. So I knew a lot of stuff in my head about God, so that was all there was to it, right?
While trust involves the mind, it also involves the heart. And the woundings of a seven-year-old boy who felt left out in the cold by God were in my heart.
You remember that dumb scene in Good Will Hunting, the one near the end when Robin Williams repeats over and over to Matt Damon “It’s not your fault,” and at first Damon’s like, “Yeah, of course, I know it’s not my fault,” but Robin Williams keeps saying it again and again until Damon breaks down sobbing? I love that movie, but I used to think that was the stupidest part but…how else are you going to depict when head knowledge finally makes its way to your heart?
I’d heard my whole flipping life that Jesus loves me, God loves me, God forgives me, God is always with me. I knew it in my head like I know the difference between black and white. But I didn’t know it in my heart. I didn’t believe it in my heart.
And, funny thing about your thoughts, and you may well not believe me on this part, but that’s OK. If the thoughts you have in your head are anything like mine, they’re all spoken to yourself in your own voice. So I have a running dialogue with myself in my own voice as I go about my day. And a lot of it is unintentional and just habit – like I stub my toe and some random thought like, “Great job, idiot” will just pop in there subconsciously.
Start paying attention to your thoughts. It’s fascinating. Pay really close attention. Everything is in your voice, but, in my case, you start to sense that some of the thoughts have a different character to them than others. And that’s undeniably true in many cases – we typically internalize a lot of the things our parents or guardians spoke over us as part of our own running dialogue.
But if the Christian worldview is indeed true, and there is a spiritual war going on around us that we’re largely blind to…wouldn’t it make sense that the ideas for some of the thoughts we voice in our heads come from somewhere else, and possibly somewhere else that means us ill will?
I’ve noticed it with me. I started to pick out the differences between thoughts that came from my mom or dad, thoughts that I know come from me, thoughts I know are memories from things I recall from scripture, and…thoughts that are just nasty, that I’d assumed were me. The thoughts I quoted above: “Look at yourself, you’re pathetic. You can’t do anything right. All the talent in the world and you do absolutely nothing. What will people say and think about you?”
So this is indeed a form of cognitive reconditioning, where you retrain your mind what to think and focus on. And it uses as its foundation scripture, which is also used to correct errors in the metanarrative you’ve crafted to live your life by. The grounding for truth is in scripture and what the Church has taught about who we are as people for 2,000 years – everything else that argues against those truths is, out of default, a lie.
So, over many sessions and much prayer, you call out the lies you’ve internalized and voice the truth in their place, and in the process (as you familiarize yourself with scripture), you do learn the character of Jesus and what he would say to you [and, in effect, does say, if you allow him to speak to you through your own thoughts].
Now, mind you, as I started doing this, and to this day as I still do it, I feel like a boob. A part of me calls the whole thing into question as ridiculous. But that’s Intellectual David who’s too smart for something so seemingly dumb – when I shut him up, this stuff works.
So you call it out, as an example – Lie: God is insensitive and uncaring. Truth: God is kind and compassionate (Psalm 103).
You learn to recognize the lies and stop them in their tracks in your head. And, even when part of you believes the lie, you choose to believe more firmly overall in scripture.
And you eventually get into the specifics, the real hardcore crap, your garbage, as you learn to know what God does say.
Counseling session example:
Me: “God, where the hell were you when I was lost and frightened as a kid? When I panicked and wanted to die? When I begged for you to make the pain stop and you did nothing at all? Where. WERE. YOU?”
Counselor: “What does Jesus say to you? Where was he?”
Me / Christ [after a long pause and through gritted teeth]: “I was right by your side the entire time. I hurt with you; felt everything you felt; cried every tear, never left you, never abandoned you or your heart.”
Me, breaking in: “Then why the hell didn’t you make it stop? Why were you masochistic? I don’t want you to feel my pain, I want you to make it stop. I’m just a boy.”
Counselor: Pause. “What does he say to you?”
Me / Christ [after letting go and crying]: “My son, I carried you through. And I’m so sorry you experienced it, it’s not what I wanted for you. Never what I wanted for you. There is evil in this world, and I know it doesn’t make sense, but know it’s not what I want. I want you to know I love you and will never leave you.”
So it is, through many such instances, that, slowly, the template of my mind changed to reject the lies I’d unwittingly picked up over the years and replace them with the truths of God’s love for me. And it’s not done, not by a long shot, nor will it ever be fully done, for we continually face hardships and challenges in life.
And slowly my heart began to believe, not just my head, that God loves me. That I’m special to him. I still call it into question a lot more than I’d like to admit, and there is still the nagging thought that likes to creep in the back of my head that it’s all a lie and sham, but I’ve seen enough myself to know we are indeed at war, and I recognize the voice whispering those thoughts.
Jesus said in the Gospel of John that he came to give us life, and to give it abundantly, and that life, just as he said with the Kingdom of God, is here, now. Not “in heaven.” HERE. NOW. As demonstrated over and over in the gospels, Jesus wants to heal the wounded, physically and emotionally.
And the thing is, the condemnation I gave myself from my imaginary jury of peers and people in the world, that I haven’t done what I set out to do, that I haven’t changed the world or made a lot of money or made a name for myself…well, that’s technically true.
I sure haven’t.
I’ve made mistakes. I still make mistakes. I have indeed squandered my talents, not fulfilled my potential to its utmost. I fail, and I fail quite a bit.
But haven’t we all, whether the world sees those things or they remain hidden from public sight?
And, there isn’t condemnation for any of that. Zero. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I fight to believe it, but there’s only one jury whose approval matters, and it consists of One Dude.
And as I trudge through life clinging to him and refusing to let go no matter how many times I fall down and get back up, that’s all that matters, because he told me so. I don’t know why because I don’t understand the true depths of grace, but he’s in love with me as I am, day in and day out. He accepts me.
All I can do is rest in him, fill my heart and head with the only affirmations that truly fulfill (his), learn to take my strength from the indwelling of his spirit, and take one day at a time.
And that, in a very tiny nutshell, dear friends, is how Jesus saved me – and continues to save me anew every day – from myself and from powers that would see my destruction.
And I know, because I know him, that his heart is to do the same for you.
Please reach out to me if you want to talk, if you have any questions, if you need any guidance. You don’t have to agree with me, it’s alright. Just know a person cares.
If you’re interested in some of the more nitty-gritty reasons I believe Christianity, this single post is the best summary I’ve written: Why in the world am I a Christian?
For further recommended Christian readings, I suggest the following that have greatly helped me:
- If you don’t intellectually believe (introductory):
- Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright
- Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
- Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge by Dallas Willard
- If you don’t intellectually believe (hard-core scholarship):
- The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 3 by N.T. Wright
- Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship by Lesslie Newbigin
- Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham
- Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief by Andrew Newberg and Eugene D’Aquili
- Loving to Know: Covenant Epistemology by Esther Lightcap Meek
- If you’re angry at God, yourself, or blah about life:
- Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey
- Where is God When it Hurts? by Philip Yancey
- Totally Forgiving God When it Seems He has Betrayed You by R.T. Kendall
- How to Forgive Ourselves Totally: Begin Again by Breaking Free from Past Mistakes by R.T. Kendall
- Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life by Kathleen Norris
- If you believe even a little bit but need your bearings straightened or to receive affirmation:
- Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive by John Eldredge
- Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
- The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
- To begin your healing:
- The Bondage Breaker: Overcoming Negative Thoughts, Irrational Feelings, Habitual Sins by Neil T. Anderson
- The Steps to Freedom in Christ by Neil T. Anderson
- Healing is a Choice: Ten Decisions that will Transform Your Life and Ten Lies that can Prevent You from Making Them by Stephen Arterburn
- Healing by Francis MacNutt
- Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall
- Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero
- The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
- To grow in your healing, rest and faith:
- Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God by Brennan Manning
- Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard
- Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby
- Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by N.T. Wright
- Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Nee
- The Shack [novel] by William Paul Young
- The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard
- The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
- How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth by Henry Cloud and John Townsend