I often imagine what other people say about what I’m doing and it’s always the people who don’t really like me. I mentally argue with them until I’ve finally proven I’m not who I used to be. I’ll spend hours inside my own head explaining my side of the story and why you need to know I’m not a bad guy and that I’m sorry for the person I was before.
Seriously. Hours. I can’t seem to do a single good thing without the strangling voice of condemnation cutting into my head. It squeezes the value of any good I could do. Even when I win the argument in my angry fantasies, I’m not at peace; I’m more mad than when I started. It’s terribly exhausting.
When someone aims a harmless joke at me, I repeat that phrase in my head over and over, rotating it like a dirty jewel that has locked up my freedom. It’s a joke, right? There’s not truth in every joke, is there?
It’s worse when it’s actual discouragement.
Actual things people have said to me:
“You’re just ugly.”
“I’ve lost all respect for you.”
“You’re beyond repair.”
“All this God-stuff can’t change you.”
“I know who you really are.”
“Obviously you hate children.”
“You’re a lazy arrogant self-promoter.”
“You’re just a nobody pastor. You’ll never make it.”
I imagine a room full of these people laughing at me, shaking their heads saying, “I always knew something was wrong with him.” It keeps me up at night. I wake up to it in the mirror. I get a glimpse of how Jesus was humiliated, rejected, abandoned, and cast aside.
Sometimes I write a secret arrow aimed at the mean people and I hope they feel rebuked and convicted and the next time they see me they’re so, so sorry. Most likely they’re hardly thinking of me, except when they do, which is less than the loop in my head.
Life can feel like a constant game of compensation and always apologizing for the past and there’s this paranoia that I’m always doing something wrong, that life will pay me back, that others will misinterpret me no matter what I do.
At this point, I wish I could tell you that God loves me and Opinions don’t matter and My value is in Christ alone. These are concepts I preach and teach and write, and indeed I do believe them.
But — I’m still human, and this struggle is still horrible. I’ve only followed Christ for less than a third of my life, and I’ve done so many disgusting things. It haunts me. Those small town opinions, even exaggerated, never really stop. To this day, people still can’t believe I’m a Christian, much less a pastor.
I have no bowtie to wrap this up. Often I end with hope or something, but not this time. This is a season now where I’m fully at the worst of self-condemnation, and as much as I bring it to God and as much as I know He is loving, it’s still a throbbing hammer in my skull chipping away at a fragile fallen heart. I don’t say this to garner pity. I say this to ask for prayers.
I also write this because: Right now, many of us do NOT give a fair chance to someone who is trying to rise above their mess.
We pre-judge people with unfair expectations. We do not apply the Gospel to others. In church we say our love is “unconditional” but I have almost never known this to be true. We have grading categories for people who appear a certain level of maturity, but we avoid the slobbering stranger who is begging for mercy. We destroy the guy with sloppy theology or the young lady who dresses differently or the blogger who says disagreeable things but who I’m actually just jealous of. Our “love” is abominably conditional.
Please don’t do this. Don’t do this. You don’t know the damage you’re doing when you casually talk garbage about people. You are suckerpunching the sovereign work of God. You are throwing death into the air. God forgive me, I’ve done it too, and I only hope God has grace for us when we open our mouths to speak poison over others. God have mercy on my filthy, flippant lips.
The reason I love hurt people so much is because I know what it is to hurt. I know what it is to be abused, neglected, torn down, beat up — a victim of racism, class, appearance, and small town culture. People tell me to stay away from certain kinds of people, but I can’t. I refuse. I weep the most over broken souls. They need grace too, the same way that God showed me grace when I was completely unlovable. God was there for me when everyone else counted me out. If in some small way I can reflect God’s heart to another human being, I will do that. Dang it, I will die doing just that.
Have grace, not just for the people you like: but for the people who are unlike you. Jesus loved people who were nothing like him, and those people who were nothing like him loved him. God is for you, for me, for them. For us.
Love you all. Thanks for your prayers.