The Voice of Self-Condemnation: Mental Arguments and The Encroaching Chokehold of Small Town Opinions


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.

— J.S.

16 thoughts on “The Voice of Self-Condemnation: Mental Arguments and The Encroaching Chokehold of Small Town Opinions

  1. JS, this is more than just being human. It’s being human in the community of the species. It’s about how gossip brutalizes others and jealousy pollutes us. It’s about how culture and social norms override Jesus and the cross. It’s about big words around love, describing only an emotion rather than the divine command to respect, sacrifice and practice compassion. The universal struggle that Paul admitted to under Paraclete, that he didn’t always do the right thing, comes to mind. It’s about how we refuse to believe in God’s forgiveness and keep dragging forgiven sins around on our back. And about reconciling, going to those we’ve harmed and making moves to fix the matter. You reveal how we live life based on personal opinion and convenience and reduce Calvary into an entertaining movie that we can cry about, but do nothing about.
    I am dragged to grief after reading what you wrote and living this comment. May we never lose that sense of grief as long as we are in the flesh, but may it move us into our journey of true spirituality from Calvary to Heaven.
    The more I dwell on what you wrote the more compelled I am to weep that the Body of Christ dwells in brick and mortar behind structures and doctrine, and never gets into the world to feed, clothe, nourish and visit those outside the accepted circle, how the Body avoids the running sores and putrid context people call home and the dirty feet that we should wash instead of plugging our noses.
    As hopeless as this sounds I rejoice that God cares even more than I do, keeps calling Followers to serve to death the least of those in the Realm of God. Faith, hope and love abide – a package deal I choose to live.
    I hope…
    Peace, dear Brother in the Faith


    1. Thank you so much for your kind insight.
      I still can’t help but feel I’m “self-victimizing” to get attention or something, which is easy to do. I’m really not into the self-pity thing but this is all I could muster.
      I appreciate you very much and your constant dialogue here. You always bring up thoughts I haven’t thought of before, and I can tell you’re a genuinely compassionate brother. Thank you again.


  2. Well, Pastor, I just don’t think you have been hard enough on yourself here. Why don’t you beat your head against every wall until it hurts so bad you won’t care! Once you do that maybe you will realize you are just like the rest of us. I AM KIDDING YOU KNOW! However, I use to get into more mind-fights with everyone who crossed me, attacked me, accused me, hurt me etc. etc. etc. It does no good and usually those conversations are lost in translation somewhere in bad vocabulary land. God stops me now and told me he doesn’t like that. He also doesn’t want us to put down his creation.

    In the areas of horrible things we have all done, he is the most forgiving. He beat me to it when I couldn’t forgive myself.

    Now to proceed to the elements of your blogs which have inspired many, including myself to change. And I thought before I read some of your posts I was a “pretty good follower of Jesus” until the Holy Spirit convicted me through your words. This is not withstanding your fantastic “wordsmith” productions of drama, action, hope, peace but most of all, Love.

    Please don’t ever stop writing or preaching. God has anointed you to reach many that most of us will never be able to. And while you are doing that, realize for those of us trying to get somewhere with God, you have touched us to pursue that goal even more.

    Anyone and everyone who reads your testimony, or your posts are not the same afterwards. And I mean that in only positive ways.


    1. Cathy, thank you so much. I laughed at your opening. Like I said earlier, I don’t mean to fish for sympathy at all. It’s hard to draw that line between being honest and being whiney, but you know: some days just need venting.
      I pray God can continue to work through broken and empty vessels like myself, like you and me. Even this low to the ground, I’m still swinging.


  3. Glad I am not alone in feeling like this. No you are not victimizing yourself. It is your journey out of that orphan spirit that satan is so good at tricking us with. I believe you are on an accelerated path of growth to be a voice in who God really is and who we really are and how we are supposed to be. He is using you to untwist wrong interpretations of His Word. The Word is a person and it is Jesus Christ and we have gotten Grace and Love wrong. We have reduced it to what we can understand. The Father loves it when we get “real” before Him. It is from there that He can lead us into the Truth and all He has for us. Your destiny is to rise out of that orphan spirit and mindset and walk into freedom to be who God made you to be. He looks at you and is totally delighted in who has made you to be! We just need to listen to His voice about us instead of the one who’s been droning into us for years. God calls you son and He wants you to embrace all that that means. It is normal that the more you walk into true freedom, the more you will grieve over those still bound by unseen chains. May His face shine upon you and gracious to you and may you abound in Peace. May Love surround you, and may you walk in the fullness of who He is for you! Amen


    1. Thank you so much — sometimes I do forget about spiritual warfare and that we have an active opposition against us. My guard is not always up in that direction. I absolutely love what you wrote, about getting real and hearing who God has called us to be. You really should quote your own comment somewhere. 🙂


  4. Dear Brother,
    A friend sent this to me and I’m most grateful. I only want to encourage you by saying that what you have written is wonderful evidence of how perfect was and is God’s sovereign plan for the whole of your life. What you have been and are going through is bearing wonderful fruit to Christ’s glory and the good of needy people (of all kinds, including recovering Pharisees like me). May He give you seasons in which you see it and rejoice with unspeakable joy!


  5. Lord Jesus, I ask that You wrap Your arms tightly around this brother until He can’t move and has no choice but to listen to the song You sing over Him. Help JS to see himself through Your eyes.

    I ask that You give him the strength to stand in his armor, to see the battle and where it is coming from. You told me that when I’m hunkered down on my face, getting my butt kicked it’s because You didn’t provide armor for that part of my anatomy. Would You speak this to my brother as well?

    Transform Him by renewing his mind. Strengthen him in the power of Your might.

    In the name of Jesus and by the power of His shed blood, I come against the enemy and his horde, their works and effects. You must leave, or deal with the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Lead JS to lie down in green pastures, and beside still waters. Restore his soul that he may rise again, ready to continue in the battle.

    Above all, Lord, help us all to remember that when we are under attack, it is not because of us, it’s because of You. We are attacked because others see You in us. That’s a high compliment!

    These requests are according to Your will, and so I thank You for hearing my prayer. Your promises are “Yes” and in Christ, “amen.”

    In Jesus’ name, Amen!!!

    Praising Jesus for teaching us how to pray!


  6. This is, so far, my favorite post from you! You’re the only pastor I could relate to so much, and I’m really glad that you’re around. It’s incredibly admirable that you’re well-grounded on loving all people. Like Hosea’s love for Gomer, being a picture of God’s love. I’ve heard numerous preachers saying we should stay away from negative people who are bad for us, but so sad that we really don’t understand that and it’s been how the world works. But, love, it’s definitely worth it! Blessings and love to you, brother! -Jenro


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