The Grudge - Week Two: As Yourself

Today we are going to be wading into the second installment of the three-part sermon series The Grudge: Letting go of past hurts in order to move forward. 

And we'll be focusing this week on the most difficult person to forgive in your life... yourself.  

I've had the chance to do a lot of introspective work over the past couple of months of quarantining, and I've come to realize that this whole quarantining thing isn't doing wonders for our self esteem. 

I can only use myself as an example, mind you.  But I'm thinking that each of us has our own struggles right now with self-esteem. 

Before all of this started I was going to the gym every day, counting my points on Weight Watchers, and not eating Ben & Jerry's every night. 

And I actually would wear real clothes.  And showered regularly.  

Maybe you resonate with this... 

You walk by a mirror in your house and you catch a glimpse of the person in the reflection, and you realize some things... 

First, for a moment you didn't recognize that person in the mirror and actually thought a stranger had broken into your house to steal your toilet paper, eggs, or the password to your Netflix account. 

And the stranger was wearing dirty sweatpants, a t-shirt with a coffee stain on it, and had some serious morning hair going on even though it's 2:30PM in the afternoon... or 4:30PM... who knows at this point? 

Then you smile at the stranger, a crooked kind of grin that looks maniacal and desperate---the kind of smile that creeps you out, and makes you wish you were somewhere else.  

It's at that point that it dawns on you... that person is you.  

Here's a worse moment---you find yourself walking around the grocery store silently judging all of the people who showed up there wearing yoga pants, sleepwear or like the couple I ran into the other day... dressed in their robes and slippers.  

And then you catch a glimpse of that disheveled stranger in the glass door of the freezer section where the Ben & Jerry's is kept---and it startles you to see them looking back at you, and you think to yourself, "Man, that dude has seriously put on some pounds." 

Now you can try to kid yourself into thinking that your mask adds ten pounds on to your appearance, but you know that dog doesn't hunt.  

Don't even get me started about the first time I stepped on the scale during all of this junk, and the readout on the scale asked me, "Leon?  Is that you?  Where you been?  Dang son, what you been eating?  Ben & Jerry's every night?" 

Anyone else feeling me on any of this? 

It doesn't help when there are people on my Facebook feed who are posting pics of how they are losing weight and staying fit this whole time.  Seriously, people.  Give us a break.  

I had big ideas about all of the things that I was going to accomplish around the house, too.  Some of them got done, to be fair.  

But I have been feeling pretty poor lately about my productivity because I've got friends who are sharing photos of how they built a new wing on their house, renovated their bathroom, organized all of their closets...  

Stop sharing that stuff.  You're making the rest of us feel bad. 

Seriously, though.  One of the many things that I've struggled with during this Corona crisis is the sort of ever-present feeling that I'm not doing enough.  I tend to ignore all of the things that I've been able to do, and focus on the things I've failed to accomplish.  

We all do this, to some extent.  We all quickly internalize negativity.  It's how our brains have been programmed to work, you see.  It takes just a fraction of a second for us to internalize and own negative thoughts about ourselves, and much, much longer to internalize and own what's positive.  

You and I are our own worsts critics.  

Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is ourselves.  

The stories we tell about ourselves are often the harshest and most critical stories we hear.  And what happens to us when we start to believe our own bad press about ourselves?  It tears us up inside.  It leaves us hollow.  It keeps us from being able to truly love others. 

And sometimes it keeps us from letting go of grudges that we need to let go of because we take all of the pain we feel about our perceived inadequacies and we transmit it to others.  

This is what I want us to hold on to today---the one thing that everyone needs to remember even if you forget everything else I say: 

YOU HAVE TO FORGIVE YOURSELF BEFORE YOU CAN TRULY FORGIVE ANYONE ELSE. 

The passage of Scripture we are going to be using as our guide today comes to us from Matthew's Gospel chapter 22:36-40.  It's a passage we've preached on a couple of times this year already in sermons I preached about the vision of our church to Love God and Love Everybody.  

But today we are going to focus on two words in this passage... 

Jesus is confronted by some experts in religious law who are trying to stump him and kind of turn him out as a phony, or otherwise discredit him.  So they come to him and ask: 

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

Here's what I want to focus on in this passage---the two words at the end of verse 39... "As yourself."  "Love your neighbor... as yourself.

These two words are a vital part of what is known as the Great Commandment.  Because if we have no love for ourselves, or we have begun to believe the negative stories we tell about ourselves... how can we possibly love anyone else, really?  

How we love ourselves predicates the way we love and forgive others.  

No matter what you would like to think you believe about the whole Love God, Love Everybody idea, if you have not figured out how to forgive yourself, set yourself free from the negative self-image issues that bind you... you will walk around feeling as though you really don't deserve God's grace. 

Other people, maybe. But not you.  

And when you get to a point where you really start believing that you are not worthy of God's grace, you begin to transmit that pain.  

In other words, you hold on to grudges, you struggle to forgive, you find it easier to live in bitterness than it is to let all of it go, and turn your bitterness into lightness of being, surrender and peace. 

What's at issue here is the conflict that so many of us have between Guilt and Shame.  When we internalize shame... it leaves us feeling broken and unlovable.  

Over the years, I've come to identify a great deal with the Apostle Peter.  Peter was often impetuous, said the wrong things, and got things completely wrong.  He also had moments of pure unadulterated faith and trust, he walked on water, he recognized that Jesus was more than a prophet... 

But he also denied Jesus not once, not twice but three times after Jesus was arrested.  Peter had his fair share of shame after all of this.  Here's the moment that brought it all on according to Luke's Gospel:  

59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”

This is a guy who was ready to go down swinging, to actually die for Jesus.  But then he becomes disappointed, crushed and so he gives up.  And out of fear, or anger, or bitterness he reacts and denies Jesus.  

Imagine how Peter must have felt when he sees Jesus standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, resurrected, cooking breakfast, inviting him to sit and eat.  

Imagine the shame that he was internalizing at that point.  The way he felt about himself.  

And all Jesus does is restore him.  Not once, not twice, but three times.  Showing him clearly that he was worthy, grace was sufficient even for him, and that it was time for him to forgive himself and start moving.  

There is a Psychology of Shame that is incredibly fascinating. 

Even the word "Shame" itself comes fron a Proto-Indo-European word that means "to cover." As in to pull your robe or your hood over your head, to hide your face, to become downcast.  

Shame leads us to endless cycles of internalizing and transmitting.  It's not the same as guilt.  Guilt says "I messed up."  Shame says, "I am messed up."  

But there is more than enough grace to cover even our deepest feelings of shame.  In order for us to become the people God longs for us to be, we need to let go of our shame and forgive ourselves.  We need to be set free of the cycle of internalizing, holding on to grudges against ourselves, and then transmitting that pain and hurt out into the world. 

I was speaking with my counselor the other day and she said something amazing that I've been thinking about ever since.  She told me that I needed to "Parent myself with Compassion."  

This isn't about making excuses for myself, and continuing to wallow in my junk, mind you.  Quite the contrary.  Parenting yourself with compassion means that you acknowledge what you need to own, and you own it.  You don't let yourself off the hook for behavior and attitudes that need to change.  

But you do it with compassion.  And you encourage yourself as you do it.  

So instead of using all kinds of negative self-talk---you change the way you speak of yourself to yourself.  

I want you to hear these words today, and I want you to begin saying them to yourself because these are some of the truest things you will ever hear: 

You are lovable... You are enough... You are capable... You are gifted... You are filled with purpose... 

You are forgive.  It's time to forgive yourself. 

Because you have to forgive yourself before you can truly forgive anyone else. 

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