You know what I mean. Probably not out loud, but quietly. What can be silent to others’ ears can be titanically amplified within. Bullhorn in an empty bathroom.
We can berate, scold. Yell, actually. It’s the unwelcome “upsize” of doubting and questioning. But here we’re talking beyond the playground of healthy self-criticism and challenge. Does this sound familiar? Calling yourself stupid for something you’ve done or for even who you are? The problem with voices like that—however boisterous or whispery; whether from someone else or yourself—is that after a while you start to believe them.
It happens too often.
If you want that to change, stop screaming. But sometimes we need some encouragement.
If you’re someone who goes manic negative on yourself, perhaps your u-turn moment is this passage: It’s one of the most famous things Jesus ever said: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (He’s quoting Leviticus 19:18).
But what does that have to do with putting the brakes on screaming at yourself?
Usually we focus on the “love your neighbour” part. But if we follow the logic, it’s also about the “as yourself” part. If you don’t love yourself very well, you’re really not doing anyone any favours by “loving your neighbour” because the example of your self-love stinks. It’s like saying ‘Hey, let me clean your house for you,’ when your own is a cess pool of ripped-open garbage bags and broken windows. If you don’t have a compass for loving yourself, your love for those around you will be corrupted. Not always, but often. You might have a virus. And when that happens, you usually get asked to stay home from school.
This isn’t a warm, fuzzy self-love fest. I’m a disciple of Jesus, meaning that love for others is a serious thing, especially under the unique contours of a blood-stained cross. I’m not talking about the kind of love where we feel warm and cozy as we gaze in the mirror, happy that our friends call from time to time—but, taking seriously that you and I are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), the Lord of beauty and grace. If you keep screaming undeservedly at the Lord’s handiwork, what does that say about your relationship with the One who made you? “Thanks for nothing; what’s your return policy”?
Robert Alter translates the last line of Psalm 138 like this: “Do not let go of Your handiwork.” And he doesn’t.
I think a lot of people who really want to love others well are often those who build the house of their lives on top of a concrete foundation—and that foundation is a healthy confidence in their own belovedness in Jesus. “God made you alive together with him,” as Paul pens in Colossians 2:13. Allen Wheelis puts it this way: “A time comes when one must take up hammer and nails. In building a house the making of blueprints may be delegated to an architect, the construction to a carpenter. In building the house of one’s life or in its remodeling, one may delegate nothing; for the task can be done, if at all, only in the workshop of one’s own mind and heart, in the most intimate rooms of thinking and feeling where one but one’s self has freedom of movement or competence or authority.”
But this is no “rugged individualism.” It’s just taking proactive ownership of you who want to be. It’s just that we’re the minority partner. When I was training for ministry someone came up with a slogan for our T-shirts as a play on the Home Depot slogan, changing it to: “God can do it—We can help!” And that’s key. We need a constant and growing confidence of our own belovedness in Jesus, especially because we are made in the image of the One who set the stars in the constellations, tender heartbeats in babies and atoms everywhere. When we start to do that, it’s funny how the volume starts to go down on screaming at ourselves. And another voice gets louder: ‘Hey voices, shut it.’
At first, it’s hard. Part of the illusion many of us have is that some profound insight all on its own will make us change for the better. But it’s usually physically doing something over and over again which creates attitudinal change. And behavioural change. Repetition and pattern. First spend quality time with your family, and then you will start to value it. First make worship a priority, and then you will start to want and be centred by it. First stop over-spending, then you will start to feel less compelled to need and lust both things and souls who are not you.
What many people don’t realize is that in the pursuit of growth, it is often the strong people who seek out therapists and mentors (not the weak ones); it is often the change-agents who seek out pastors and poets (not the weak ones); it is the courageous who seek out a community of help (not the weak ones). Taking proactive ownership of who you want to be doesn’t mean being a lone soldier. It simply means that you have the wisdom to know you’re not alone, and that others might respect your belovedness too.
I realize there is illness and circumstance which make the self-screaming near impenetrable, plus people and events in the past that are booming. But for many, it’s often that we simply don’t challenge the screams.
If you’re still screaming, perhaps this final word will help.
This past week I re-read the simple-yet-profound classic The Little Prince. So refreshing. He lives on a little planet, so small that there’s only room for one person. It’s so small that he sits in his chair and watches the sun set. But the planet is so miniscule that he can just shuffle his chair forward a few feet, and watch it set again. One day he watched the sun set 44 times. The magic of the Little Prince is that all alone on his planet, he has learned to cultivate a profound love for the simplest things—flowers, questions, routine. It gives him perspective. The awe of a child.
In your life, if you’re that self-defeating person, change 44 screams to 44 reminders of your belovedness. Not because we like to puff ourselves up, but because you are made in the image of God. If you do that, and someone drops by your planet-of-1 to make it a planet-of-2, you’ll most likely have a better time at “loving your neighbour as yourself.”
Why? Because you actually do.