By Bill Gaultiere, Ph.D. © 2010
Twenty-five years ago when I was studying to become a psychologist I had to practice leading counseling sessions in front of a one-way mirror. Behind the mirror was my professor, who was holding a clipboard to make notes on how well I offered empathy, made interpretations, and was helpful to the client. Huddled around the master counselor was my whole class of graduate students in training. Everyone was watching me!
The client was an 18-year old woman just starting out as a freshman in college. It had to be difficult for her to share her life story and emotional struggle with a “rookie” counselor and to do so in front of a whole class of onlookers! (That was the price she paid for a free therapy session.) But I was so anxious about having my performance scrutinized that I had trouble tuning into her situation – it’s no wonder I didn’t get very good marks from my professor!
When my professor gave me “constructive criticism” in front of the whole class (so they could learn at the same time) it was embarrassing. I felt like an awful therapist. I thought to myself, Who are you kidding? You don’t even know how to show good empathy, let alone guide the counseling session in a helpful way. Why are you wasting the best years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars to get a Ph.D.? Just give it up. Surely, you misunderstood God’s calling on your life and he has something else for you to do.
Self-Condemnation is the Problem
Do you ever criticize yourself like I did? Do you sometimes lapse into self-condemning thoughts that leave you feeling bad about yourself? Do you pressure yourself to do better so you won’t feel inadequate? Many people that talk with me are hard on themselves—not just when they sin, but also when any perceived deficiency is exposed. That’s why its devastating and demoralizing when someone criticizes them—it’s two against none!
Sadly, even the mercy of Christ and the loving affirmations from God that are throughout the Bible are rendered ineffective when we persist with putting harsh judgments and unrealistic expectations on ourselves. We need to learn how to put the Lord on the throne of our mind-–-instead of ourselves or another person––so that his words of love replace our self-condemnations.
Step into a Grace-Based Classroom
I thank God that I didn’t quit studying to become a psychologist because I grew so much and have been blessed to serve as “Christ’s Ambassador” to people who are hurting or struggling. But I did change classrooms: I walked out of the one-way mirror room in which my own internal critic and other people had the power to demoralize me if I didn’t measure up to their standards and I walked into Christ’s classroom in which truth always comes with grace (John 1:14, 17). I’ve learned to live in a grace-based classroom rather than one that is shame-based.
I have found that the grace of God is the refuge I need—it heals me of self-condemnation and sets me free from being afraid of what people think of me. You see, grace is not just “unmerited favor” that solves our sin problem and gets us into heaven when we die; it’s the generous favor of God that we need everyday and will need in heaven too. Grace is God acting with us in our lives to do for us what we can’t do on our own. Grace should be like the air we breathe! Did you know that even if we had never sinned we would still need to rely on God’s grace?
David’s Shield is for You Too!
Praying Psalm 3 has helped me learn to rely on God’s grace like how a soldier in battle relies on his shield. I often recite to myself and meditate on verse three of David’s Psalm: “You are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.” Wow! Those are some words of grace!
King David prayed Psalm 3 at the lowest time of his life. Absalom, David’s own son, slandered him throughout Israel and rallied support from tens of thousands of people to help him kill his father in order overthrow him and replace him as king.
But as a young man and then as an old man David submitted his life to the Sovereign Lord; he refused to kill King Saul or his son Absalom, even though they came after him with armies of soldiers, and he left their fate in God’s hands. So once again David ran for his life and hid in desert caves. He endured many hungry, sleepless nights laying on rocks. And many people lied about him, despised him, and assaulted him. His circumstances were terribly unfair and painful.
Walk by Faith, Not by Sight
Looking at his circumstances David might have said, “The Lord has not been a good shield for me!” Indeed, people who have been mistreated often ask me, “If the Lord is a shield protecting me then why do I still get hurt? If he’s bestowing glory on me the why don’t I feel good about myself?”
Or David might have said, “My problems must be because of my sin. God has needed to punish me.” But that wouldn’t have been true. Indeed many people blame themselves wrongly for particular problems and they end up feeling bad about themselves.
But David had a different response––he didn’t conclude that God was mean or distant or uncaring, nor did be blame and condemn himself. Instead, time and again he proclaimed that the Lord was his shield, his refuge and fortress. And when he did sin he confessed it and clung to the Lord’s mercy, again relying on the Lord as his shield.
David learned to live not by sight but by faith; he didn’t rely on his own natural abilities alone or depend on his visible circumstances, but instead he entrusted himself to the Lord and lived in terms of his invisible kingdom of grace and glory in his midst (2 Corinthians 5:7). Yes, he was in awful circumstances, but more importantly he was in God’s kingdom, immersed in his grace. So David held his head high and he slept soundly at night (Psalm 3:3, 5).
It’s true for you and I too! “You are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:3).
More Soul Shepherding
When you’re struggling with depression it’s hard to get a hold of God’s grace. “Lightposts for the Depressed” offers some key Bible verses that light the path out of depression. For instance, often we need the help of “Christ’s Ambassadors to learn how to receive and metabolize God’s grace.Your tax deductible donation to Soul Shepherding supports this website and enables us to provide counseling and spiritual guidance to the pastors, pastors’ wives, missionaries, and leaders who care for others. Ministry leaders experience tremendous stress and often cannot afford the help that they need.
Bill Gaultiere, Ph.D. & Kristi Gaultiere, Psy.D. ~ http://www.soulshepherding.org