I used to be besieged with self-condemnation, but I’ve found great freedom. Most people I talk to struggle with feeling bad about themselves at times. Probably you relate.
The painful cycle of self-condemnation goes like this: you see one of your weaknesses or faults (sometimes in comparison to someone else’s positive quality) and then you start to slide down into discouragement, self-attack, depression, and shame.
The wisdom of our world is to “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” and try harder to do better. It doesn’t work and for the brief periods when it seems to work it only leads to an inflated ego and ultimately reinforces the shame cycle.
God is Ready to Help you Rise Again
We can learn not to be discouraged by our deficiencies. One of my favorite Proverbs says: “The righteous one falls seven times and rises again, but the foolish fall and do not get back up.” (24:16)
In the Bible seven is the number of perfection and so this bit of inspired wisdom is emphasizing that spiritual formation in godliness is a process that takes time. The Lord is saying to us: “When you fall down I reach down to help you back on your feet. Be patient with yourself — it takes time to learn to walk in perfect wisdom. Just be sure to keep looking to me and my hand of mercy, lest you fall down and stay stuck.”
Look to Jesus’ Gracious Smile
The way to not be discouraged by your faults is to look to the warm and wonderful face of Christ. As soon as you realize your problem or sin turn your thoughts to Jesus until your heart be warmed by the glow from his loving smile. Sometimes you’ll find that you need a safe, person in the Body of Christ to confess your fault to, someone who will minister God’s grace to you. (James 5:16)
When we keep disparaging ourselves for our weakness or unattractiveness we’re giving ourselves over to pride; we want to be better than we are, to be approved of and even admired, and so we’re punishing ourselves for not measuring up. The answer to the same cycle is to worship God and Jesus, to step out of the small kingdom of self and into the spacious Kingdom of God.
I’ve been gleaning from the writings of Francois Fenelon, the 17th Century French master of devotion to Christ. Here’s an excerpt on not being discouraged by your faults from his book Talking With God:
Francois Fenelon’s Words on Not Being Discouraged by Your Faults
Little faults become great and even monstrous in our eyes, to the extent that we increase in the pure light of God. Just as the rising sun reveals the true size of objects that were seen dimly during the night, the increase of inward light will show our imperfections to be far greater and more deadly in their roots than we had thought them…
Nothing so decidedly marks the solid progress of a soul as being able to view its own depravity without being disturbed or discouraged…
Let us remember, for our consolation, that becoming aware of our disease is the first step in its cure. When we have no sense of our need, we have no curative principle within us…
Discouragement is not the fruit of humility, but of pride. Nothing can be worse. Suppose we have stumbled, or even fallen. Let us rise and run again. All our falls are useful if they strip us of a disastrous confidence in ourselves, while they do not take away a humble and saving trust in God…
Carefully purify your conscience, then, from daily faults. Allow no sin to dwell in your heart. Small as a sin may seem, it obscures and dims the light of grace, weighs down the soul, and hinders the constant communion with Jesus Christ that it should be your pleasure to cultivate… A pure soul… that is humbled and rises promptly after it’s smallest faults, remains fervent and upright.
God never makes us aware of our weakness except to give us his strength.