Thoughts on Judgement

“He (Paul) cares very little if he is judged by the Corinthians or by any human court. And then he goes one step further: He will not even judge himself. It’s as if he says, ‘I don’t care what you think— but but I don’t care what I think. I have a very low opinion of your opinion of me—but I have a very low opinion of my opinion of me.'”

-Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

As someone who wrestles with social anxiety, I have a strong fear of judgement.  As a result, I find myself doing everything I can to avoid the judgement of people. I often adjust myself to meet the expectations of others. I carefully select the parts of myself that I think will be acceptable to them. And in the process I lose sight of simply being the authentic person God has created me to be.

God has also been showing me the danger of judging myself. I can be my own worst critic. It is so natural for me to dwell on the things that I don’t like about myself. My inner critic reminds me of all the places where I fall short. And in the process I lose sight of the person that God is shaping me to be. I focus on the flaws in who I currently am, not on the whole and healed person that I am becoming.

As a result, I loved this quote by Timothy Keller. What a hopeful thought! God desires for me to be free not only from the opinion of man, but also from my opinion of myself.

People aren’t my judge.

I am not my judge.

God alone is my judge.

And He loves me unconditionally.

Since Jesus received all judgement on the cross, I am free from the judgement of man. And I am free from my own self-judgement.

I wanted to close this post with a song by Andrew Peterson. He is such a kindred spirit and I love his honest and authentic song-writing. This song has ministered to me numerous times when I’ve felt tempted to judge and condemn myself. I hope it speaks to you.

Be Kind To Yourself: Andrew Peterson

My Shepherd

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters.”

-Psalm 23: 1 and 2

Recently the Lord asked me to give up my vigilance. I’ve realized that vigilance has been a driving force in my life and a central root of my anxiety.

I am always aware of things that could go wrong. As a result, I tend to operate from a state of constant vigilance, trying to foresee potential problems and then doing whatever I can to avoid them.

I’ve noticed that vigilance affects my relationships. Instead of truly enjoying the moment with people, I often find myself on edge. I over-analyze situations, trying to identify all of the possible outcomes. And I waste so much energy trying to avoid the disapproval of others.

Sadly my vigilance causes me to miss out on joy. When I’m always waiting for the other shoe drop, I miss out on the beauty that is happening right now in the present moment.

I’m learning that God doesn’t call me to live a life of vigilance. I’ve always loved Psalm 23 and the simple but powerful picture of God as my Shepherd.

I am not my shepherd. He is.

What a freeing perspective.

It’s the Shepherd’s job be vigilant and watchful on behalf of the sheep.

As the sheep, I am simply called to rest at peace in my Shepherd’s care.

I will still face problems and challenges. However, I don’t need to fear them.

If I truly trust that my Shepherd is guiding my life and has my best interest in mind, I can release control.

I can let go of my hyper-vigilance and trust that God is vigilant on my behalf.

And I can truly rest.

The Power of Remembrance

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all of your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” -Psalm 77:11

One of the greatest themes that I’ve noticed in the Bible is the importance of remembrance. All throughout the Scriptures, God calls His people to remember His goodness.

In the book of Leviticus, God appointed weekly and yearly rhythms of remembrance for the people of Israel. For example, the Sabbath was a weekly rhythm to remember how God rested on the seventh day. The Passover was a yearly rhythm to remember how God delivered the Israelites from Egypt.

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the Israelites regularly created altars of remembrance to commemorate God’s miraculous works. For example, in Joshua 4, they stacked 12 stones in remembrance of how God miraculously parted the Jordan river and let them cross on dry land.

All throughout the Psalms, David and other writers meditated on the works and wonders of God. They called the reader to remember God’s past faithfulness and dwell on His goodness.

Most poignantly, at the Last Supper, Jesus invited His followers to take the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him.

It’s clear that God calls His followers to be a people marked by remembrance.

There is so much power in remembering God’s goodness.

And there is so much danger in forgetting.

The Israelites repeatedly forgot the Lord and His goodness to them. They cycled through seasons of faithful remembrance and seasons of forgetfulness. When they forgot God, they became captives to idolatry and oppression.

“They did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by His law. They forgot what He had done, and the wonders He had shown them. They did not remember His power— the day He redeemed them from the oppressor.”

-Psalm 78: 10, 11, and 42 

Oh, how I see my own heart reflected in the story of Israel. I am so quick to forget all that God has done for me. And forgetting God’s goodness makes me vulnerable to the schemes of the Enemy.

I’ve noticed that I’m most vulnerable to anxiety when I focus my attention on disappointment and pain. When I dwell on all that seems wrong in my life, the Enemy attacks me with doubt, self-pity, and fear.

However, the opposite happens when I dwell on God’s goodness in my life. I notice the ways that He has been guiding and sustaining my life since the day I was born. I remember the difficult seasons He has carried me through and the growth that He done in my heart. I am struck by the deep and meaningful relationships He has provided in different seasons of my life. And most of all, I remember the way He has unconditionally loved me and forgiven my sins.

Now this doesn’t mean that I ignore the pain and disappointments in my life. However, I don’t dwell in them alone. Instead, I invite God’s interpretation of the painful events I experience. I ask Him to show me the ways that He is acting redemptively in my life, bringing good out of what the Enemy intended for evil.

I want to share several practices that help me to dwell on God’s goodness.

Daily Gratitude: I know I wrote about this in an earlier post, but it’s worth mentioning again. Gratitude is a powerful weapon against anxiety and self pity. At the close of each day,  I like to take inventory of the day and ask God to reveal His goodness and grace to me. This can include very small moments like the grace to handle a difficult conversation, energy when I felt weak, or the beautiful, misty morning as I drove to work. Looking for God’s fingerprints in the small things enables me to see the larger patterns of His goodness in my life.

Reading old journals: Every year or so, I read back through my journals. Each time I am struck by the ways that God has been so faithful in my life. I remember times when I felt lost and afraid, but God was actually at work in ways that I couldn’t see at the time. I am struck by how God repeatedly used painful situations to draw me into deeper intimacy with Him. Reflecting on old journals gives me fresh perspective on current circumstances and renews my hope for the future.

Writing a psalm: A mentor of mine gave me this idea. She encouraged me to take Psalm 136 and re-write it about my own life, following each example of God’s goodness with the phrase “His love endures forever.” My psalm started as follows:

God knit me together in my mother’s womb.

His love endures forever.

God blessed me with dear parents who love and serve Him.

His love endures forever…

I found that writing out chronological acts of God’s goodness helped me to better see His hand in my life.

Creating my own altar of remembrance: This is another idea from the same mentor. She suggested drawing my own altar of remembrance (like the Israelite people did in Joshua 4). In each stone, I wrote a specific way that God has been faithful in my life. I’ve found this visual to be a powerful reminder of the way God’s faithfulness builds upon itself in my life.

Especially in dark seasons, I notice my human tendency to focus on all that seems wrong in my life. However, I know that I don’t need to stay stuck there.

Even in the most challenging times, God invites me to re-frame my perspective.

He invites me to remember who He is and what He has done.

I don’t want to ever forget.

Breaking Agreements

Recently I listened to a couple of podcasts by John Eldredge and his friend Allen Arnold from the Ransomed Heart ministry. I was so impacted by these ideas and highly recommend the podcast, especially if you are seeking inner healing in your life. You can listen to the two-part episode here:

The Ransomed Heart Podcast: Agreements Part 1

The Ransomed Heart Podcast: Agreements Part 2

In these podcasts, John Eldredge suggests that agreements are essentially the ways that we interpret reality. They are often made in times of pain when we allow the Enemy to speak lies about our circumstances.  These agreements shape the way we view ourselves, our relationships with others, and even our perception of God.

Just a few examples of agreements might be:

I  will never belong.

I am always forgotten. 

I am not enough. 

I always get disappointed.

I must perform perfectly in order to be loved. 

I always get left behind. 

I will never be able to forgive.

God is working good in other people’s lives, but not in my life. 

In this podcast, John Eldredge warns about the power of agreements. He suggests that the more we start to believe agreements, the more they actually shape our reality.

God has really been challenging me to consider the agreements that I have made, specifically in regards to my anxiety. I think that at the root of my social anxiety are agreements about how I relate to others and the way I fit into groups of people.

My biggest takeaway from this podcast was the importance of interpretation. John Eldredge suggests that when we go through painful circumstances it’s important that we don’t passively accept the Enemy’s interpretation of our circumstances. Rather we must ask for God’s interpretation.

For example, when I experience a rejection in my life, be it big or small, I need to refuse the Enemy’s interpretation. He wants to tell me that I always will be rejected because I’m not enough. Instead, I need to ask God for His interpretation. He faithfully reminds me that I am His child and that He will never leave me or forsake me.

Or let’s say that I feel excluded from a group of people. The Enemy wants to interpret that moment with the lie that I will never belong. When I ask for God’s interpretation, He reminds me that I belong to His family and that I have a place with Him and in the Body of Christ.

Agreements can be so powerful and detrimental. But there is also so much power in breaking them!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you experienced the destructive power of agreements in your life? What tools have helped you break free from lies and embrace the truth?

The Power of Truth

“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:32

I am convinced that at the root of every anxiety is a lie. Lies are so powerful because they keep me in bondage. They tempt me to doubt who God is and what He says about me.

I find that especially when I’m tired or physically weak, the lies of the Enemy have more power in my life. During these times I need to be especially alert and aware of potentially dangerous thoughts that so easily creep into my mind.

I fear that God isn’t trustworthy.

I’m temped to believe that life is a series of disappointments and losses.

I question if this world is all there is.

I feel a need to manipulate and control situations in order to be safe.

I fear that I’m not enough.

I am convinced that I need to do more to earn the love of God.

I feel pressure to perform perfectly in order to be accepted.

It’s so easy to accept these lies from the enemy and allow them to take residence in my mind.

However, I also know from personal experience that the truth conquers every lie. The truth sets me free and brings light to every dark corner of my mind.

God brings the truth into my life in so many different ways— through His Word, a friend or mentor’s encouragement, an uplifting sermon or book, words prayed over me, or simply through time in the quiet listening to His voice. In these times I remember who God is and what He says about me.

I remember that God is trustworthy even when situations seem hopeless.

I am convinced that God is using every disappointment and loss to draw me closer to His heart.

I remember that the life I prize is coming. One day all things will be restored.

I know that I am safe simply resting in my Father’s love.

I am confident that I am more than enough.

I realize that there is nothing I could ever do to make God love me any more or any less.

I recognize that the opinion of man is insignificant compared to how God sees me.

Recently I started keeping a journal of the words and promises God has spoken to me. This includes Bible passages that have ministered to me, words and prayers that people have spoken over me, ideas from sermons and books that have resonated with my heart, and words that God has spoken to me during times of solitude. I try to read this list each morning when I wake up and each night before I go to bed. I can’t tell you how powerful this practice has been in reshaping my thought life.

Little by little, these truths are starting to seep into the deepest parts of my heart.

And the lies that have become ingrained in my mind have no choice but to flee.

The Fear of Man

“The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.”

-Proverbs 29:25 

I have become convinced that the fear of man is one of the deepest roots of my social anxiety. I think that to some extent everyone struggles with a fear of man. It’s just a natural part of being human. However, for people who battle social anxiety, the fear of man can be especially intense. People with social anxiety have a heightened awareness of how people perceive them. They are especially sensitive to how their presentation is affecting others and spend a lot of time analyzing what people think about them.

In the past couple of years, God has showed me that the fear of man truly is a snare in my life.

The fear of man keeps me silent when God calls me to speak up. 

It causes me to hide my unique gifts and abilities rather than offering them to the world. 

The fear of man keeps me from acting until I have everything perfectly planned out.

It causes me to hide my weaknesses rather than practicing authenticity and vulnerability with the people in my life.

If the fear of man is such a snare, how do we stop caring so much about what people think?

One of my favorite children’s books beautifully illustrates the solution.

In the book You are Special by Max Lucado, a town of wooden people called Wemmicks judge their friends by placing star and dot stickers on one another. Stars are given to the Wemmicks who are beautiful, successful, and talented while dots are given to the ugly, awkward, or untalented Wemmicks. In this story, a young Wemmick named Punchinello receives only dots. One day he meets Lucia, a Wemmick who has no dots or stars because they have simply stopped sticking to her. When Punchinello asks Lucia for her secret, she encourages him to go to the woodcarver’s shop and talk to Eli their maker. Punchinello goes to see Eli and is reminded that Eli loves him simply because he made him and that Eli’s opinion is all that matters.

You can watch a YouTube reading of the story here:

I can’t tell you how much this simple children’s story has impacted my life. I can so relate to Punchinello. Living in an externals-focused society, it’s amazing how many stars and dots I accumulate throughout the day.

I get a “like” on social media…there’s a star. I receive a word of criticism from my boss…there’s a dot. Someone compliments my haircut…there’s another star. I feel excluded from a conversation…yet another dot. Someone praises my performance at work…another star. Gossip spreads about something embarrassing in my life…another dot.

Like Punchinello, I’m learning that the only way to truly stop caring about what people think is to spend intentional time in God’s presence. In the quiet place I remember who I am and who God is.

During these times I’ll ask the Lord some simple questions and then listen for his answers. Some questions to ask the Lord are:

What do you say about me?

How do you see me?

What do you want me to do today?

How can I please you today?

The more I spend time in Jesus’ presence, the more that His opinion of me becomes what truly matters.

And the opinions of man start to fade away.

Made New

“At the renewal of all things, our hearts are going to be free from grief. The joy of this will far surpass our physical relief. Think of it— if God would offer today to remove from you just one of your greatest sources of internal pain, what would you ask him to remove? And if all your brokenness were finally and completely healed, and your sin removed from you as far as the east is from the west— what will you no longer face? What will you finally be?”

-John Eldredge, All Things New

I just love this quote. In his book All Things New (highly recommend!), author John Eldredge writes about the hope we have that one day all things will be made new. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. More specifically, though, he writes about how humanity will one day be restored and no longer affected by sin.

This thought has profoundly impacted me. Especially when I get caught up in the day to day struggles of my life, I need to remember the future hope that I have in Jesus. I’m not destined to forever struggle with social anxiety. In fact, social anxiety and all of its many causes won’t even exist in the new heaven and new earth.

It is so encouraging to think about the people that we will one day be. 

We will no longer have broken relationships. All of our relationships will be fully restored and healed.

We will no longer experience rejection. We will finally feel deeply accepted by God and by others.

We will no longer feel a need to prove ourselves as good enough. Instead, we will be fully secure in the love of God and one another.

And we will no longer experience fear and doubt. We will live with a deep sense of peace and certainty that no one can take away from us.

Our hearts crave hope like nothing else. Especially in seasons of anxiety, I need to remember the hope that I already have and that will one day be fully realized.

God is making all things new.

He is making me new.

This promise starts now and will last forever.