Steve's Story: Self Hatred
Excerpt from Rescued from Hell, Chapter 7: Journey to Healing
The hardest person of all to forgive is the one who has caused the deepest and most enduring injury and pain. In my life that was me. No one else even came close to the damage levels I had initiated. What made things worse was that I was still the source of my own undoing by a steady stream of sins, stupidities and weaknesses. There was no end in sight! It was as if God wanted to teach me how to "love the sinner and hate the sin" by assigning me to myself as the worst scoundrel in Christendom. I would have to learn how to love and forgive myself. Me, the would-be lover of Jesus and Christian saint, was joined at the hip with me, the sorry sinner. "Stevie Wonder" was still wrecking my life! This greatly reinforced the warrant I had issued against myself as Public Enemy Number One during those ten years in hell. With each new transgression I bound myself with fresh chains: self-hatred was the jailor. I despaired of ever getting any better.
I had no idea what a blessing this was! Until we lose all hope for finding refuge and rescue through Self, we do not fully turn to Jesus and cast all our hope on Him alone. We keep trying to get Self - that false god - to work for us, and Self will never be a sufficient savior for anyone's life. What tripped me up was that I thought I had fully done this the night I asked Him to be my Savior. Indeed, I was delighted to know that He was not only saving me from my hell, but also from the true hell; He was saving me for eternity in heaven as well. How good is that? I had once been blind, but now I could see the Light. What I didn't see was how I had become blinded by that Light into thinking I had surrendered all to Jesus. In reality I was feverishly trying to get Self (myself), rather than Jesus, to save me in countless other ways. In His wisdom God had to allow Self to keep crashing to the ground, otherwise I would have all too willingly and unwittingly built my life around the counterfeit trinity: me, myself and I.
Not having the benefit of any of this more seasoned perspective, I was scared witless that my repeated failures would eventually bring great Wrath upon me. But truth be known, I was terrified at the thought of even minor wrath. I couldn't bear the idea that I was using up my allotment of grace and that this God would eventually realize that I was a hopeless case, casting me aside just as the other god had. So I redoubled my efforts which only increased my failures! Years down the road, the words of Francois Fenelon came to me like a cool breeze blowing through my desert, "Expect nothing of yourself, but all things of God. Knowledge of one's own hopeless, incorrigible weaknesses combined with confidence in God's power are the true foundations of the spiritual life" (Spiritual Letters to Women). God was building the foundation, but it sure didn't look like it at the time. All I could see was the ruin of Self.
Old habits are hard to change. Since I was so "unfixable," hating myself had become deeply ingrained as the obvious answer to the problem of me being me. I never questioned this mental habit and it reigned supreme. Unlike our fears, I have noticed that the Lord doesn't always go directly at a stronghold - our mental blocks are too well-fortified against rational argument - but undermines them in order to bring them down or distracts us in order to gain entry. He came at me sideways. He recruited me quite easily into a program of seeking to become judgment-free with everyone I met. I had seen how He loves and accepts people just as they are and I wanted to be like that. After a year or so of this training, He tapped me on the shoulder one day and said, You know how you've been trying to show unconditional acceptance to people I bring you for ministry? "Yeah, I'm glad you noticed. So, You think I'm doing OK?" I'd like you to be that way with yourself. "What? How can I? Really? You mean I could?" This was divine permission to treat myself as I was trying to treat others, a graceful inversion of the Golden Rule. The "sneaky" God had worked around me!
I really liked the idea once I got hold of it, but changing this habit was like trying to stop a speeding locomotive on a downhill run. Then there was shock therapy. One time He played back to me a mental soundtrack of how I had actually been talking to myself - berating myself in my thoughts in ways I would never have dreamed of speaking out loud to others. That jolted me into a fair bit of recognition. He also gave me a vision in which I was holding a replica of myself: my left arm gripping my back and shoulders and with my right hand just pounding away on my face. While I was doing this I was looking up to God and saying, "See? You don't have to punish me. I'm doing it for you!" These "reality checks" truly startled me and helped me see truth. Truth, however, is sometimes like a mountain in the distance. Once you see it, you might decide to climb it, but it still takes a long time and a lot of effort to get to the top.
One of the foothills along the way to climbing that mountain came about ten years into my walk. I had been having trouble with something I called the "Bear Trap." It had been in me all along, but it wasn't until seminary that I was actually able to separate it from all the other stuff, to identify it as a specific problem and give it a name. Identifying and naming problems helps you manage them without the panic of not knowing what in blazes is going on. It also helps you explain it to someone else. At one point I was explaining the "Bear Trap" to a Christian psychologist I had been seeing for a year. I told him that there was something going on inside me that felt exactly like my entire chest and guts would get caught by an emotional bear trap whenever I did something wrong real or imagined, and that it would take days before I could get free of the intense pain. After the pain passed, that freedom would only last for a day at the most before something else triggered the emotional mechanism. He told me I would have to learn to live with it.
I went for a second opinion. In only one morning of ministry, Don and Ann Block of Jacksonville, Florida, very quickly identified the root problems as inner vows and bitter judgments that I had made against myself during the years in hell. All of the self-cursing from those days had to be repented and renounced. They broke the curse, and the Bear Trap was cast off. It has never returned! As I rode home to Savannah that afternoon the Lord provided the most spectacular, longest lasting rainbow I have ever seen stretching over the exact direction I was traveling. I thought that meant I was in the homestretch in terms of my healing - wishful thinking. It turned out that there would be another ten years to the journey, and I was only halfway home. I'm very sure, however, that the rainbow meant Jesus was rejoicing with me that the big, bad Bear Trap was dead.
Another major foothill then appeared on the horizon. I was reading books on healing and learning a lot about the power of words and of our inner beliefs. You would think that the words beaten into a child by an unloving person would be words he/she would throw off as quickly as possible. Sadly, this is not the case. Children take things to heart, especially if a parent speaks them. Just as deadly, they can add their own words or wrong interpretive conclusions: "There must be something wrong with me, look how I'm being treated; No one loves me; I should never have been born." In all of this there is an invisible enemy secretly "fathering" us by planting his twisted words, though they are disguised as our own thoughts. With me it wasn't words from my earliest years that got stuck inside, but words from those years in hell. The trick is catching these little foxes that spoil the vine - they are so ingrained they go unnoticed and unquestioned, like the pattern of the wood that may be in the reading table beside you. One night I intentionally hunkered down near the most hurting place in my heart and despite my tears was listening for whatever I might hear. A tiny little voice seemed to be crying, "No one could love me. I can't be loved. I can't love me." Aha! I've got you! I exclaimed as I seized that thought and carried it captive to Christ. It took some doing because so much of me was in emotional agreement with those ideas, but I managed to fully and deeply renounce them as not being true and instead chose to believe that I could be loved and am loved now that Jesus is in my life. This breakthrough needed to happen or I could never have advanced to the mountain I really wanted to climb, the one that held the towering perspective of seeing myself as God sees me - with unconditional acceptance.
About a year or so later I was nearing the summit but didn't know it. It can be like that in the mountains if you get caught in a whiteout from fog or cloud - you lose your sense of perspective and position. In the spiritual life clouds represent God (they float down from heaven); fog represents confusion (it rises up from the earth). The first Mystery delights us; the second thwarts us. I often don't know which is which when my vision is reduced. You just have to grope your way along and try not to lose your footing. This particular night - as so often happened, I was caught in a tight crevasse between the proverbial rock and the hard place. I had come down very hard on myself about something and had begun actively hating myself, but I knew that my Rock didn't want me being that way.
Searching in the Spirit for a handhold on some kind of truth that would help me climb out, I said to myself at last, "OK, I'll forgive you once more, but you just better not mess up again." I don't want you doing it that way - that's conditional forgiveness. "It's the best I can do," I quickly retorted, but His words forced me to realize that this was all I had ever done: let myself operate on the impossible condition that I had better never goof up again or else. "What more can I do? I never get any better! It is so frustrating!" Forgive yourself once and for all totally without conditions as a gift to Me. Then I want you to confess from your heart that it's a great, good thing to be you. I lost it. Abraham's Sarah once laughed at something God said. I laughed too, but it wasn't a pretty laugh like Sarah's; , I then fired back, "How can that possibly be true? Here I am still carrying so much pain from the past, still dealing with so much wreck and ruin, still so far from entering into my real calling, still so completely messed up. And I'm not getting any younger!"
Sometimes God has to read you the riot act. There really was a Riot Act in pre-Victorian England, which officials would read to unruly crowds before dismissing them from soccer matches that ended in brawls or political rallies that smacked of rebellion. In my rebellion, I was close to brawling with God. He, on the other hand, was reciting to me with the patience of a true Father a list of reasons from His perspective: It's a great, good thing to be you, because I will always be forgiving you and loving you no matter how badly you are doing, I will never reject you or forsake you, I am eager to save you and come whenever you call, I am always making good plans for you, and I am totally committed to bringing good out of anything you mess up or any evil done to you. Silence. A very big piece fell softly into place. "Well, since you put it like that, I have to say that it really is a great, good thing to be me, but only because I have you for my God!" Just like that I came out of years of self-hatred and into unspeakable joy, filled full with glory. Self had finally been overthrown! It really is a great, good thing to be the one He loves, even if it means being me just as I am or you just as you are.
It didn't last long though. I stumbled over some small mistake the next day, got furious with myself and lost the inward blessing of feeling so completely accepting of myself and desiring of my life. This tied me up in such a knot - how could I have lost that blessing! It was a full year before I could find it in my heart to say those same things again and sufficiently believe them to be set free, though I tried practically every day to get those feelings back. When it happened at last, the joy and sense of glory returned. But I lost it, once again, the next day over a trifle. That time it took nine months to get it back. I lost it again the very next day. Six months of struggle ensued before restoration. Finally, I caught on to something. I thought to myself, "Wait a minute. Instead of focusing on what I lost and being angry, I should focus on getting it back. Instead of demanding that I never lose the feeling and being angry, my goal should be a quicker recovery of believing the truths that produced the feeling in the first place." This new strategy worked like a champ! In retrospect I know that it was heaven-sent, even though it came into my mind disguised as my own thoughts. Now I almost never lose the feeling. But when I do, it's easy as pie to get it back. That's the beauty of learning how to believe truth. Feelings will always spring up out of what we deeply believe - you can't change that. But you can change what you believe to be true. Real truth, God's truth, will always liberate your feelings once you believe it from the heart.
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