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DPS Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter (year B)

  

 “Quieting the Voice of Self Criticism”
1 John 3:16-24 & More
Rev. Elaine Wing      

     
            Do you remember the fairy tale of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?”  In the story, the wicked witch peered into her magic looking glass and asked, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall who is the fairest of them all?”

            The mirror’s answer was very disappointing, “It’s certainly not you, Ugly!”

            I’m sure you don’t have a talking mirror, but I do wonder if any of you, like me, has an “inner critic.”   I grew up hearing the voices of self critics among my family.  I accepted them as normal and now I hear my kids being unduly self critical.  

            Perhaps you know what I’m talking about – you see a picture of yourself and see the flaws instead of the beauty.  The critic is particularly vocal when we open an old high school yearbook --  “Look at all those zits”  Or, in my case, “all the kinky, frizzy hair.”

            Did you hear the story about the child who went to the zoo, came home and wrote a letter to God?  “Dear God, the boy wrote, “did you mean for a giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?”  Unfortunately, too many folks are not happy about their looks – they are too short, too tall, too heavy or too skinny…. 

            I was stunned when I went to my medical doctor’s office  and saw a sign promoting botox shots. My GP said that he was against it at first but his partners outvoted him.  The doctor in the practice who administers the botox shots has a full schedule with men, women, and youth as his patients.    

            It is really sad to realize how dependent our self esteem is upon our physical appearance.  Before Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord in the Garden, they looked upon themselves and agreed with God that he had done a good job creating man and woman.  After they sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, they became alarmed at their self-image.  And, since Lord and Taylor and The Gap were not yet in business, they grabbed the nearest fig leaf to cover themselves. 

            From that point forward it seems, humankind has struggled with an inner voice that whispers in one’s ear that they are somehow lacking.  In fact, I haven’t met one person yet who didn’t have an inner critic that monkeyed with their self esteem.

            I bet you’ve heard some of these comments made by people as they allow their self critic to speak out:

            “What an idiot I am”                                                                      

            “I can’t believe I did that!”

            “I am never good enough”                                                    

            “Nothing I do works out.”  

            “I never seem to learn from my mistakes.”    

            For the millions of us who periodically battle our own worst enemy, I want us to hear the words of 1 John 3: 16-24.  This passage was actually part of the scripture grouping from last week but several of the verses jumped out at me and I felt they warranted their own sermon.  Listen for them…

            Read 1 John 3:16-24    (“The Message” by Eugene Peterson)

            I never realized that the Bible spoke so directly about self criticism.  I guess John, the author of this text, realized that disparaging words were not only unhealthy but they made it very difficult to love one self.

            Because Jesus included self love within the greatest commandment, I imagine John wanted to be sure he addressed this problem among the new disciples.

            John said “God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.”

            I love that verse!   John is telling us that God knows all things – much like the writer of Psalm 139 said in the prayer we offered together a little bit ago.  God knows our sins, our love, our longings, the nobility that fails to fully work itself out…  This knowledge gives God the sympathy to understand us and forgive us.

            Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century scholar, said “Man sees the deed but God knows the intention.”  Another writer said that “God judges us by the deep emotions of our heart and if in our heart there is love – even when imperfect, we can be confident within God’s presence.”

            Speaking of imperfection, have you ever met a perfect person? 

            Once upon a time, a perfect man and a perfect woman met after a perfect courtship, they had a perfect wedding. (Josu – listen up!)  Their life together was absolutely perfect. 

            One snowy Christmas Eve this perfect couple was driving their perfect car along a winding road when they noticed someone at the side of the road in distress.  Being the perfect couple, they stopped to help. 

            There stood Santa Claus with a huge bundle of toys.  Not wanting to disappoint any children on Christmas Eve, the perfect couple loaded Santa and his toys into their car.  Soon they were driving along delivering toys. 

            Unfortunately, the driving conditions deteriorated and the perfect couple and Santa Claus had an accident.  Only one of them survived the accident.

            Who do you think was the survivor?

            Obviously, the perfect woman was the only one who survived because she is the only one who really existed in the first place.  Everyone knows there is no Santa Claus and there is no such thing as a perfect man.  J

            Wait, there is more.  If there is no perfect man and there is no Santa Claus, then the perfect woman must have been driving and that explains why there was a car accident.  

            Ohhhkay…Since our Creator is truly the ONLY ONE who is perfect, let’s get back to his Word!

            In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew we read that Jesus was asked the question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?  Jesus referred to the Hebrew words from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus in his answer. 

            He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

            There are two key points in this text for us today.  The first is the order – Jesus clearly ranked loving God as the most important and primary step.  In order to love humankind we must first love God.  The second point is the implication of the word “as” in the last verse.  We are told by Jesus to love our neighbor AS our self.

 

            The intent of the word “as” in this statement is notas much as” but rather “in the same way that.”  Meaning, our active love will be shown when we make the same allowances for our neighbor as ourselves. The problem, according to many authors I read, is that we are far more compassionate and understanding with others than we are with ourselves.

            I would like to briefly share with you five steps that I found in an article written by Psychiatrist Robert Leahy.  I am weaving into his work some thoughts of other authors and colleagues. I hope they will be helpful in silencing your self critic… 

Step One:  Replace self criticism with self correction.

            If you think you can do better in a situation, don’t put yourself down.  Look for a solution.  Change your behavior.  Isn’t that what several Biblical characters did?  Consider Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who invited Jesus to his home and then committed much of his wealth to Jesus’ ministry. 

Step Two:  Look at the positives, too

            Most of us can more easily name our weaknesses than we can our strengths.  We are more aware of our failures than our successes and more aware of our limitations than our gifts.  But even if some of the negatives are true, why not consider some of the positives as well?

Step Three:  Be as Kind to Yourself as You Are to A Stranger

            Ask yourself, “If my best friend had this problem, how would I support him or her?”  Then treat yourself in that manner.  When we realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the human experience, we are better able to be compassionate instead of judgmental with ourselves.  

Step Four:  Let Yourself Be Human

            Think of all the people you know, and think about their imperfections.  Recognize your shortcomings without digging a hole and climbing into it.

Step Five:  Focus On Your Goals, Not On Your Self Critic

            No matter what you do, your critical voice will still be telling you that “you can’t do anything right or that you are less than.”  Answer back! 

            Tell that insidious voice that it can keep yakking away, but you are going to take care of yourself.  Then focus on doing whatever you need to do:  get your work done, go to the gym, take a walk, work on important relationships…  By acting, you are making a fundamental decision to live your life fully, with all of life’s ups and downs, with the critic’s voice in the trunk of the car instead of behind the wheel.

            Be willing to give yourself credit for what you do right and improve what you do wrong.  Put your best self on your side!

            The Bible is clear – we have all been given talents, opportunities and limitations to achieve the goals or plans God has set for us. 

            The Apostle Paul wrote “We are chosen instruments of God to carry out the Lord’s work.” 

            Scripture also tells us that “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” It is our choice to accept who we are and to know that God is continuing to finish us much as a great work of art. 

            With God’s help, each of us can silence the voice of the critic who lives within us.  And, going back to 1 John, once that is taken care of and we're no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we're bold and free before God!

            Saint Augustine wrote, “Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.”

            Isn’t that sad?   You and I were made in the image of God.  And what more beautiful image is there?  Each of us are so special that Christ died for us.   

            Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?  It is you and me – and our lives in Jesus!

Amen and amen!

 

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Sources:

The Holy One, Rev. Bill Albertus, Rev. Stephen M. Crotts, “Mirror, Mirror…”, Rev. James Merritt, Rev. Leonard Sweet, Dr. Robert Leahy, W. Barclay – The Daily Study Bible Series