I became a master of deception. There aren't many who knew how I truly felt about myself. I allowed a few precious people to slip past the cracks in my facade, but all except the most perceptive probably had no idea how I really felt about me. For years, I was even able to convince myself that I was just fine. I mean, it's just natural to struggle with self-esteem, right?
I can still recall in vivid detail the first time serious rejection rocked my world. I was stunned, blind-sided, never saw it coming. That person was a safe place ... or at least that person had been a safe place, my protector, my champion. The hateful words that shattered my naivete' rattled around in my mind for years; they still attempt to rise from the ashes of my past at times.
I felt impenetrable walls instantly rise around my heart. NO ONE will ever hurt me that way again. No way! The only person I can safely trust in this world is me. Self-protection. That too is only natural. And for years that's how I lived my life.
The downside is that even I (the one who would have the most vested interest in doing a good job) did a lousy job of protecting myself. Countless poor choices, one after the other, chipping away at my sense of security, my sense of identity, my sense of self. Each time I deemed it safe to let down the walls a bit, safe to let this one or that one have access to my heart, I would again be disappointed by the reality of human nature. Another hole in my heart. And a bigger one in my head!
Eventually this truth prevailed: the only way to avoid rejection is to reject them before they can reject me. Oh, I might not actually reject them outright, but I lived armed and dangerous. Always on the defensive. At the first hint of negativity, my weapons were at the ready. I had a quiver full of various arrows: criticism, judgment, self-righteousness, resentment, sarcasm, the cold shoulder, the silent treatment, bitterness, unforgiveness ... just to name a few.
You can't hurt me if I hurt you first, right?
Wow! How in the world did I have any friends at all? you might be wondering.
That's the saddest part.
Every single one of these methods of self-protection can be employed by Christians and non-Christians alike. They are equal-opportunity solutions. They can be delivered in mean and hateful ways, OR they can be hammered home in sweetness.
If you are feeling self-righteous (aka: self-deceptive, and sanctimonious) it might sound like this: "Oh, I just hate to feel this way. We really need to pray for so-and-so. Do you know what they did to me?"
If you are just sincerely struggling, it can go like so: "Please pray for me. I am having a terrible struggle. I need to come to a place of forgiveness for..."
Sometimes the intent is to harm. Sometimes the motive is pure: Please, God, I just want to stop the pain and keep from being harmed anymore.
No matter why or how, we should be clear on this fact: Harboring these kinds of thoughts and feelings is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die. (I have no idea who should get credit for this quote, but it fits too perfectly not to use it here. I Googled to find out who originally said it, and this is what I found: click here.)
The honest truth of the matter is this: If we insist on protecting ourselves, if we wall off our hearts to avoid being hurt, if we reject others before they can reject us, eventually we will reject ourselves. We will grow to hate the person we see in the mirror every morning. And that's no way to live.
How do I know? I lived it.
You see, I gave my heart and my life to Jesus Christ when I was twenty-five years old. He has been my Savior since the day I prayed and asked Him; my eternity in heaven has been secure. I am saved, but I haven't been truly free.
I haven't trusted God to protect my heart. I've remained staunchly in control of my life and who could or couldn't get close enough to cause me hurt. That's not to say there has never been pain. As I said above, I haven't always done such a good job of protecting myself.
Jesus has been my Savior, but He was Lord only in select areas. For the thirty years I've walked with Him, I really saw little problem with that. But I had a lot of questions. Why does this or that keep happening to me, Lord? Why can't I find the victory?
Over the past ten weeks, I've been part of a Bible study called Freedom, and it culminated in a retreat this past weekend. At that retreat, so many things happened. One of the most significant for me was a newfound freedom; and that freedom came through surrender. I will no longer insist on protecting myself; I will trust God to protect me. I will no longer insist on staying in control; I will yield myself to the Holy Spirit and let Him lead me.
If you have seen yourself in anything I shared above, you might want to pray a prayer similar to the one I was led to pray:
I confess that I have not allowed You to be Lord of my life. I have tried to control people and things. Please forgive me. I have allowed a spirit of rejection to permeate my relationships with others, and I have even rejected myself. Forgive me. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am created in Your image. If I reject me, I reject You. I will no longer give that spirit of rejection access to my mind or my heart. I tell you, rejection, that you must go; you no longer have any legal right in my life. Fill me, Holy Spirit, with Your love, with Your life, with Your truth. Use me to carry that love and truth to others.