Perhaps you long to be accepted by a peer group that is, intentionally or unintentionally, not inclusive of you. Perhaps you have an overly critical parent, sibling or spouse who doesn’t understand how damaging their constant put-downs can be. Or perhaps an overachiever is insensitive to how they always make you feel in their presence: like you don’t measure up — or worse, will never be enough.
How do you respond to situations or people that make you feel terrible about yourself? When, at your lowest, these disparaging voices are all you hear? When you only need to catch a glimpse of said person — or hear their name — and your mind immediately darkens, because all that hurt from the past suddenly bubbles right up to the surface?
Focusing on your hurt can be a relentlessly futile exercise, because you’re either wallowing in self-pity or consumed by self-loathing. Neither serves the blood-bought Christian, because without realising it, you begin internalising the criticism or heartache to the point that it even begins to colour your own view of your character and abilities. You begin to believe that you’re hopeless, no good, that you don’t belong and that everyone has more and is more than you. But here is truth: that the only One whose opinion really counts rejoices over you (Zephaniah 3:17), loves you (1 John 3:1), and once left the glory of heaven to die for you (1 Peter 3:18).
Here is truth: that the only One whose opinion really counts rejoices over you, loves you, and once left the glory of heaven to die for you
In 1 Samuel 1:8, when Elkanah tries to comfort his wife Hannah, who regularly suffered the taunts of Peninnah, he asks: am I not enough for you? Though well-intentioned, the answer was, unfortunately, no. But such is not the case with our God. The One from whom all things are and for whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8:6) is, in a very literal way, our all-in-all — in other words, 100 per cent enough. It is natural to seek the love and approval of those around you but, Christian, regardless of whether you receive it or not, remember: they don’t have the last word. He does.
The problem with this situation is that it’s not a one-off. No matter how many times you pep talk yourself back from despondency to normalcy, the river of resentment often runs deep. It only takes a single comment or situation to pitch you right back into the throes of misery. And you hate everything about it… so you start constructing walls around your heart, hardening it and teaching it not to feel, because that’s your way of protecting it.
Hebrews 12:5 notes that one of the heart’s typical reactions to pain is disdain — thumbing your nose at the offending circumstance, rejecting it, and telling everyone you don’t care. You become cold — and you start looking lesser and lesser like the One in whose image you were made (Genesis 1:27).
In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul exhorts his readers to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words… Instead, forgive, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). Well, good for Paul, I hear you say, he was next level. It’s tempting to try and excuse ourselves on that account (“We’re lesser mortals, Paul was a saint”). But Paul wasn’t ‘extra’ because of who he was — he was so because he recognised that Christ lived in him (Galatians 2:20).
Let me explain. On occasions when I feel it way too hard to forgive someone for wounding me, I also find it is always because I don’t have a high enough view of Christ on the cross. He was pierced for my transgressions; crushed for my iniquities; chastised so I could have peace, wounded so I could be healed (Isaiah 53:5). He was God, I was scum. If He could choose to love me when I was His enemy (Romans 5:8), can I not do the same for someone who can never offend me as much as I once offended God?
That last bit always knocks my pride right off its pedestal. Whenever I feel an offence too great to forgive, I try to ask myself if it surpasses my own offences against God. The day I find a sin that Christ’s sacrifice cannot cover or forgive is the day I’ll be free to not forgive my neighbour. But the true Christian knows that day will never appear (Hebrews 10:14).
The day I find a sin that Christ’s sacrifice cannot cover or forgive is the day I’ll be free to not forgive my neighbour. But the true Christian knows that day will never appear
Having dealt with our own hearts, there is one more thing we can do in response to being slighted or demeaned. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Evil often begets evil but the reverse is true too: love often begets love. You get to choose which cycle you want to propagate.
Have you been marginalised? Is someone’s fault-finding constantly making you feel small? Sidelining the offender in turn or lashing back at him/her may bring you a temporary sense of vindication, but returning good for evil? That will “heap burning coals” on their heads (Romans 12:20). Resting in God, guarding your heart, pursuing peace, and changing your perspective will help bring out a form of ‘good works’ that comes not from a place of malice, but of Christ-like love. And it will be powerful enough to change both your worlds.
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