You may not realize it, but we all talk to ourselves. We continuously carry on an inner dialogue about how we view life, people, God, and even our selves. The Bible cautions us to pay attention to the way that we talk to ourselves. One of the reasons we must do so is because we don’t usually tell ourselves the truth. For example, God told the Israelites, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:17). See also Deuteronomy 9:4-6 for another example of untruthful self-talk.
Perhaps the better question to ask is not do we talk to our selves but how do we talk to ourselves? Sometimes the most destructive relationship we have is with our own selves. This week during counseling I heard snippets of my clients’ internal dialogue. One person said, “I’m so fat, I can’t stand myself.” Another sighed, “I can’t believe I did that, I must be an idiot.” And on a personal note, this week I struggled with an inner voice that reminded me of my faults and failures, short comings and sins. Once I stopped beating myself up for having them, I felt anxious because I told myself that by now, I should be beyond all that negative self-talk. I should be stronger than I am, better than I am, further along than I am.
Although I have learned to recognize and talk back to my destructive internal voice, sometimes it still gets the best of me. Often our biggest persecutors are not external but internal. Even after a destructive person has left our life (or we have left theirs), we still find we aren’t free from hurtful words, only now they are our own.
The Bible says words are powerful. It tells us, “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (Proverbs 12:18) and “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Listen to your inner dialogue. Is your typical self talk laced with the three C’s of condemnation, criticism and contempt? For example:
“Don’t try, give up. I can’t do anything right. No one really cares. I’m stupid (or ugly, or fat). I just made a fool out of myself. Everyone is laughing at me. Who do I think I am? I’m a miserable mess of a human being. I can’t do it. I’ll just mess it up. No one likes me. I’m not good enough.”
Sound familiar? If we want to get healthy and whole we must pay attention to what we say to ourselves and challenge it with the truth. I don’t mean simply replace negative self-talk with more positive words of affirmation such as:
“I’m so wonderful. I can do anything I set my mind to. I can do no wrong. I deserve to be respected, loved, admired, appreciated, rich, and/or successful.
Nor do I necessarily mean that we should solely affirm ourselves with Biblical identity words like “I am a child of God” or “I am fully and completely loved.” Although true, this form of self-talk still keeps the focus on us rather than on God.
Don’t get me wrong. Some introspection is necessary for healthy self-examination, but many of us are endlessly thinking about ourselves in one way or another. Regardless of whether we speak positively or negatively to ourselves, when we are continuously focused on and wrapped up in ourselves, we have missed the gospel story. It is NOT all about us.
Jesus told his followers that the truth would set us free. This freedom releases us from Satan’s gripping lies AND frees us from our constant focus on ourselves. We were made for something greater than a continual self-improvement project. We were made to glorify God not ourselves.
Seventeenth-century mystic François Fénelon wisely warned us about this proclivity toward our self focused, negative self-talk. He said, “Merely to see how wretched we are and to fall into despair over what we see is not being humble. On the contrary, to do that is to have a fit of pride that cannot consent to being brought low.” He goes on to say, “Discouragement is not the fruits of humility, but of pride.” Jesus came to save sinners, not saints. If we believe that to be true, then why are we so surprised, hurt, sad, and disappointed when we actually see our own sin?
What does this all mean in terms of the way we talk to ourselves? Today, one of my clients told me, “I just need to stay focused”. Although a good strategy, let’s be clear on what we need to stay focused on. Focus on Jesus and he will show you how to see yourself rightly. Focus on knowing him, loving him, obeying him, serving him, honoring him, and glorifying him and everything else will fall into its rightful place.
Take some time this week to read and familiarize yourself with how Jesus handled the failure of the disciple Peter (Mark 16:7; John 21:15-21), and the sins of the women at the well (John 4), or the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-7). We can only see ourselves truthfully when we place the eyes of our heart on Jesus and not on ourselves and our sins and failures.
Listen to what Paul writes about how God sees us.
“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
When we focus on Jesus, it’s not that we aren’t aware of our faults and failures, but our attention doesn’t stay on us. Instead it is fixed on the loving, forgiving, and merciful grace of God. Paul’s response to these great truths is, “So we praise God for his glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.” It is all about Him. This is the gospel, the good news we celebrate and take refuge in.