What holds us back from stepping out into our purpose in life? Often it is one's own mind and the negative voices that tell us who we are and what we are good for. Many struggle with such voices. I have been thinking a lot about these voices and how one can best combat them. (And don't get me wrong... there are real obstacles in life... injustice is real).
For me the voices come from three basic sources and fuel anxiety. They are to use Biblical words, the world, the flesh and the devil. Those messages are mostly shame messages about worth and competency.
The World: The voices of the world define worth in terms of status, wealth, beauty and success. If we do not meet these standards, the nasty note of shame kicks in revealing our defects as human beings. We hear these messages in the voices of our culture, media, politics.
The Flesh: I think the flesh in scripture is about what drives us inside. It can include the internalized voices of our family of origin and influences of our childhood or at least the way we processed the voices of our family of origin and the influences of our childhood. There is the memory of the parent or teacher or spiritual authority figure who said, "she's smart, a good student but not brilliant." "She's just not a leader." "She will never amount to much." "She is too emotional." When others point out the defects in our character or suggest such defects to an immature child--they are in a sense predicting and naming the outcome of our lives. Such messages can define our path if we let them. Or they are often messages created in reaction to those internalized messages as we seek to defend ourselves to family or other authority figures. That defense is also a shame response in our fear of really being defective in some way.
The Devil: The devil then takes all of these messages and adds a few of his own and strategically fires when we are at our weakest moments in what I affectionately call a "shame attack." Such "firey darts" as the Bible defines them, when they reach their target ignite a feeling of burning shame.
So how does one respond to these voices?
The antidote is learning to live in truth--some would call it cognitive behavioral therapy, with which we combat the lies and reframe our minds according what is true about us.
So what is that truth?
When we hear the voices of the world there is a counter-cultural reality. Our worth is not defined by the standards and voices of this culture. Our worth is found in having been made in God's image for a good purpose. Genesis 1 tells us about how God created the world and made a place for His people to flourish. The "garden" filled with plants, animals, sea and sky was dubbed good. When God created people in his own image that creation was called very good. Humans were given a call to join with God in governing the earth--tending the planet and creating community.
So there is a different reality other than the one we are experiencing and another voice speaking about our value and worth. These are not tied up with the definitions of this world. Our value and worth are intrinsic as human beings. And we have been invited to join with God in a good purpose. It's not about status, wealth, beauty and success. It's about imaging God and joining with him to birth a world intended to help others flourish--joining God in what God is doing. And that does not require status, wealth, beauty or success--at least success defined by this culture.
When we hear the voices of the Flesh, there is another reality. Our parents and childhood authority figures are imperfect humans marred by sin. But as children we give such persons a god-like status and allow their voices to define us. In a new relation with God described in the Bible as father--sometimes as mother defines a new relation with a being that is pure love. Children pattern themselves from those with whom they are in relation or react against those authority figures who have dis-respected us.
Relation with God who is himself love has the potential to form a new way described by the one who imaged God well, Jesus. And we learn about our worth and value and purpose by relating with God. In my experience the Spirit of God penetrates the mind with a truth or bit of insight that is liberating and healing. And then empowers us by the Spirit to step into a new reality.
Shame researcher Brene Brown discovered that the antidote to shame is vulnerability and empathy. As we begin to experience God's environment of grace we find acceptance and love dispelling the voices of shame.
The final voice is the firey darts of the devil. The Bible tells us that the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy us and the world God made. The thoughts shot into our minds are often tormenting, negative thoughts that drown our faith and keep us from the life to which we are invited by God.
The Bible also speaks about the shield of faith. In the first century shields were often covered with leather and padded so that when soaked in water the shield would quench the flaming arrows shot in battle. With this shield of faith we rely on what is really true about us and we are able to quench the hot, shaming darts that seek to kill us.
Another shield image from the first century is this: soldiers would align their shields above their heads joining together to form a large barrier from the shooting arrows of the enemy army. Faith is both a choice to believe the truth about our worth, value, purpose and about joining with a new community of people who are living in a new reality about what's true. This is often a counter-cultural community living in the way of Jesus.
Shame researcher Brene Brown also tells of the importance of safe people in our lives who will listen without judgement and offer empathetic responses that are healing. In her TED talk she says, "if you put shame in a petrie dish and add silence, secrecy and judgement, shame will grow but add empathy and shame disappears." A healthy faith community is important in combatting the voices of the enemy as we learn to remind ourselves of who we really are.
The mind of faith is one that has discovered, integrated and acted on the insight and hope through a new living relationship with God. Living in the truth of our identity is liberating.
There is much more to say... but that is enough for this post.