I Hate Myself!


Bible Help
for Christians with

Spiritual Depression, Spiritual Oppression,
Spiritual Frustration, Spiritual Burn-Out

By Grantley Morris

Is self-hate the way to Christian victory or to spiritual depression, oppression, frustration and spiritual burn-out?

Is self-loathing the way to die to self or is it as spiritually dangerous as despair? Is demeaning self-talk the Christian way or the carnal way to fight pride? Is it spiritually empowering to beat yourself up or does it weaken you? Is to hate oneself the way to resist the devil or does it fill him with glee? What does the Bible say?

We will dig below the surface to discover the not-always-obvious reasons why people despise themselves and/or are tough on themselves. And for those haunted by the fear that God, too, looks at them through harsh, critical eyes and expects them to beat themselves up, we will search God’s Word for the comfort they so desperately need.

This is just the precursor, however. The goal is for tormented souls to revel in God’s goodness and not only lighten up like never before but bask in the assurance of God’s love and approval to such an extent that they regularly let themselves enjoy guilt-free fun. For some of us this seems impossible. Some even doubt that it is spiritually acceptable.

Our lives could be so clouded with oppression that we have actually forgotten the simple art of having good, wholesome fun. Later in this webpage we will consider ways of honoring God by recovering this lost art. I long to plunge into this but for dedicated Christians to really enjoy life, we must first be assured that doing so is biblical and godly – and some of us need a lot of convincing. We can be bullied by people and circumstances into developing such a dark view of God as to almost presuming he delights not in our happiness but in us becoming sanctimonious party-poopers. I must move slowly out of respect for those of us who have been so hard on ourselves for so long that we have been duped into thinking almost anything enjoyable is unspiritual, or even heretical.

Few of us would dare say the Author of life is a killjoy who spends most of his time in a bad mood, and yet we can get perilously close to such thinking. For some of us, it’s as if our past has driven us to conclude that “rejoice evermore” (King James Version) must be a mistranslation and it should read, “be miserable evermore,” and that Philippians 4:4 actually means, “Sulk in the Lord always, and again I say, sulk.” Even more of us suppose “Be joyful always . . . for this is God’s will for you . . .” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) should read, “. . . for this is God’s will for other Christians, not for losers like you.” We must clear a way through these misconceptions before we can get to what is literally the fun part of this webpage.

Ably supported by the enemy of our souls, we Christians have a tendency to unintentionally distort biblical revelation in a way that perpetuates our problems. Let’s explore relevant Bible truths to gently cut through spiritual misunderstandings that could be holding us back.

Some of us remain crippled, even to this day, because of bullying and verbal putdowns delivered decades ago by people who made no pretense of being Christians. Such victims are not the only ones, however, who need this webpage. During our most formative, vulnerable years – either as a child or when older as a new Christian – many of us were brow-beaten over and over by someone who claimed to be close to God.

Childhood is too short for little children to question everything adults tell them, and the danger is simply too great for them to refuse to believe whatever they are told until they have proved it for themselves. It is vital for their safety and development that children be virtually prewired to accept as virtually infallible truth whatever respected adults in their lives tell them. Even at this tender age, if the person abusing that position of trust claims to speak for God or to somehow represent him, the devastation will almost inevitably go beyond severe self-esteem issues to having profound spiritual implications. Even when people are older, however, something similar (though perhaps not quite as deep) comes into play during the period when they first come under the sway of spiritual role models.

No matter what their physical age, new Christians are as vulnerable as babies. Even if they have the safest of spiritual homes, just outside is a world strewn with spiritual dangers. There is so much information they need to rapidly absorb in order to function spiritually and gain protection from dangers that spiritually threaten their very survival. The practical reality is that at this pivotal point there is simply no time for them to critically assess the accuracy of everything they are taught.

In theory, when things settle down, we should reassess the accuracy of what we unthinkingly accepted when we had had so much to learn so quickly. Adjusting our thinking, however, is far from easy after mistaken beliefs and attitudes have been built into our lives.

Uncritically accepting everything we are taught and letting others mold us works beautifully when nurtured by kind-hearted people as God intended. It makes us alarmingly vulnerable, however, when someone we accept as a role model and source of truth, instead of manifesting the heart of God, repeatedly puts us down.

Usually, the authority figure involved is a parent – sometimes a pastor or other key person in our lives – who managed to win the respect of other people. The perpetrators’ approval rating among those they gather around themselves makes it harder than ever to realize that this person’s behavior is actually spiritual abuse. Instead, the very thought seems blasphemous and we are tragically likely to presume that the person must be reflecting the heart of God and to allow his/her rants to drown out the Spirit’s whispers.

These whispers will seem disturbingly foreign and unbelievable because they are gentle, encouraging and uplifting – the exact opposite of what we have been taught. God has faith in us and has great plans for us, and if this is contrary to what key humans have told us, we are preconditioned to conclude that the Spirit’s promptings must be nothing but our own misguided wishful thinking.

In short, even without deliberately intending to, abusers can so corrupt their position of trust and power that they browbeat and brainwash and undermine their victim’s confidence so appallingly as to render them unable to think for themselves or even believe their Lord when he speaks to them.

Just as there was much that was right and Bible-based about the beliefs and preaching of the spiritual leaders who crucified their Messiah, so it is with the wolves in sheep’s clothing that enter the very church of God (Scriptures). “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” warned Jesus (Matthew 7:22-23).

It is often not this dramatic, however. There are those who sincerely do their best to preach Christ but do it with a harshness that fails to reflect the tender heart of Christ. And there are people who, due to past hurts, are so sensitive and expect harshness and putdowns so much that they read into the words and actions of others a harshness that was never intended.

* * *

It has been my privilege to have had large numbers of child abuse survivors open their hearts to me. The greatest tragedy is that even long after the abuser has left, his or her impact is as devastatingly strong and toxic as ever because, partly for reasons just explained, the abuser’s brainwashing has been so effective that the victim has taken on board the abuser’s values, almost without realizing it. It is not that victims treat other people as their abuser did – that is rare – but they treat themselves as atrociously as the abuser did, especially in their self-talk. They insult themselves and accuse themselves and despise themselves as much as their abuser ever did, and they actually believe they are right to do so.

Sadly, spiritual abuse victims are just as vulnerable.

* * *

No matter how well-respected a person might be in the community, it remains ungodly to put people down or be harsh or unkind. No Christian wants to take on the values of someone who acts unchristlike, and yet this is what we inadvertently do when we fall into the habit of verbally abusing ourselves or treating ourselves with the harshness of our abusers. Tragically, however, the habit becomes as strong as heroin.

As astonishing as it seems, rather than facing the devastating conclusion that we have taken on the values of an abuser and are even addicted to it, we Christians are easily seduced into letting ourselves off the hook by actually convincing ourselves that we are pleasing God by acting like the devil in how we treat ourselves. It is frighteningly easy to re-label as humility or dying to self or fighting the flesh, what is actually a deeply ingrained addiction to perpetuating in our lives the ungodly way our abusers treated us. If we verbally abuse ourselves or think lowly of ourselves as our abusers did, let’s at least not pretend we are being godly by modeling ourselves on them.

Of course, we must never passively accept less than God’s best in our lives. There is no room for acting like spoilt brats, irresponsibly demanding that God do all the work while we laze around, content with mediocrity. We must cooperate with our Savior in passionately wanting change and not only praying for it but exerting every effort to persuade, encourage, inspire and urge every part of us to surrender to our Lord so that he may reign supreme in every aspect of our lives, as he does in heaven. This is neither cold-hearted indifference and sloth, nor is it imitating the devil by condemning ourselves and beating ourselves up like some hate-filled tyrant. Let’s get this right: Satan is the accuser (Revelation 12:10); God is the forgiver. Suppression and oppression come not from the heart of God but from his enemy. Refusing to join forces with the devil means refusing to slander, ridicule or belittle ourselves or anyone else. Neither demeaning self-talk nor being cruel to oneself is in heaven’s spiritual armory.

* * *

We are not meant to turn the Holy Spirit on or off according to the situation. God’s Spirit, the divine source of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on, is meant to be a continuous spring, flowing like rivers of living water from our inner most being (John 7:38). It is unthinkable that sweet water and bitter water should flow from the same spring. Likewise, points out James 3:9-11, cursing anyone made in God’s likeness should never spring from the same heart from which praises to God flow. (This Scripture allows no loopholes for cursing oneself. Since you are as much in God’s image as anyone else, it is still God’s image that is at stake.)

So the Spirit’s flow springing from within should be both consistent and continual. We are to “ever be filled” with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18, Amplified Bible). Just as we are to love everyone (even enemies) and “Be joyful always (1 Thessalonians 5:16, emphasis mine) and “Make every effort to live in peace with all” people (Hebrews 12:14, emphasis mine), so we are meant to always be operating in every fruit of the Spirit – not being Godlike in how we think of others and devil-like in how we think of ourselves.

The Lord wants you to demonstrate how filled you are with the fruit of the Spirit by being good, kind, gentle, patient, peaceable and loving not just to enemies but to ungodly parts of you that frustrate, annoy and embarrass you. As much as your loving Lord wants you to cooperate with him in bringing about changes within you, he does not want you to attempt this by resorting to such carnal ways as hate, anger, violence, impatience, unforgiveness or slander. Such behavior grieves your Savior, regardless of whether the hostility is directed toward yourself or other people. Hating yourself and having Jesus as your Savior are trains headed in the opposite direction.

My dilemma is that it is vital for you to fully grasp the truth just explained, but I do not want to labor this so much as to risk boring you. So at whatever point in the text you become so convinced that you could not possibly become more convinced, that’s when I suggest you interrupt your reading and scroll down to Distilling the Truth. How we treat ourselves is so critical to our spiritual well-being, however, that in case it takes a lot for you to become that certain, I will continue to serve you by examining this issue from different angles, piling up confirmation after confirmation.

* * *

We can easily fall into the delusion of supposing we are fighting the flesh – our ungodly nature – by being hard on ourselves, when often, through the very act of being hard on ourselves, we are actually manifesting the flesh. It is striving to attain holiness not by the only acceptable spiritual way of faith in the power of the sacrificial death of our Lord, but through our own (fleshly) efforts.

    Galatians 3:1,3 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. . . . After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

    Philippians 3:3-9 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh . . . If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: . . . as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss . . . I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

    Colossians 2:20-3:1 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? . . . Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Emphasis mine.)

Many good people think that by despising themselves and treating themselves harshly – especially when they slip up – that it is being godly. It is not. To be godly is to think and act like God. The Bible is emphatic that God is loving and forgiving. So we cannot be godly – we cannot display God’s heart – unless we are filled with love and forgiveness toward those who have hurt us, including ourselves.

* * *

No matter how much we might hate ourselves, we are stuck with the fact that each of us is made in the image of the God we claim to love. We have already noted James observing how twisted it is to bless God using the same lips that curse someone made in God’s image. Add to this what John says:

    1 John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

    1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.

Jesus declared that people “will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken,” (Matthew 12:36) and that “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell,” (Matthew 5:22). Again I ask, where is the loophole that allows us to insult ourselves?

“Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious . . .” says Ecclesiastes 10:12. Paul added, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt . . .” (Colossians 4:6) and to the Ephesians he wrote, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen,” (Ephesians 4:29). What gives us the right to reject this when it comes to how we speak to ourselves?

* * *

The Lord who gave his very life for you and me is worthy of our slavish devotion. Nevertheless, everyone who dies to self and lives for Christ benefits immensely because, without it we remain self-obsessed fools who ruin our lives, like junkies focused on their next fix instead of really living. As our Creator and Savior, only the good Lord, not us, truly has our best interests at heart. The One who gave his all for us is so passionately and selflessly devoted to our well-being that the smartest thing we could ever do is to obey him relentlessly. Often, however, we are so blinded by self-hatred or infatuated by short-term illusions or tormented by past failures that our view of life gets so murky that to live the best possible, regret-free life we need to abandon our own whims and focus exclusively on pleasing our wonderful Lord.

True Christians have relinquished all pretense of having the right to treat themselves however they wish. Do you not know that your very body is part of Christ himself? asks Paul (1 Corinthians 6:15). We “belong to the Lord,” (1 Corinthians 15:23; Romans 14:8). In the Bible’s sobering words, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price,” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

“For we are God’s workmanship,” says Ephesians 2:10. Dare we criticize the work of the divine Craftsman?

Through Christ, you are a child of the King of kings. Dare you treat God’s child as dirt?

Of course we should refuse to indulge sinful desires but there is a big difference between that and treating yourself in a way that you would not dare treat someone else’s child, let alone treat divine royalty.

* * *

You might know the Scripture, “the joy of the LORD is your strength,” but how familiar are you with the context in which these profound words were uttered?

God’s people had rejected the true God and, despite warning after warning after warning, kept breaking his heart and hurting themselves by falling so deeply into paganism that the only way to shake them out of it was for God’s holy nation to be overrun by enemy soldiers who not only took over their land but captured the people and took many of them as prisoners of war to a foreign country where they languished in defeat and despair for decades. It is noteworthy that this drastic action was so effective that whereas their previous history was besmirched by countless incidents of falling into idolatry, it never happened again. Finally, the captives were released and allowed to return to Jerusalem. They celebrated their first holy feast (that could only be properly held in Jerusalem). During this sacred event, the Scriptures were read and explained to the large crowd. Such conviction fell on them that they wept profusely.

    Nehemiah 8:9-12 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

This tells us two things:

1. Although we need to recognize the gravity of our sins, it is not acting holy or pleasing to God to keep being miserable and beating ourselves up over our sins. Forgiveness and holiness comes through faith, not by being hard on ourselves.

2. Reveling in God’s joy strengthens us; staying miserable keeps us weak. If we have fallen because of weakness, the last thing we need is anything that will keep us weak.

* * *

The fruit of the Spirit – the very essence of God and product of your union with him – is not criticism or harshness but kindness, gentleness and patience. These qualities should so saturate our lives that they are the way we respond to every situation, including times we dislike ourselves. Just as we must free ourselves from the hypocrisy of the double standard of judging others more harshly than ourselves, so we must rid ourselves of the double standard of slandering ourselves and treating ourselves with a harshness and contempt that we would never treat others with.

* * *

Do you suppose you would receive God’s approving smile if you heartlessly abandoned a deeply hurting child who was solely your responsibility and you let that little one suffer endlessly, not only refusing to comfort him/her but also preventing anyone else from emotionally supporting the child? Would you be able to stand before your eternal Judge and brazenly excuse your mistreatment by claiming the child is yours and therefore you can treat him/her however you wish? Of course not. Being your own child would merely magnify, not diminish, your responsibility. If this is true for your offspring – someone whose genes are only fifty percent yours – your responsibility would, if anything, be even graver if the child you let languish in needless pain and ignorance is your inner child. To close your heart, defiantly saying, “It’s part of me, so I can do anything I like with it,” is highly offensive to the God to whom we must all one day give account.

You and your inner child might share the same body but this fact in no way gives you license to be less than loving toward them, any more than a husband and wife being one flesh (Mark 10:7-8) gives anyone permission to mistreat his wife. On the contrary, sharing the same body increases your responsibility to be kind to yourself, just as being physically one increases a husband’s obligation to be tenderly compassionate toward his partner. In fact, the Bible insists that for a man to ride roughshod over the feelings of the woman he is one with will threaten his relationship with God.

    1 Peter 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect . . . so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Scripture gives a powerful example but before mentioning it I must point out that it is not saying people should force themselves, or be forced, to do anything they find distasteful. It is referring to something both parties find enjoyable but one of them, solely for spiritual reasons, (nothing to do with past trauma) wants to fast from physical pleasure (Comment). In this specific situation, the Bible even goes to the extreme of declaring that if you want to devote yourself to prayer, and the person you are one flesh with wants physical pleasure instead, you must let your partner’s fleshly desires take precedence over your spiritual desires (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).

Distilling the Truth

It is obvious that to hate someone God loves is to put oneself on a collision course with God. So consider the implications of these three words: God loves you.

We have seen that to think it acceptable to treat yourself worse than you would treat a stranger is as appalling as mistreating someone and trying to excuse your offense by saying it is your child or the person with whom you are physically one.

We always suspected God would be concerned about how we treat other people, but many of us used to think that if we were to treat ourselves badly it would somehow be less heart-breaking to him. That logic crumbles, however, when we consider that for God to be less concerned about how you treat yourself would only make sense if, to God, other people were more important than you. Tragically, that might very well be the way you have come to think of yourself but it is not remotely how Almighty God thinks of you.

No matter how much you try to drown it, the truth keeps bobbing up again: the way you treat yourself matters immensely because you matter immensely to the most important Person in the cosmos. You might find that as believable as a bikini-clad talking elephant but if the eternal Son of God gave his life for you, it means the Almighty has invested his everything in you. There is no escaping the fact that this makes you stupendously important to him.

The Perfect Lord is no hypocrite. He does not ask you to love him with all your heart (Mark 12:30) unless this is precisely how devoted he is to loving you. As I prove in greater depth in links at the end of this page, since it is logically impossible to go beyond all, for God not to be half-hearted but to love you with all his heart (which he does) it is impossible for him to love anyone in the universe more than you. This, as staggering as it seems, makes it impossible for anyone to be more precious, or more important, to the Almighty than you are.

The Infallible One declares you lovable. Dare you sneer at his assessment? The Holy One forgives and pronounces you clean. Dare you arrogantly accuse him of not being holy enough and insist, by the way you think of yourself, that his impeccable standards are too low?

* * *

Despite dying to self being divinely required and ultimately in our best interest and richly rewarding, the cold truth is that we initially find it painful. Since love is the very heart of God, a significant part of denying ourselves and yielding to God is loving and forgiving as God does. Obviously, this poses little problem with people we like and respect. Or, as Jesus put it, “Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them,” (Luke 6:32). The make-or-break challenge is having a Christlike attitude toward those we resent and despise and blame.

Your personal nemesis – the one who stands between you and your willingness to obey God and be Christlike – probably won’t be Hitler or Stalin, but someone who has personally impacted your life. It is the person you are most sorely tempted not to love but instead vent your wrath on as the scapegoat for something significant that has gone wrong in your life. I use the word scapegoat with care. Like Judas, it is actually a term that has entered our language via the Bible. The scapegoat is a key animal used on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:5-10;20-22) and it points to Jesus, who has literally offered himself as your scapegoat – the innocent One who took upon himself all the blame for your bungles and catastrophes and has removed your sins from you.

Whether it be our own failings or other people’s, and whether it be deliberate evil or unintentional blunders, human failings wreak havoc in our lives. Will we spurn the Holy One’s sacrifice and, instead of accepting what he did as our scapegoat, substitute the satisfaction it gives us to treat the person we most hate as our scapegoat for things that have messed up our lives? Whether the sinner we make our scapegoat is ourselves or someone else, makes no difference to the fact that to let someone other than our sinless Savior take the blame, is to deny the adequacy of Jesus’ atonement. Though we do not intend it as such, it ends up being the ultimate insult to our crucified Lord and a rejection of what he has done for us.

As sin is the opposite of loving God, so is hating oneself.

The One who bore our punishment as he hung on the cross dredged up his last fragment of strength to gasp with his dying breath, “It is finished!” Will we pronounce him a liar? Dare, by the way we continue to treat ourselves as blameworthy, we keep insisting he is wrong? Dare we accuse him of not suffering enough for us? Was the torment he suffered for us so ‘little’ that we must keep putting ourselves down to make up for his ‘failure’ to bear in his body, soul and spirit the full consequences of our foul-ups?

Our destiny teeters on whether we will trust the enormity of what Almighty God achieved by entering the human race and the Lord of Glory suffering the ultimate disgrace for the sins of the world. Will we rest in what the King of the universe achieved on the cross as sufficient to resolve all the blame issues for everything that has devastated us, or will we let doubt drive us to abandon faith in Jesus and attempt to take matters into our own hands? Will we accept the enormity of what Christ did, or scorn it as inadequate?

We have been forgiven, restored and exalted by the One who on our behalf was tortured to death, rose to life again and triumphantly ascended to heaven’s throne. For us, the terrifyingly righteous wrath of the Almighty was poured out on the Lord of Glory instead of us, but to continue to get mad at ourselves is to defiantly refuse to acknowledge that what he did was enough.

The Fun Part: Celebrating Life

A tendency to be hard on ourselves can render us virtually addicted to being gloomy. We can get ourselves into such a ridiculously impossible bind that we aren’t happy unless we are miserable. That’s enough to send us laughing all the way to the funny farm.

A merry heart has a continual feast. A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. That’s the advice not of some pop psychologist or New Age crackpot but the holy Word of God (Proverbs 15:15; 17:22).

You might expect me to emphasize praise, worship and prayer as the remedy. I will not. I admit I am tempted to do so because they are critically important to our well-being and it would be my chance to impress you with how ‘spiritual’ I am. What complicates everything, however, is the misconception that anything we do that makes God’s face light up with joy must be a hard slog. Unless we free ourselves from this misguided presumption we will turn even purely spiritual delights into dreary obligations that burden us with a sense of failure instead of uplifting us. On the other hand, if we grasp what is expounded in this section, it will improve our attitude to worship and everything else.

Scripture keeps telling us to rejoice, not because God wants to put yet another burden on us but because our wonderful Lord wants to liberate us. We glimpsed the practical outworking of this when we explored the precise situation in which the words, “This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” were uttered. The people were not told to bow their heads and pray or to mourn their sins but to cheer up by giving presents to each other and feasting together. That, believe it or not, is being spiritual.

Our Lord is the one to whom all creatures look to and “they are satisfied with good things.” (Psalms 104:28). He is the “God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” (1 Timothy 6:17). Paul even told idolatrous pagans, “In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy(Acts 14:16-17 – emphasis mine). “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,” (1 Timothy 4:4).

As simple as what I’m about to say might be, accepting the concept could shatter your entire view of God and liberate you: God created the physical world and one of the surest ways to please any generous giver is to cherish his gifts and make use of them often. We need to lighten up and celebrate life. We need more enjoyment; more good, wholesome fun.

One of the heresies that threatened the early church was the mistaken belief that the physical realm is of little interest to God, or is even evil. If you dig into the New Testament you will detect deliberate efforts to attack this heresy, such as stressing that a key way of knowing if a spirit is of God is acknowledging that Jesus came “in the flesh” (1 John 4:2-3). Scripture after scripture affirms that even Jesus’ resurrected body was solid, touchable and ate food.

We are not just spiritual beings but physical, and this was not some divine slip-up but an expression of God’s goodness. Like the rest of us, you do “not live on bread alone (Luke 4:4) and yet you cannot for long “honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20) unless you eat. Put more broadly: both the physical and the spiritual are important to God, and to devalue either would be to degrade ourselves and insult our Creator and Redeemer. Let’s not forget that Jesus devoted much of his earthly ministry helping people physically (such as physical healing) and said we will be judged according to how we look after people’s physical needs (e.g. Matthew 25:31-46).

Please don’t twist what I am saying into an excuse to indulge in some unwholesome excess that ends up undermining your well-being. The goal is to break an addiction to being morbid and overly critical of oneself, not to feed another addiction. I’m not suggesting eroding self-esteem and leaving oneself feeling defeated by exploiting some weakness, but engaging in activities that edify and add to one’s sense of achievement. This is not about being enslaved by fleshly desires but being released into a more fulfilled lifestyle.

Rather than put all your effort into avoiding what you shouldn’t do – avoiding being hard on yourself – replace it with being kind to yourself, in rejoicing in God’s love for you. In short: have fun. As mentioned earlier, this is a skill that you might have lost but it can be regained. People whose positive upbringing has made this easy need no help: they do it spontaneously. For those beginning their healing journey from an oppressive past, however, it is foreign territory.

We are all different, so I cannot make prescriptions as to what will best work for you but I can brainstorm some suggestions that might stimulate your own ideas.

Anything morally acceptable that contributes to your health, contentment, relaxation, happiness and fulfillment is desirable. In small doses, activities other than those Adam and Eve had access to, such as Facebook (I’m fairly sure Adam and Eve didn’t use it), computer games, television, or reading can be fine. I suspect, however, that for people whose life is already mainly sedentary and spent indoors or in vehicles, such pastimes are less effective in balancing one’s life and promoting well-being than those that are more physical and involve the outdoors.

If it’s a rarity, a good movie, for example, might provide valuable relaxation but although the artificial seems a cozy, lazy, convenient substitute for the real thing, I wonder if passive watching is more like watching others enjoy life than you enjoying it yourself. I suspect it’s seldom as effective in lifting one’s spirits as stimulating more of the senses by getting fresh air, natural light and enjoyable exercise.

What in Bible times was as basic as breathing is no longer so obvious to inhabitants of an artificial world. Back then, living life at a slower pace, savoring sunrises and sunsets, hearing the birds twitter, feeling the sun on your skin and wind in your hair, and getting exercise were virtually unavoidable. It seems to me that many of us have lost awareness of the power of simple pleasures to nourish, stabilize and revitalize us and we need to relearn how to celebrate God’s goodness and balance our lives by enjoying nature’s God-given gifts.

Is it mere coincidence that depression is becoming a modern epidemic at the same time that people are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature? I suspect that modern science is yet to discover the full range of benefits associated with interacting with the natural world, but already scientific studies have shown that lack of natural light can cause depression, vitamin D deficiency and eyesight problems; that exercise has not only innumerable health benefits but can be as effective as antidepressants in reducing depression; that even fake smiling (as one might do in face to face communication but not when texting) releases chemicals in the body that engenders feelings of well-being, and that social interaction and even relating to animals can boost physical and psychological health.

It is worth noting that the most insidious thing about depression is that the simple things that would help us feel better – such as exercise, a change of scenery or socializing – seem too much effort.

My suggestion to every urban dweller, and especially if you are hard on yourself or a workaholic, is to regularly immerse yourself in nature. Praise and worship are superb but simply taking God with you on a walk can bless both you and him. His very presence makes his creation come alive with beauty you would otherwise have missed.

Surround yourself with beauty – sunsets, a day at the beach, a walk through gardens, visit a flower show or a zoo or enjoy uplifting art. Try fishing, hunting, boating, gardening, rock-climbing or whatever outdoor activity lifts you. Play with a pet or children. Play sport. Spend face to face time with friends. Renew friendships, smile at strangers, tell some jokes, laugh a lot, listen to comedy. Resurrect hobbies and skills you’ve let die.

* * *

Sometimes we get so fixated on what we perceive as spiritual that we overlook the practical. “Pick up your mat and walk,” said Jesus (John 5:8). How practical is that! No matter how much this invalid prayed and worshipped, he would never have manifested his healing without getting practical. And he was so entrenched in the habit of not doing it, that he actually had to be told. Note that no matter how earthly it might seem to get up and walk, it was highly spiritual because it was faith in action. Likewise, the suggestions I will soon make about how to have fun might not have the superficial appearance of being spiritual but they are; because they are faith in action.

Like the man who initially saw people as trees walking (Mark 8:24) it might take a while for those who are healing to catch up to people who have been doing it all of their lives. And like the man told to take up his mat and walk, those of us wanting to heal from an oppressive past have to start somewhere. We might even find ourselves battered by doubts and false pangs of conscience, like this victim of religious oppression might have been when he was angrily accused by religious people of defiling the Sabbath by following Jesus’ directive to carry his mat (John 5:10).

That someone God has healed, or is healing, could be hounded by guilt over healing sounds ridiculous but it is common for a number of reasons.

    1. Legalism

    An obvious reason for feeling guilt over enjoying God’s gifts is legalism – hoping to impress God by depriving ourselves.

    The story is told of a deacon who had to pick up a pastor he had never seen before. He studied the faces of people alighting the train and approached the most likely candidate. “Excuse me,” he said, “would you be our visiting pastor?”

    “No,” came the reply. “It’s indigestion that makes me look this way.”

    There are those who think that holiness and happiness are opposites and that grumpiness is next to godliness. Entire churches have yet to discover the difference between Sunday services and funerals.

    The holier-than-thou type is holier than no one. Being a sanctimonious spoilsport has no kinship with Christlikeness.

    If you ever need biblical proof that “misery likes company,” consider the uproar when Jesus healed a blind man. Those who couldn’t tell the difference between being reverent and being ridiculous got so upset that they kicked the healed man out of their church (John 9:22-34). They were so much happier when the man was blind and they could feel sorry for him.

    Jesus was such a pity-party-pooper. He was forever mucking up everyone’s attempt to be respectably miserable. Just when everyone is preparing to rain on someone’s parade, he spoils everything by sending sunshine. He even messed up a perfectly good funeral (Luke 7:12-15). How undignified and disrespectful! He really must be from heaven. Everyone on earth knows that being a sourpuss is far more holy.

    2. Upbringing

    Another reason for people feeling qualms about letting themselves be happy is some were actually punished as children for being happy. They might have been told they were being noisy or disruptive or disrespectful, but children can end up so confused that even when they grow up they stagger through life feeling guilty at the slightest tinge of happiness.

    Such an upbringing is sometimes because parents suffered some (often undiagnosed) psychological abnormality such as narcissism – an inability to love anyone other than themselves and a need to manipulate their children’s emotions. ‘Soul vampires’ is what some people call these parents. They suck the life out of their children.

    It would be tragic enough if childhood abuse – which children often don’t even recognize as abuse because it is all that they have known – were left behind upon entering adulthood. As already mentioned, however, children absorb their abuser’s values and typically continue through life feeling guilty unless they unjustly punish themselves like their childhood abusers. There are many whose tragic past drives them to physically hurting themselves – cutting themselves, for example. Feeling uneasy about letting themselves be happy and enjoy life is mild compared with that.

    3. Clinical Anxiety

    There is another reason why we could be riddled with guilt. Because I have webpages about this, literally hundreds of people bombard me with fear-filled questions about this little-understood source of guilt. I confess that I find these incessant questions highly wearing because these dear people are in awful torment and yet there is nothing anyone can say that will change their feelings, and convincing them to ignore their feelings and rest in God is hair-pullingly difficult. Here’s a summary of what I have devoted thousands upon thousands of words trying to get them to understand:

      Anxiety acts as an alarm that goes off within us indicating that something is seriously wrong and causing our mind to keep seeking the reason so that it can be corrected. Clinical Anxiety, however, means that the anxiety is driven not by a rational reason for concern but by a chemical imbalance.

      When, for example, a fire alarm goes off, it sounds the same regardless of whether it was triggered by an actual fire or by a technical malfunction. Since a false alarm sounds exactly the same as when it is triggered by genuine danger, it is very tempting to feel disturbed about the alarm continuing, even when you have checked and confirmed that there is no danger. So it is with an anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, for as long as you suffer from this condition you will just have to keep reminding yourself that it is a false alarm and get used to it blaring and being unpleasant and refuse to treat it as if it were real.

      When anxiety is a false alarm it is not only disturbingly unpleasant, it can confuse us spiritually. Anxiety feels like a torturously guilty conscience that keeps nagging away no matter how utterly we are divinely forgiven, cleansed of all sin and made holy by faith in Jesus. God has promised to forgive all the sins of everyone who puts his/her faith in the forgiving power of Jesus’ sacrifice. Since anxiety is far too incessant to be ignored, however, it is hard not to slip into believing the persistent, overwhelmingly strong feeling, rather than keep stubbornly believing God’s promise. Add to this the fact that anxiety keeps telling us that something is seriously wrong when everything is actually fine, and the foundation to our entire relationship with God – believing that through Jesus our past failings no longer hinder our relationship with God – is under attack. The spiritual confusion can be serious if we cave in to believing our powerfully deceptive feelings rather than resolutely clinging to raw faith in both Christ’s eagerness to secure our full forgiveness and his ability to do so.

      If you suffer from an anxiety disorder you will be filled with guilt and anxiety but the key is to learn to live with such feelings and neither fear the feelings nor believe them. This will be a tough battle because your feelings will be very intense and seem so real, but all of us are called to live by faith and not feelings.

      For those suffering an anxiety disorder, living by raw faith is much harder to do than for other people, but it is like a coach making his star athlete engage in much heavier training than others – it will end up making him stronger than others, even though during tough training sessions he will seem much weaker than those who are lazing around. It is like a runner lugging heavy weights on his back – it feels as if it is weakening him but it will actually make him stronger as he keeps struggling on.

    (For more about this, see Scrupulosity.htm and then keep following for very many pages the main link toward the bottom of each page.)

    If you suppose Spirit-filled Christians do not suffer such trials, it is simply further proof that most of us have fanciful, unscriptural notions of peace. The biblical conception of peace is an enigma. The one who said, “My peace I give you,” (John 14:27) is the same Jesus who knew such stress in Gethsemane that he sweat blood and said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” (Matthew 26:38). The apostle who wrote:

      Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything . . . And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus

    also wrote:

      2 Corinthians 2:4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears . . .

      2 Corinthians 2:13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there.

    Peace is a faith walk, not a feeling, just as holiness is not lack of temptation but refusing to cave in to the strongest temptation. For more about this, see the Peace in the Storm link at the end of this page.

    Being plagued by anxiety is no indication of spiritual weakness. On the contrary, being afflicted by it is proof that God believes in your ability to walk by faith, not feelings, and by doing so bring eternal glory to him and to yourself.

People with agoraphobia feel uncomfortable and ill at ease whenever they leave the security of their house. Forcing themselves to disregard the anxiety, and going out despite the unpleasant feeling can become quite difficult. To keep giving in to anxiety, however, is to turn an unpleasant feeling into a cruel tyrant that imprisons its victims into an oppressively restrictive, life-controlling problem.

Just as some people can feel anxious about leaving their house, others can feel anxious about being kind to themselves, relaxing, or having some harmless fun. I have endeavored to convince you from Scripture that doing these things has divine approval. Guilt feelings are not God telling you the Bible is wrong or that God is a harsh taskmaster or that he wants you to deprive yourself of his gifts. If anxiety is not God telling agoraphobics to stay home, neither is anxiety God trying to use guilt feelings to guide you.

Nevertheless, just as an agoraphobic’s anxiety won’t lessen merely by him intellectually knowing that it is safe to leave home, so it is with Bible knowledge. We still have to refuse to let irrational feelings restrict us.

We would never get physically fit merely by being convinced that exercise is good. To get fit we have to ignore our body’s screams to be lazy, and actually make the effort to exercise. Likewise, convincing ourselves that a phobia is irrational and not of God will not free us from its oppression. To be free, we must force ourselves to disregard the anxiety. Doing so will be very unpleasant at first but if we keep it up, it will get easier and easier until we experience the freedom and fulfillment of actually enjoying the things that once made us anxious.

Early in this webpage I spoke of guilt-free fun. As should be becoming clear, I was referring to how your eternal Judge sees it, not necessarily how it feels to you. When Jesus spoke of the final judgment, both the “sheep” and the “goats” were surprised (Matthew 25:31-46). The “sheep” were rewarded beyond their expectations for things that seemed to them more mundane than God viewed them.

God sees things differently from us and we need to keep seeking him for his perspective on everything, and we must live by this, not by our own perspective and feelings, nor by how other people see them.

* * *

If your life has been riddled with putdowns, I not only feel for you, I admire you. For you to still be staggering on is heroic. I would be devastated if my webpage were to end up making you hate yourself for hating yourself. On the contrary, my longing is to inspire you to see yourself through God’s loving eyes – through the rose-tinted window of the Forgiving Lord who pronounces you not guilty and sees you as his darling child. To him, you are irreplaceable and infinitely valuable. Instead of being at cross purposes with all of heaven, join forces with the divine by treating yourself with the tenderness and patience and graciousness of God. Cooperate with the Almighty in fulfilling his beautiful plans for you.

To truly believe that the good Lord believes in you and thinks the world of you, however, is likely to be quite a battle. To help you with this I have written the following webpages.

Related Pages

To God, You Are Special! Why, in God’s Eyes, You are Irreplaceable

God Loves You means You Are God’s Favorite!

Compassionate Help when Feeling Useless & Hopeless

Forgiving Yourself (And keep following the first link at the end of the text for as many pages as it takes to be convinced.)

How to Change Your Self-Image & Boost Self-Esteem

Cure for Self-Hate

Praise: God’s Anti-Depressant

Prayer Secrets: How to Make Prayer Exciting

Christian Joy

Peace in the Storm: Christian Peace Reexamined

Compassionate Help When You Hate Yourself

Life’s Mysteries Explained
(The benefits of deliverance from sin being difficult.)

Personalized support
Grantley Morris: healing@net-burst.net

© 2016, Grantley Morris.  May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage.  Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net  Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.

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