No Condemnation.

While on my long run Saturday morning, I noticed my thoughts were demanding all my attention.  Try as I might to be present and in touch with the moment, I kept getting pulled into my head as judgments caught my attention: I hate how my eyes keep watering! This run isn’t feeling all that great. Am I going to turn at Camino Del Sur or keep going down the bike path? Why can’t I stop thinking so much?! Rubbing my eyes so much can’t be good for the dark circles under my eyes… Etc.

I came to a hill, (ironically, the same place where I thought of the idea for this post about not fearing the hills!) and I could feel myself struggle against the pain of running up the hill.  I didn’t want to go through the discomfort, though I’d been looking forward to running this particular route for the past week.  It hit me, I was not accepting my feelings at all.  I wanted to go on feeling steady and comfortable, which doesn’t allow you to do hard things, like run hills! 

I prayed for help: “God, please help me get out of my head and accept my feelings.”  I thanked my mind for all the stories and actively connected to the moment.  I started observing my thoughts instead of fusing with them, which allowed me to see the critical nature of all these thoughts. 

Oh yeah, it’s my harsh inner critic! I suddenly realized.  It’s amazing how in touch I’ll be with this part of me and then completely forget it even exists. 

So, obviously the harsh inner critic is just me.  It’s the voice that tells me I have to do things perfectly.  I must always make the right decision in terms of food choices, insulin doses, activities, behavior, etc.  It tells me to strive harder and then proudly praises me when I accomplish something.  It also judges, judges, judges, all the time.  I mean, how can you tell you’re doing the “right” thing unless you identify all the “wrong” things?  Black and white, all or nothing thinking is very important for the inner critic.

What I’m referring to as the inner critic is also described as the “false self” my others.  The “Old Adam” is how Luther describes the remaining sinful nature that is alive and active in us, even though we are redeemed and sanctified through baptism into the triune God. 

It’s insidious how this part of me gets triggered.  It’s been triggered in the past by keeping a planner and wearing a tracking watch; really anything that helps me measure my performance. Recently, I realized that social media, Instagram in particular, caused me to judge my healthy eating and exercise habits against those “influencers” I follow.  I’d started to compare my routines against these curated ones and found myself coming up short.  It’s crazy that I kept putting these images in front of me! 

It helps to refer to this part of me as a separate entity so I can more easily identify how unhelpful this perfectionistic attitude is.  But, it’s actually just my sinful nature rearing its head.  When I’m in this state, it’s like I tell God, “Thanks for all you’ve done for me; I’ve got it from here!” 

I know that I’m not performing for God’s approval, his love for me is unconditional and assured.  I’m performing for my own sense of accomplishment and gratification.  I want my inner critic to go easy on me, so I choose rightly to keep the condemnation to a minimum.

Oh, the peace and relief that comes when I recognize my striving and surrender – it’s incredible!  Today’s sermon at church touched my heart deeply as Pastor Horn reminded us: “In baptism, you have God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit constantly watching over you and taking care of your every need.” When I repent and accept grace as the free gift it is, the inner critic gets awfully quiet.  After all, there’s now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, (Romans 8:1).  Amen.


Set my Spirit Free

For the past several months, I’ve started the day by reading the Daily Lectionary most mornings. The lectionary provides readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and a Psalm for each day, following the themes of the church year. Mateo picked up on this routine and started asking me to wake him up early so he could do “devotions” with me.

Yesterday morning we read from Luke over breakfast, concluding chapter 11 with Jesus’s warnings to the religious hypocrites of his day. This led to a great conversation with the kids about the dangers of self-righteousness. We talked about constantly returning to Christ’s grace and our need for forgiveness, rather than trying to uphold the law ourselves and then looking down on the sins of others.

The Lutheran Study Bible has wonderful notes and prayers that I cherish! This reading shared the lyrics of a hymn in the form of prayer:

Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears
Can bear my awful load.

Thy work along, O Christ,
Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within.
“Not What These Hands Have Done” (Lutheran Service Book, 567: 2-3)

There’s such freedom in this knowledge as we acknowledge, over and over again, that our peace, hope and salvation are because of Christ’s work, not our own. When I readily accept this grace, (which includes repenting of my sinfulness), I allow the kids to receive grace too. Which, in turn, turns the pressure down on all of us!

When I looked up the hymn reference, I found such comfort and peace in the fourth verse:

Thy love to me, O God,
Not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest
And set my spirit free.
“Not What These Hands Have Done” (Lutheran Service Book, 567: 4)

Amen, Jesus.