Have you ever thought about your relationships with others? And, for that matter, with God? Do you have truly mature relationships, or are you just running in place, stuck as a relational preadolescent?
And let's not talk only about the easy stuff, like if you are growing. Let's consider things like why so many Christians have such a poor prayer life, or why most Christians who seldom touch their Bible. Why they are not growing. "What" is easy. "Why" is not.
Even though the why is far more difficult, it's also much more important.
Until we understand something of the why behind our actions and attitudes, we will continue to repeat them. We might not like them, but we are powerless to make real change.
As I struggled with this in my own life - for more years than I care to think about - I became deeply frustrated and discouraged because I never seemed to get past certain points in my emotional and spiritual growth. I began wondering if I was somehow inherently substandard or just a basic loser, locked into a life of defeat and failure.
But I have concluded that am none of those, and I now know the answer to why.
Over several years, I have asked Christians, both individuals and groups, two questions: First, does God love you? And of course, nearly all Christians answer yes, even if deep inside they have some doubts. Then, does God like you? When I ask this question, I carefully watch the eyes of the other person. Very often, there is a short, thoughtful pause. Then, as the eyes become sad, the answer comes: "No, I don't think so."
Here's the logic: "God loves me because, you know, He sort of has to do that. After all, the Bible says God is love, and that He loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to bring us life. And the world includes me. And you. So....
"But like me? Does God like me? When Jesus has some free time, will he call me if he wants someone to just hang out with?
"Probably not. After all, why should he? I'm not especially likeable, and not much to hang with. Boring, actually. I know this is true because I don't much like myself, and who knows me better than I know myself?"
But here's a big problem: That answer, which comes from our own estimation of ourselves, is wrong. Totally and flat-out.
It's wrong because it's based in a lie. We really do not know ourselves better than anyone else does. We have spent so much time and effort creating a front to present to the world that we truly don't know ourselves. We know and believe only the lie we have created.
But God knows us. He is not fooled by fronts or facades. In fact, God knows us better than we could begin to imagine.
Very often, we look in the mirror and see only a 'bad boy' or a 'bad girl,' someone who does and thinks things that cause us to blush. Of course we are ashamed of ourselves. Who wouldn't be?
But God sees someone far different. It's not that we haven't done those things and thought those thoughts. We have. And it's not that God doesn't know all about them. He does. But while knowing, He looks more deeply, and there He sees someone He created in his own image, someone He loves so deeply as to be inexpressible. He sees someone He cares about enough to die for.
And there is never a moment when He is ashamed of us. Never a time when he regrets giving us life. We might grieve him. We might hurt him. But we cannot make him ashamed of us.
When we focus on ourselves, we enter a downward spiral. We never measure up to our own standard. And we believe the lies we tell ourselves about our own worthlessness. But God isn't that way.
Our shame and negative opinion of ourselves have profound implications. Most Christians report dissatisfaction with their prayer life. Most don't pray regularly or with depth. And yet praying is perhaps at the center of our relationship with God.
Why is this such a problem?
Here's an idea: If I don't like or respect myself, and I believe I know best, then, of course, I won't believe that God likes or respects me. And if you believe God doesn't like you, that when you pray He only tolerates you at best, why would you want to sit and chat with him? Nobody enjoys talking with someone who dislikes them.
So what's the solution? This shame pervades our lives, becoming a controlling factor in so many areas, from our relationship with God to our friendships with other people. It affects success in our jobs, and the growth of a healthy family. We don't need it, and we need to get rid of it. Desperately.
Here's how: Stop believing lies and start believing truth. Stop believing the lies you have been told about yourself by others - parents, teachers, 'friends' - and start believing what God says. God's word is always true and always reliable. Also - especially this - stop believing the lies you tell yourself. These are the worst.
Here's an important principle: The testimony of men and women in this regard is not reliable. It might be true or it might be false. But it's hard to sort them out and know which is which. But with God it is not so.
We learned these lies from someone. We learned all the negative things we tell ourselves from someone. Nobody is born with such a low opinion of him- or herself. And if we can learn the lies, we can also learn the truth.
God is absolutely true and absolutely trustworthy. We can teach ourselves not to believe the lies by telling ourselves instead the things God says about us. We can confront the source of the shame, and over time watch it dissolve and disappear, replaced by the truth from God.
It's a little like the old computer saying: "Garbage in; garbage out." Whatever you put into your mind will determine what comes out of it. And if you continue to feed lies in, it's no surprise that you get lies back out. But if you tell yourself the truth - God's truth as written in his word - eventually the truth will overwrite the lies, and will come to dominate our view of ourselves and our life.
This is not such an easy task, and not a quick one, necessarily. But it's worth the trouble. Don't give up.
The primary factor in coming into a rich, fulfilling knowledge of myself and my life is truth And often the primary factor in coming into the truth is simple determination. Nothing replaces determination. Never give up.
God is true, and God is on your side. And he likes you. A lot.