Many of us have experienced real pain, failure, disappointment, abuse, and disasters in our life. These circumstances, both big and small, can define how we think of ourselves.
This article is the fourth in a five-part series. To catch up, you can read the following articles: Self-Judgment: The Battle for our mind, Self-Judgment: Spiritual Warfare, and Self-Judgment: Cultural Warfare.
Our mind wants to define us by our past. It uses these bad memories to try and protect us from new suffering. The easy path is to give up, to hunker down, to protect ourselves by not stepping out into situations that could lead to the same experiences we have lived in our past. Our thoughts constantly bring us back to the past in an attempt to preserve our future. But these real-life experiences can work against us. They highlight everything that went wrong and tell us that we must prevent such suffering again at all costs.
Judging Ourselves into Inaction
By defining ourselves by our past experiences, it is easy to believe that our best course of action is inaction. We fall into the trap of thinking that where we are is as good as it is going to get. We judge ourselves as inadequate based on the mistakes of our past. It does not matter if the mistakes were caused by our own doing or by circumstances out of our control – the message we tell ourselves is the same: play it safe. Hide. Don’t push the boundaries that life has given us. The result is a life lived without purpose, further solidifying our inner belief that the best we can do is simply survive.
There is More Than Mere Survival
This does not have to be our fate. We were meant for more than just survival. God has given us great gifts that He wants to see us use. He wants us to be fulfilled in life and to continually move us into bigger and better things.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
No, this is not a promise for unbelievable wealth and prosperity – it is something even greater. The verse is an opening statement in a message from God to His people in exile. God was addressing a group whose sins and failures had caused them to lose everything. They now lived in a foreign land, torn apart from everything and everyone that they knew. They were a desperate group, full of despair and self-judgment. And for good reason. They had failed to hold up their end of the covenant with God. They turned their backs on Him, worshiped false idols, believed they were greater and stronger than they were, and refused to repent until all was lost.
Yet, it was in this moment of darkness that God spoke to them, not in judgment, but with compassion. The message was not, “I told you so.” Instead, it was a note of encouragement that provided hope and forgiveness. God told His people that even though they were living with the consequences of their past that this did not need to define their future. He told them to go on living, to prosper, and most importantly, to move forward.
Stop the Inner Warfare
God’s message to His people of hope and forgiveness has been handed down through the centuries to us. With Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, all who accept God’s gift of grace are saved from condemnation. As Christ-followers, we are not judged by God, so then why do we judge ourselves so harshly? We must stop allowing our past to define our future. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1 that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” We are even freer than those who Jeremiah was speaking to. While they had hope and forgiveness, they were still under the law and it was their future adherence to the law that would dictate the outcome of their lives. Through Christ, we have been freed from the law. God wants us to live in freedom. He does not want us to be held captive by our past or stuck in fear of failure.
Failure is a part of life. It is a tool for learning. But it is not what defines us. It is not what dictates our future. We must be careful about what we learn and take away from our past. It is easy to see our mistakes, failures, and disappointments as benchmarks for what we are capable of, essentially as barriers that we can never overcome. But this leaves us bitter, distracted, fearful, pessimistic, and broken.
Instead, we must see our future as it truly is: unwritten, full of opportunity, and ready to be conquered. We must learn from our past and allow it to help us grow, but then we must move forward in freedom, understanding that it is hope and forgiveness that will define our next steps. This could mean forgiveness of ourselves and/or others, moving forward in freedom and in hope of what the future will bring. Our unworthiness, our failures, and our past do not matter to God. What matters is how we live now. What dictates our future will be our present actions. The past cannot be undone, but our future is still unwritten. So let us stop fretting about the past. Let us free ourselves from self-judgment so that we can move forward in confidence.
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom” – James 2:12
A law that gives freedom provides room for mistakes. We are not called to live a perfect life. But we are called to live a meaningful life. One that moves forward, that seeks opportunity to serve, that speaks the truth, and that fights for what could be instead of settling for what is. Go and live in freedom and in confidence that you are wonderfully and fearfully made (Psalm 139:14) to accomplish great things!