Have you ever felt embarrassed when you’re completely alone? I have. The memory of some goofy comment or thoughtless action comes to mind, and the heat rises in my face and body. I may even turn my head in reaction to the sensation, although there’s nothing to turn away from. If it happens at night, and invades my sleep, I can feel like an insect pinned on a board at the mercy of waves of embarrassment at best, and shame at worst.
I have techniques for handling this:
Discern Where the Battle Lies
Some of our self-criticism is true, and some of it is not. It’s vital to distinguish between the two. We will exhaust ourselves if we simply shadowbox with the voices in our heads, so I refuse to shadowbox and I take my struggle to God. One go-to prayer I ask is from the end of Psalm 19:
But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
I recognize that I am incapable of discerning the true intention of my heart without outside help. The Word of God is capable of judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Is there something I have not obeyed from God’s Word? Is there an attitude I have held or expressed in violation of God’s command to love? Did I not speak truth when the situation called for it, or did I not show compassion and mercy? Am I withholding forgiveness? I bring the details to God in prayer and ask Him to show me if/how I have sinned.
Choose the Appropriate Approach
God convicts us of sin in order to purify us and bring us into closer relationship with Him. Satan accuses us of sin or magnifies our mistakes in order to weaken us and keep us feeling defensive or useless. If God shows me nothing that I have done in violation of His Word, then I know I have been listening to a voice in my head that is not His, and I need to counter it with God’s words. A quick search for “encouragement from God’s Word” gives plenty of good verses to counter fear, loneliness, weakness, purposelessness, unworthiness, unloveliness, etc. But knowing it for yourself is powerful. Prepare for these moments by memorizing scripture, and you will be blown away by how God uses it to guide and comfort you.
If I am guilty, then I need to confess and make amends quickly.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:9)
Confession begins with God because He is the one we have sinned against. He has commanded us to love one another as He has loved us. If we are unloving to one another, we are disobedient to Him. Confess to God, forgive all who have sinned against you, and then apologize to anyone you have wronged. If it is necessary, make amends as Zaccheus did (Luke 19). This is hard-core obedience, but the faster you obey, the quicker you will be free from the anchor of guilt.
Once you have confessed and made amends, you truly are free. If guilty thoughts continue to hound you, counter them with God’s Words.
Remember What the Battle is About
We are selfish creatures, and our tendency is to think our life is a personal battle. Sometimes the accusatory voices in my head come from other people – either they really said something accusing me, or I imagine that’s what they think. But the Word of God says this:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:12-13)
The people we battle in our heads are not our enemies. The enemy is the one who is trying to separate us from the love of God. That enemy does not want us to live in the freedom from sin and guilt that God offers through Jesus Christ. That enemy is a liar, and accuses or flatters as it suits him.
God has chosen to forgive, through Jesus Christ. God calls us worthy because Jesus has given us worth as His sons and daughters. God has promised to never leave us or forsake us because He loves us, and nothing can separate us from that love.
Measure of Success
Our success in this life will be determined by how well we have stayed locked into the love of God. God’s love is an unselfish love, and it will produce unselfish love in us. As we use the Word of God and prayer to do battle against the accusations and criticisms in our minds, we will become people who are able to offer encouragement to others. And that is how our failures become successes.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:4-6)