This is the second post in a series of thoughts and stories surrounding the spiritual disciplines that will be posted on Fridays. I am defining the term “spiritual discipline” very loosely to refer to a practice that one engages in regularly and intentionally in order to draw closer to God or deepen one’s relationship with God. Click here to read the intro post and here to read last week’s post on the discipline of showing up.
A while back, I had a very nice, cordial conversation with someone who I really like, and when we said goodbye and walked away, I was startled to discover that I was upset.
It took me an hour or two to believe that I was, in fact, upset. Whereas before the conversation I’d been going about my day joyfully, after the conversation I felt irritable and lost in the spinning wheels of my mind. I began feeling really badly about myself; I heard a tape playing in my head telling me that I was a failure, but I had no idea where all of this was coming from. Over and over again I asked myself why I felt so angry. I wasn’t at all angry at the person I’d been talking to. Rather, I was feeling angry with myself.
Finally, I got into my car and went for a drive. I left the music off and let my mind wander—trying to allow whatever was bothering me to release into the night and leave me alone. But I kept coming back to the conversation, and I realized that maybe there was something there that God wanted me to pay attention to.
I replayed the conversation in my mind, trying to identify the point at which everything had shifted. It didn’t take me long to hear the two sentences the person had said in passing—sentences that hurt even to think about—and I knew I was getting close to the answer. My friend had been explaining something and in the process had inadvertently struck a nerve. I’d felt attacked, defensive. And though my friend was not communicating this message in any way (and would, in fact, be distraught to know this is how I’d taken it), I took the two sentences as if they had said Kristin, you’re a total loser and a complete disappointment to everyone.
As I kept driving through the night in my silent car, I was—for once—able to step out of the downward spiral and see how my reaction was totally disproportionate to the stimulus. In fact, if I looked at it objectively, my reaction and ultimate conclusion looked completely unreasonable. I know this person. I know that they don’t think this about me. The point they were making in our conversation had very little to do with me. Yet, why was something in me going to that dark, extreme place so easily?
I began speaking out loud in my dark car as I rolled through the lonely streets. I asked God to help me unravel what was going haywire in me; to show me what the exposed nerve was that was accidentally struck by my friend.
For me, it usually comes down to two things when I feel the weight of offense like I did in that moment: criticism and rejection. Like many people, I don’t take criticism well—at times I receive even the kindest feedback as a negative judgement and rejection of my person. If you say: maybe you should try doing it this way I sometimes hear well, you’re obviously stupid and a complete failure. I have long believed that maybe this is just my personality. That I am just sensitive, and that I just need to push through hard moments and move on.
I was stopped at a stop light, all alone at a lonely intersection late at night, when God spoke truth into my whirling mind.
This isn’t about your personality. This is about what you’re choosing to believe.
Suddenly, I could see what was happening, clear as day.
I’d felt criticized because I was unsure of how I was handling a certain situation that my friend had brought up. I was unsure because—ultimately—I didn’t really believe that it was up to God to intervene and make things right. At the bottom, I thought I was the one in control, the one who had to fix everything, and I was feeling the anxiety that comes from the world weighing on your shoulders. Certainly, failure is inevitable if it is up to me to fix the world. No wonder I was feeling so agitated.
But the truth is that I am not in control. It is not all up to me. And that is a mercy.
A few minutes later I pulled into my driveway and sat there in the dark. I confessed it all, out loud, before God. I confessed to being defensive, to being overly critical of myself, to being willing to believe that I am worthless and a failure. Most importantly, I confessed how I’d taken on the belief that I was in control of things; I’d made myself God, rather than trusting in the One who is really God. I confessed how much I needed Him, and how much I needed it to be true that He is God, and I am not.
I am prone to think that the discipline of confession is a painful thing. That it is hard to admit to the things we think and do, that it is a punishment of sorts. But that night, I began to think of confession as a gift. I didn’t experience condemnation when I confessed reality; I experienced freedom from the self-condemnation that I’d put myself through all day. Confessing my unhealthy and misdirected thoughts cleared the air. It was like taking a deep breath after coming up from underwater. I knew that I could let this go; it was time to move on.
Confession has become a small and regular discipline for me. It is a regular discipline because it happens daily—sometimes hourly. It is small because it is such a little action that I take. A lot of times it is me pausing and stating the reality in my mind: God, I don’t believe that you’re in control of this or God, I think you really messed up here. Hearing myself confess these things forces me to re-examine what I am believing in the bottom of my heart, and it allows me to recalibrate and move on.
So how about you? Does the discipline of confession factor into your life? What does it look like?