Do you find yourself measuring your days and often your self-worth by how much you accomplish in a day?
My multiple to-do lists were endless: house chores and feeding the family; my job, community and church commitments; errands and projects. And, when “very little” got done, I felt like I’d wasted the day. Self-condemnation and a driving taskmaster clamored in my head. I believed the lie: My value to God and others depended upon my being useful, helpful and productive.
After years of pushing myself to perform, my body gave out. The doctor called it burnout, physical depression, and ordered me to take months off from work, to rest and recover.
Now, I had no to-do list and no strength. My goal was to survive another day. Still, regret badgered me: if only I could do more, help more and be more available. I felt guilty watching my husband work all day just to come home to dishes and meal prep. My teenage children carried the responsibilities of my burnout by doing all the shopping, cleaning and planning. Bad parent and lousy spouse echoed in my mind.
As the season of Lent approached, a dear friend invited me to her prayer meeting. I accepted because I knew she had a couch I could lie down on. We prayed, sang and worshipped God. She encouraged us to pray and ask God what He’d like us to fast from as a spiritual discipline for the weeks before Easter. I immediately assumed I’d hear the Lord say to give up chocolate or sweets, something I love. But instead, as I prayed and listened, He distinctly spoke to my heart: “I want you to fast from self-condemnation.”
Whoa, surprise! I thought about how many times a day I judge myself for not measuring up, for not doing something I think I should be doing, or for doing a poor job. I wondered what it would be like to never criticize myself, to be able to say, “Oh well, I’m OK and loved, even if I don’t get anything done or do it wrong.” It was such a novel idea!
Scripture tells us that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:1). Could I fast from judging and condemning myself? Could I turn a deaf ear to all accusations?
I didn’t realize how often I criticized myself until I was asked to give it up. Truly, I was delighted to give it a try and to keep the chocolate.
For the days before Easter, I blessed myself, whether or not I met any task. My expectations of myself were to be care-free. In fact, I had no expectations of myself except to take each day with joy and continue to rest. I didn’t strive to measure up to anyone’s expectations. I laughed when I forgot to go to an appointment. “Oh, well, it will all work out!” I declared.
My health gradually returned, maintained by the lesson: Condemnation is not from the Lord, even self-condemnation. Paul said that he learned not to judge himself or be judged by others (see 1 Corinthians 4:3). Jesus said that He didn’t come to judge this world but to save it (see John 12:47). So, who am I to judge what He has justified through His death and resurrection?
I repented. “Lord, I receive Your grace daily. If I ever accomplish a thing, it will be because You have enabled me. I am loved perfectly, not based on what I do but on who I am in relationship to You.” Big sigh of relief!
Consider an experiment: a condemnation fast for a week, a month, or for Lent. Listen, and notice your inner negative voice. How often does it speak? What does it say? Who does it sound like? Then, gently silence it. See if your joy isn’t fuller, your step lighter, and all you accomplish a gift from God.
Gena Bradford is a writer based in Spokane. This column is an excerpt from her book, “I Can’t Rest Now, Lord! I’m Responsible …” available at Auntie’s Bookstore and genabradford.com.