Ray Carroll is author of Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World. He blogs at Fallen Pastor and is a contributor to Provoketive Magazine.
All of us have been called a horrible name at some point in our lives. Whether we cut someone off in traffic, hurt someone’s feelings, committed a major sin and caught the eye of the public, or someone just didn’t like us – we’ve all been called something bad.
I can think of hundreds of names I’ve been called. Three years ago, while pastor of a Southern Baptist church, I committed adultery and disappointed a lot of people. My wife and I divorced and I found myself in a place where I was being called all sorts of names.
At some point, when I was at my worst, I just began believing everyone. I was the worst person in the world. Every name stuck with me and every curse word, every nasty thing rang true. One person at Wal-Mart saw me one day with my children and called me out and said, “You’re horrible.”
And I thought, “Yeah, I am.”
In a larger scope, our society has derogatory names for all kinds of people groups. We have names for people of different races, names for homosexuals, terrible names for people who commit all kinds of sins we don’t care for. And most of us are guilty of using such names and hatred when we are expressing anger – even though we’ve been on the receiving end of it and know how it feels.
But I think that as much abuse as people can throw at us, we are probably guilty of self-abuse even more. We do this in several ways. We often agree with the negative talk that people give to us. We might have been verbally abused while we were young by our peers or by adults and we have come to accept that the worst is really true about us.
Sometimes, we engage in a pattern of self-talk that is horribly destructive. We look at ourselves in the mirror and see someone who is too fat, too ugly, too old or just unpleasant to look at. Whether we say the words or not, we internally abuse ourselves.
When I was pastoring, I came across a book called The Four Agreements written by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book isn’t written from a Christian perspective but it was recommended to me. At the time, I was surprised to be reading it. It had a definite New Age flavor and I was a man who prided himself on rejecting that sort of thing outright. But, I decided to hold on to the loose paraphrase of the John Calvin quote, “All truth is God’s truth,” and forge ahead. I’m glad I did. I even reworked the contents and preached a sermon series on it.
To this day, years after reading it, one quote stands out to me: “In your whole life nobody has ever abused you more than you have abused yourself. And the limit of your self-abuse is exactly the limit that you will tolerate from someone else.”1
We are chronic self-abusers and in turn, we abuse all kinds of people around us. It is a vicious cycle. But like any cycle, it can be broken.
In The Four Agreements, Ruiz says that we cannot take anything personally. We take things personally because we believe we are responsible for everything. He goes on to say that we can’t take things personally because “nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”2 It took me a long time to understand that. How can we not take personal jabs from people personally? Especially when that person is close to us?
After my fall, I started understanding what he was trying to say. Everyone has their own world they live in with their own presuppositions. What people say is based on their own set of values. And even if what they say is good and wonderful, you can’t take that personally either. It’s based on their own set of beliefs.
The one thing I would add to Ruiz’s work is that there is an objective standard for us. I do think we will live a miserable existence if we believe every negative thing people say about us or every negative thing we think about us. Similarly, we can’t allow people to puff us up. That can lead to ruin as well.
What is our standard? After my fall, I held closely to the story of the adulterous woman found in John 8. This woman, caught in the act of adultery, was thrown at the feet of Jesus. The crowd wanted to stone her. She was the outcast, the awful sinner. They wanted judgment. I’m sure the words of the crowd stung in her ears as she sat there next to Christ, the only friend she had in the world at that moment.
But Christ was the only one in the world who had the authority to judge her at that moment. And instead of that, he showed compassion. He didn’t ignore her sin, but instead showed grace. He looked past her sin and loved her. He dismissed the crowd and said to her, “Is anyone left to condemn you?”
That’s our standard. We have a loving Christ who looks past our sin and loves us for who we are. There is no greater love. And he went to Calvary to pay the price for the sin that we hate so much about ourselves. He removed it. There is nothing to hate, nothing left for anyone to judge. We have been set free.
When we do sin, we have the cross to run back to, knowing we have a compassionate Savior who will love us, forgive us, and show us grace.
The other side of this is that Christ has shown us how we are to love others in this world. We aren’t to be the crowd standing there waiting to judge and throw stones. We are to run to the side of anyone who needs help, ready to show compassion. Instead of name calling, we are to call upon the name of Christ and help others to do the same.
- Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: a Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (San Rafael, Calif.: Amber-Allen Publishing, 1997), Kindle edition, location 315. ↩
- Ibid., 521 ↩