There is this beautiful Andrew Peterson song called “Be Kind To Yourself.”
It reminds me of what it was like to be an awkward teenager, trying to figure out exactly who I was, how I fit into God’s plan, and (often most cripplingly), how others perceived me.
I am no kinder to myself now than I was when I had acne and braces. In fact, I am probably less kind to myself than I was back then. And I don’t just mean physically (although I could write a whole separate article about that).
The Sin I Cannot Love
We know our Bible. There is none righteous (Romans 3:10); our good works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6); our hearts our deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
Right before I started dating my husband, I wrote an article that put it this way:
I am irrevocably broken. And my brokenness nicks everyone around me on a consistent basis. I was born in sin, shaped in iniquity (Psalm 51:5). Every other thought and quite a few actions I employ scream of both a desire to be loved and the inability to conform myself into a woman deserving of that inborn desire.
It’s impossible. I can’t do it. I’m not worthy.
And so I jump on the hamster wheel and start running with all of my might. I beat myself down when I slip and fall. I’m like a Benedictine monk, flagellating myself as a form of penance, hating every fleshly aspect of who I am.
What could be holier?
The Law and The Grace
In Romans 7, Paul grapples with the same emotions that I have often warred against myself: I want to do the right thing, to be the upright person, but I can’t.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18-19)
He captures it, doesn’t he? That constant battle against our flesh — the endless war we are waging (Ephesians 6:12). He paints it with startling clarity: the Law screams do, do, do! And our flesh refuses to die.
Often, I have run to Romans 7 and camped out there in my shame, not remembering that Romans 8 sits right around the corner, gently whispering:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. (Romans 8:1-3)
God has done what our self-harming flagellation could not do.
His Children Groan
Every aspect of this world we live in has been marred by sin, including us. Creation groans for the return of her Savior, and so do we (Romans 8:22-23). We are like Madeline’s Miss Clavel: “Something is not right” is written on our searching hearts.
But here’s what blows my mind: in spite of this fact, we are still made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28). And just as his fingerprints are still all over the beauty of creation (Romans 1:19-20), they are all over us.
Think of the beauty that humanity has been able to produce throughout creation, since time’s dawning. Mathematical principles have been discovered, scientific theories have been proven, and the Sistine Chapel has been painted — the fingerprints of our intelligent and creative designer remain on his creation. Our hunger for dominion (Genesis 1:28) is innate.
And yet, if we are God’s children, we not only inherit glimpses of his character that will ultimately pass away (1 John 2:17). We also gain access to the Spirit of God, who molds our unique gifts, talents, abilities, and bents, for God’s unique purposes both here on earth, and beyond.
He is at work.
Be Kind To Yourself
So where does that leave the monks within us, who are always walking on hot coals to atone for their sins?
This leaves them putting salve on their knees, and trusting that Christ has atoned for their sin (1 Peter 3:18)
It leaves us hating sin (Colossians 3:5), and also thanking the Lord for his ultimate victory in that area (2 Corinthians 12:9).
It leaves us resting in Christ’s perfection, not our own, and being willing to admit our brokenness in the face of the Healer.
And it leaves us in the exquisite balancing act of cultivating the beautiful and unique things that the Lord has put into us (Psalm 139:14: “wonderful are your works!”) and pruning the areas where those things are embattled with our sin natures.
It’s harder than the culture’s notion that we are perfect just the way we are; and more complex than the inner voice that screams that we are worthless worms in every way.
It’s a dance.
I know a good song we can dance to.