What is known as "talking down" to a person is a form of rhetoric, polemic, and is associated with ad hominem -- the attacking of one's character in order to dismiss the content of one's opponent. I also view the demeaning of others as a form of injustice. What is injustice, after all, but an unjust act, a wrong, and the violation of the rights of another? People co-exist with each other, at least in a biblically Christian context, maintaining a right to not be violated by the demeaning, degrading, objectifying or vilifying of their character. The Law of the Love of Jesus demands as much.
Of course, we always render qualifications for such a context, including unremorseful and incorrigible people who do not care for the well-being of others. In such cases, however, one may be merely stating a fact by the highlighting of the deplorable character traits of such people. If we name Hitler a psychotic monster, for example, we are not exactly demeaning his character as much as outlining or defining the character traits by which he existed consistently throughout his infamous history. My referents in this post, however, are everyday people with both self-respect and respect for others; even if they are guilty, like the rest of us, of wrong-doing at some level.
Several factors contributed to the growth of my inner strength over the last few years and I am all too grateful for these life-changing realities. One primary factor was forgiveness of my wrong-doing. Being forgiven by God, the one against whom I ultimately sinned, was empowering as well as humbling. I will never forget my therapist confronting me, "If God has forgiven you all of your heinous sins, as well as those against whom you have wronged, then how dare you for not forgiving yourself!" Being forgiven strengthened my inner being. Being forgiven allowed me to embrace honesty, as well as transparency, and to conquer fear and disregard shame. This took years, mind you, but I finally reached the point of no return over a year ago.
The believers at Union Baptist Church in my hometown also contributed to the ever-growing inner strength that continues to enable me to shun fear and defeat shame. Believer after believer kept encouraging me to leave the past in the past, to stop revisiting the shame, and to embrace the Lord who had consumed my shame. Because of their constant nudging and encouragement and affirmation I was enabled to embrace honesty, fearlessness, and transparency. As a matter of fact, the godly believers at Union strengthened me to be honest with my ecclesiological shift, leading me to join Emmanuel Episcopal Church at Jenkins Bridge. I owe them much! Theirs is a gift I will never forget because the gift lives within me and continues to give me inner strength.
Another contributing factor in making me stronger were the writings of the late Henri J.M. Nouwen, especially his book, Can You Drink the Cup? (I purchased the Tenth Anniversary Edition published by Ave Maria Press). At a time when I was baptized in fear, and debilitating shame, this book set me free. This book gave me permission, in Christ, to embrace the me that I was always afraid of sharing with others, the me I tried to hide, the me who always tried to please others, by whose standards I tried forming my thinking and behaving, all to a very -- temporarily -- bad end. I have also had friends who have encouraged me through these years, notably Mrs. Pat, Dale, Chris and Justin. There are, of course, others; and I appreciate each and every person who has ever reached out to me, to further me in the graceful and powerful arms of a loving, forgiving God.
I think that you, too, can benefit from Nouwen. Let me offer you a quote: "As long as we live our deepest truth in secret, isolated from a community of love, its burden is too heavy to carry. The fear of being known [found out] can make us split off our true inner selves from our public selves and make us despise ourselves even when we are acclaimed and praised by many."1 This is how I lived for years. In some incommunicable way, I subconsciously knew this truth, without consciously thinking about the ramifications. Hiding my struggles and fears and shame, refusing to allow anyone into those tragic states of affairs, instrumentally led me into a double-minded life. Even if others could see it, they did not quite understand how to approach me, or even what to say.
What of you? Are you living in fear and shame? Fear can cripple you, hinder you, defeat you; and the friend of fear, shame, can cause you some of the worst turmoil you will ever experience. Fear will cause you to remain in the negative state that you want to escape. Shame will constantly inform you that you are not worthy of a good and successfully emotional, psychological, and spiritual life. Shame will cause you to perceive of guilt as shame. But guilt merely informs you that you did something wrong; while shame tries to convince you that you are something wrong.
Do not confuse guilt with shame. Do not allow fear to control your life. At the same time, do not avoid your pain, or shun your failures. Learn from your failures, but do so by embracing them, owning them. Possess the integrity to look yourself in the mirror and confess: "Yes, I did that, and I will own up to it. That is part of my past. I will despise that failure, I will seek to not repeat that failure, and I will learn from the failure." When your sins and failures and poor judgments affect others, you create victims, and that also creates within you a place of pain. Odd as this may appear, your causing the grief of another person also affects you, and creates a space within you that is filled with guilt, regret, and pain. Once you have sought forgiveness from the one you have wronged, as well as that of God, you must then "live through your pain gradually and thus deprive it of its power over you."2 The same can be applied to a victim of injustice.
If we are to grow stronger inwardly, then we must proactively seek ways that will help us to grow, for growth does not happen by accident. The only entity that we should allow to control us is the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of peace, the Spirit of power, the Spirit of restoration. But if we are to continue growing stronger in Christ, we must first acknowledge our inherent powerlessness, remembering the words of Jesus: "Without Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) Certainly, by "nothing," He is referring to notions of a spiritual degree. In other words, apart from His presence and strength, we can accomplish nothing of spiritual and eternal worth: "The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life." (John 6:63 NLT)
Nouwen, in his book The Inner Voice of Love, writes:
There are places in you where you are completely powerless. You so much want to heal yourself, fight your temptations, and stay in control. But you cannot do it yourself. Every time you try, you are more discouraged. . . .
Simply start by admitting that you cannot cure yourself. You have to say yes fully to your powerlessness in order to let God heal you. But it is not really a question of first and then. Your willingness to experience your powerlessness already includes the beginning of surrender to God's action in you. . . .
Your willingness to let go of your desire to control your life reveals a certain trust. The more you relinquish your stubborn need to maintain power, the more you will get in touch with the One who has the power to heal and guide you. And the more you get in touch with that divine power, the easier it will be to confess to yourself and to others your basic powerlessness.3
You may think to yourself that gaining strength by confessing your weakness is counter-intuitive. But think about Jesus' worldview: the greatest of all mortals is a servant. (Matt. 23:11) In the Kingdom of God, inner strength is gained by humility, not by hubris -- by grace, not by merit -- by gift, not by inherent talent. Allow Nouwen to conclude: "Be quiet, acknowledge your powerlessness, and have faith that one day you will know how much [grace, mercy, and strength] you have received."4 You may grow inwardly stronger only in and through the power of God. (Zech. 4:6)
1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup? Tenth Anniversary Edition (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2008), 106.
2 ________, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom (New York: Image Books, 1998), 26.
3 Ibid., 30.
4 Ibid., 31.
This post was written by William Birch. You can find his blog here: http://www.williambirch.net