Tough Spiritual Love

I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.    (Gal. 2:21, NKJV)

One of my great mentors was a rabbi.  I’m still working on words he gave me more than thirty years ago.

During one of our visits, I spent about an hour tearing into myself.  After listening to my tales of inadequacy, he said, “I want you to stand up and turn around.  I then want you to put your hands on my desk and read the titles of the books on the top shelf.”  As I stood there confused about his odd request, he came behind me and kicked me so hard in the backside that I was sent sprawling across his desk.

When I turned around with disbelief, he said these astounding words:  “Did your Jesus die so that you would treat yourself with so little honor and respect? Get out of here and don’t come back until you’ve stopped indulging in all this negative self-talk.”

I went away appalled and vowed never to return.  That afternoon I went for a run to calm down. As I replayed what had happened that morning, I began to see things differently.  I then started laughing so hard I had to stop running.   The rabbi had given me the exact message I needed to hear, in exactly the right way.  The more sensitive ways people had tried to redirect me hadn’t worked.  I needed some tough-spiritual-love that included a swift kick in the backside.

If you are constantly berating and needlessly tearing into yourself, I encourage you to consider if the rabbi’s words have something to say to you.   When we treat ourselves shabbily, we are—to use Paul’s image in today’s lesson—setting aside the grace of God.

Are there times when we may need to feel guilt?  Of course.  Are there even times when we may need to feel shame?  Sadly, yes.  But do any of us need to relentlessly and ruthlessly belittle ourselves?  Absolutely not.

The rabbi was right:  Jesus didn’t die, and He didn’t pour out His grace, so that we would dishonor, belittle, and lacerate ourselves.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you ever received some “tough spiritual love?” If so, how was it delivered?
  1. Could you possibly need some tough spiritual love now? If so, what is the message Jesus wants you to hear?  Are you willing to accept and heed it?
  1. Do you ever indulge in negative self-talk? Ever defeat yourself before you have even started? What could Jesus be saying to you as you set aside His grace with your self-abusive chatter?

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