I’ve always struggled with self-confidence growing up. Although I was a straight A student, a decent basketball player, and sang a few solos, my struggles were mainly with self-image. I felt pretty confident in my skills, talents, and learning abilities. But I was super fair-skinned (still am), and all my friends could tan just by thinking of the sun! I was the child at the pool party who the moms were constantly asking if I had sunscreen on. And of course, I thought I was fat. Just because I wasn’t as tiny as some of my best friends who wore size zeroes. I thought I was big because I wore a 6! Ridiculous! So the combination of being very white and fat many times seemed to rule my thoughts. “You are so white, Sarah. No one thinks you are pretty. You look unhealthy.” Or maybe, “No matter how many sports you play, Sarah, you are just a big girl. Deal with it. No boy will like you.”
But as I have grown up into a woman, self-image isn’t the only thing I struggle with. Now, negative thoughts have tried to take over my skills, talents, learning abilities, and even the roles I play in this life as wife, mother, worker, friend, Bible teacher. The list goes on and on and on. “You are never going to learn to cook, Sarah. Just give it up.” “You are a terrible housekeeper. Scott deserves better.” “Because you work out of the home, you are not a good mom. Your girls will suffer for it.” “You are on this new project at work. You will never learn this new stuff. You will fail.” “Sarah, there is no way that you can save the church. You’re just not good enough.”
Twice this past year, I had major meltdowns, all dealing with these negative thought patterns. The first one was the night we were packing for our beach trip earlier in the summer. We were going in the jeep, so it was important for us to pack as lightly as possible, since there isn’t much room. Scott had given me his giant duffle bag to try and pack all 3 of us girls in. So I laid it on the bed, packed everything, and thought it was pretty good. But then I realized I had forgotten something. Scott said there was no way that I should have run out of room. I told him I thought I did a good job, and I won’t worry about adding something else in. He then looked and said that there was a better way I could pack it. He took everything out, hung the bag from it’s side, and packed it ‘military style’, which did in fact hold everything better.
Well, that was it! I lost it. I thought, “For the love, I know I suck at everything these days, but surely I can pack a freaking bag for a trip!” And I just started bawling! He was totally taken aback, trying to figure out how his helping had pushed me over the edge. I proceeded to tell him about feeling like I am terrible at everything these days, and that apparently I couldn’t even pack. He felt bad for me, but he was also a bit angry. He reminded me of all the good things I do, but also got onto me for letting Satan win by buying into his lies. Plus, he also got mad that I was talking so negatively about myself in front of our girls. We don’t want to plant negative thoughts of who I am or who they are into their young minds.
The second meltdown was a few weeks ago. It was after a Bible study I taught one evening. We had a low turn out, and because of the negative thought carousel I had been on these past few months, I turned all that onto myself. I know people can’t come to everything and life happens, but Satan turned this one thing into another opportunity to attack me. As I was talking to Scott, another cryfest began. He asked me about what things did I feel like I wasn’t good at. I told him cooking, cleaning, sewing, dieting, exercising, work, teaching… and he just said all that was ludicrous. And he asked me this very poignant question: “Who are you comparing yourself to?”
It kind of froze me in the middle of my tear tracks. I thought of other moms that I feel like have everything together, my sister who exercises all the time like she is the queen of Taebo, and these awesome Bible teachers that I read. He then reminded me the only person we should be trying to be like is Christ. And He knows we aren’t perfect, so I should give myself a little grace.
I shouldn’t be surprised that this happened to me. Satan has been attacking women through their minds right out of the gate! Just in case you forgot this story:
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
– Genesis 3
Big Red caught Eve when she was alone, getting her to question the command that God had given. Then he proceeded to lie to her, getting her to doubt the character and intention of God. Head games… all head games. Once she was in a weakened state, doubting who God was, and inevitably doubting who she was, the beautiful fruit and the thought of having all knowledge was too tempting, and the taste-testing began.
He did the same thing to me, reminding me of my weaknesses and my insufficiencies. Because if he can get me to focus on those things, it keeps my mind off of who Jesus says I am. That I am a child of the King, loved, chosen, and worthy. When I am confident in my true identity, then I’m an effective Kingdom builder, sharing His love with others and telling them the news that they too are loved, chosen, and worthy.
Since my two dramatic breakdowns and Scott’s intervention, I’ve been going through some sort of negative thought detox. I’ve studied several scriptures and I wanted to share two with you:
II Corinthians 10:5 – We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Sometimes we have no control over what thoughts enter our heads, but we can control if the thoughts stay there. Once a negative thought enters, immediately take it captive, and make it obedient to Christ. When the thought “You are a failure. You can’t do this” enters your head, immediately quote Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Then focus on all the things you have succeeded at in the past. Don’t let those negative thoughts take root!
Psalm 139:17 – How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!
I have a daily calendar at work. On October 5th, the quote was by Simone Weil, a French Revolutionary philosopher. She said, “It is not my business to think about myself. My business is to think about God. It is for God to think about me.” It hit me like a punch in the gut. I never noticed, but with all my self-loathing, I didn’t even think about what a selfish act that was. Focusing all that energy, albeit negative, on me and what I thought of myself! How much better would life be if we all just focused our thoughts on God, and leave it up to Him to think about us. As the verse says, His thoughts towards us cannot be numbered!
There’s one more way to help beat this disease of negative thoughts. It is to be around people who speak life into you. When we speak positive things into each others lives, it makes it easier for them to take those negative thoughts captive. It helps bring to the forefront the good things we see in them.
I have the perfect example of this with my Elsie. For Christmas, we usually head up to Tennessee to spend Christmas afternoon with Scott’s parents. We always drive through Florence and stop at either a Waffle House or Shoney’s, whichever is least crowded.
This past Christmas, Shoney’s was the restaurant of choice. As I went up to the buffet, I saw this elderly woman sitting at a table by herself. It broke my heart to think this sweet, old lady spending Christmas day alone, eating lunch in solitude. I wondered why she was alone, and could one day that even be me. So I asked our waitress to bring us her check so we could pay for it as a secret Christmas gift.
After we had started eating, the lady came to our table and hugged me. She was so thankful for her gift, and she promised to pray for our family. Of course, as she left, I had all the warm fuzzies going on. Then I just said outloud, kind of to myself, “She’s such a nice lady.” Then Elsie, who is not one to offer many compliments, said, “You’re a nice lady.” It took all I had to keep it together. Elsie’s kind words reminded me of what I’m good at. I’m good at being nice to people. I’m good at loving people. I had forgotten that in the midst of the negative thought whirlwind that I have let invade my world this past year. I may not be able to cook, and I may not be able to teach my girls how to sew, but I sure can teach them to be nice and to love their neighbor. So let’s stop thinking about all we can’t do, and start thinking about what we can do. Let’s stop thinking about who Satan says we are, and start believing who Christ says we are.