Matthew records an interesting conversation that Jesus had with the Pharisees about using words as a weapon. After Jesus healed a man who was blind and unable to speak, some Pharisees there accused Him of healing through the power of Beelzebub, an ancient Canaanite god. Jesus gave a somewhat lengthy reply that included the "house divided" passage, the caution about blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and an admonition from 1 Samuel regarding idle words that come from one's heart (Matthew 12:22-37).
The three things Jesus said in His response to the Pharisees can stand alone as independent teachings, and one can apply them individually to various situations. This posting, however, is about the application of the three parts of this reply to a specific problem.
Over the past weekend, I spoke with two dear Friends. Both are beautiful people who seek to live their lives as witnesses to the influence of the Light of Christ Jesus. They both have nurturing personalities, and any meeting would love to have these two people worshipping with them. One of them has been involved in a long-term project assisting a Friend who is going through a difficult time in life and has shown persistence in providing help that I do not believe that I would have the strength to sustain. I have met part of his family, and his wife is a lovely woman with her own gifts and wisdom. The other person is a woman with an emerging gift of eldership. She has been active in praying during worship for the Lord to be so palpably present that all gathered will know the touch of the Divine Hand. I have not met her family. The man and woman I am writing about have both had difficulties in their lives, but I cannot recall an unkind word that either has said about another person. These two people are much more advanced towards sainthood than I am.
What struck me for the first time this weekend, though, is that both of them struggle with negative self-talk. I had individual conversations with them, and they both brought up this tendency without prompting. All I can say is that I am dumbfounded by both of them. Their lives are precious examples of the Lord's molding presence.
Using words to wound
Our Friend John Edminster said something recently that struck me. He is trying to stop using words to wound other people. John is a very tender and loving man, and I was surprised that he found this to be a problem in his life. I do not recall hearing John doing this, but apparently he feels a need to be intentional about eliminating it from his life. Living in the Life and Power that takes away the occasion of all war includes not sewing the seeds of discord, so his concern is a good one that we can all find instructive.
What struck me about John's words was the associated issue of a person using words for self-wounding. Sustained negative self-talk is not good. This is particularly the case if it becomes something that drains energy from thee or otherwise keeps thee from the exercise of thy gifts.
If this is a problem for thee, consider this: God created thee for certain purposes. Saying something like "My life is a failure" denies that thy faithfulness has ever touched the heart of someone else. That statement belittles what God has done in thee and for thee. This is the very thing that Jesus complained to the Pharisees about - denying the workings of the Holy Ghost in a person's life (in this case, thy life). Negative self-talk insults God.
Bearing in mind that I am not a psychologist, the following may be helpful for thee (or not). These are some things that have been weighing on my mind that could provide a way forward for thee to get out of the habit of negative self-talk.
Let us distinguish between negative self-talk and modesty. Many of us are careful not to puff ourselves up. Jesus set an example of this Himself. Several times when the Father revealed to others that He was the Christ, He would tell them not to repeat it. He would say things like "See that no man know it." Some things that Jesus was called to do needed to be done in a particular sequence, and until His time was come, He arranged circumstances in various ways including through directions to those who heard Him. Some followed His words and others did not. Considering who Jesus was and what He had the ability to do, He was incredibly modest (such as when He stood before Pilate).
Many Friends are also modest. For example, the three people who I feel have the most sustained gifts in the ministry in Ohio YM are remarkably modest. I have never heard any of these people (J, W, and N) say anything like "well, you know, I happen to be one of the most gifted ministers in the historic Quaker tradition." This could easily be a statement of fact for any of them, but they do not talk about themselves that way. In fact, often the Ohio ministers are so humbled by the recognition that they often won't mention to an outsider that their gift has been recognized unless the person specifically asks if they have been recognized.
Modesty is an outstanding Christian virtue. It helps convey that one's abilities are divinely given, so that the exercise of gifts feeds the spiritually hungry rather than feeding the ego.
Modesty is not a part of negative self-talk. The latter is a destructive tendency that involves a decision (conscious or not) on thy part to undervalue thyself, thy abilities, or thy gifts. It is wrong for thee to entertain the notion of undermining thy labor in the Divine vineyard. Much of thy faithfulness has been in response to a divine prompting. Thy negative self-talk tears thee down, undermines thy faithfulness, and denies the prompting of the Holy Ghost that caused thee to take thy faithful action.
The following are some queries that may be helpful for thee. Consider discussing them with a confidante in order to get additional insight into thy own situation.
1) What prompts thy negative self-talk? Is it based on frustration arising out of a poor decision thee made in the past? Is it uncertainty during a turbulent transition time for thee? Is it an inability to see how the Lord might be guiding thee into the future? Is it a lack of ways to cope with others?
2) Can the self-talk be better worded? Instead of saying "I am a total failure," would it be more accurate to say something else such as "I don't feel that I have the ability to face my current challenges"? Reaching more precise language may give thee insight into how to proceed and help thee find a good person to share thy challenges with and start to find divine direction for a way forward.
3) Does thee have enough love in thy life? It can be particularly difficult for single people to experience the care and nurture that they need. This may sound so obvious that it is insulting, but there are three primary ways to increase the level of love in thy life: A) Get more love from the Source, B) Get more love from sharing it with other people, and C) Get more love from sharing thyself with someone else who cannot return the love. Thy circumstances may prevent thee from using all three of these ways of increasing the level of love in thy life. What is the Lord asking of thee in this regard? Try to be realistic and avoid getting over-extended.
4) Does thee have a mentoring relationship with another person? This is one of my ongoing concerns that some people are tired of hearing about. Most of us can have two great mentoring relationships at the same time: one with a more experienced person and one with a less experienced person. Thy circumstances may limit thee to only having a spiritual relationship with someone roughly on par with thee, and if that is thy lot, embrace it.
5) Does thee need help from the Lord to accept the current circumstances of thy life? It is easy to be tempted with the idea that Christ Jesus (or possibly thy meeting) is holding thee back from experiencing one or more of the joys of life. It can be easy to question why good things happening to other people are being held back from thee. I face that problem in life myself right now. Perhaps the Lord wants to arrange some things for thy future and wants to show thee some other things right now. The overarching challenge is thy recognition that God is looking out for thee, wants the best for thee, and sees it right to occupy thee with other things at this stage of thy life. Can thee embrace thy current situation, even for a short time, and look around for ways to be of service or otherwise find spiritual food? These ways may not resolve thy hurts and are not long-term solutions, but the Lord may have some other purposes for thee in life right now.
Negative self-talk and associated issues are not easy to deal with. Don't let thy life be hampered or paralyzed by them. Some of God's greatest blessings take time and/or discipline to experience. Give thyself a chance to know His precious peace and find His healing presence in thy heart.