on forgiveness.

I am a harsh, harsh critic.

I’ve realized this in the last few years about myself – I can be very, very unrelenting in my criticism. I nitpick and I pick up on little things that nobody else may pick up on and then I dwell on them. I blame-hunt and I indict and I accuse and I go crazy until I feel as though justice is served – the one who is at fault is fully blamed and the innocent is fully compensated for the wrong.

But maybe not in the way you’d think – what I mean is that I am my own harshest critic.

In a lot of situations, nobody is harder on me than me.

In my relationships, nobody is harder on me than me.

In my work, nobody is harder on me than me.

If I mess something up, nobody is harder on me than me.

With my finances, nobody is harder on me than me (well, maybe not that one. Banks and credit card companies and governing bodies can impose pretty harsh fines when you don’t pay them on time.)

In my thought life, nobody is harder on me than me.

I want to lament this, and I want to change this, but at the same time, I feel as though it’s the safest option. I feel as though it’s my responsibility to hold myself accountable for a lot of things, even though it’s sort of ironic, because I’m not exactly excellent at anything. I’m not the best employee at my work. I’m not the best boyfriend of all time (but ask my girlfriend, because she may have a different opinion.) I’m not the best financial manager of all time. I’m not the best Christian. I’m not the best citizen. I’m not the best human being.

In a sense, it’s all one big self-fulfilling prophecy – I expect myself to fail, so I fail, and then I get hard on myself when I fail.

A vicious cycle.

The other day, I felt I failed very badly. I said some things in a wealth of insecurity that were unfair, that were unjust, and that were unfounded. I put pressure on the other person in a way that was completely unnecessary – it was only because I felt insecure. On another day, I may not feel the way I felt right then and there.

I spent the whole conversation cursing myself, putting myself down, and blaming myself for the things I was thinking and the things I was feeling, even though the other forgave me on the spot while I refused to absolve myself of the blame.

I went to bed upset with myself.

I awoke upset with myself.

I spent the day upset with myself.

It’s really a weird feeling when you put it like that – in one sense, I am completely self-serving because I am all about my own survival and well-being (we are by nature) but in another sense, there wasn’t a human being alive I hated more than I hated myself.

Weird, right?

Is that the right way to be?

Maybe not, but to be honest, I don’t know how else to be half of the time.

Perhaps it’s the empath in me, but when I upset other people, I don’t know what else to do except to be mad at myself. In my head, it’s the same as when a bully is mean to a kid in school. Of course you have a little less compassion on the bully – he’s the one being domineering, mean, controlling, crazy.

But, he’s also being human.

A lot of times, we don’t know any better. I think that a lot of times, people screw up because they don’t know any better.

In a sense, that bully needs more forgiveness than he does blame.

Not because what he’s doing is fine – it’s the exact opposite. It’s because what he’s doing is not okay that he needs to be forgiven. There’s something to be forgiven from.

I often times feel like I’m the bully.
Then I become the bully and the victim, because I start beating myself up.
Then I become the bully and the victim and the accuser because I accuse myself for accusing myself.
Then I become the bully and the victim, and the accuser and the forgiver, because I feel I need to try to forgive myself for screwing up.
It’s a vicious cycle, and nobody ends up winning.

It makes me beg the question, do I really need to forgive myself, or do I need to be forgiven from someone outside of myself?

What I mean is that if I count on my own forgiveness, I’ll never get it. Because one part of me always blames another. It’s cyclical.

I’ve always been a chronic overthinker – I accept anything that people tell me with a grain of salt.
“Jeff, you sounded great singing that song!”
“Thanks, but I KNOW I missed a note here or there.”
“Jeff, your writing is good!”
“Thanks, but if I could write it again, I’d say this instead of that.”
“Jeff, I forgive you. You’re okay.”
“Thanks, but I still feel like something’s wrong.”

The problem with the idea of “forgiving yourself” is, I opine, threefold – one, when I’ve offended someone, I’ve hurt them a lot more than I’ve hurt me. Second, I know that when I forgive other people, I really forgive them, so in my own head, they’re totally clean. Why do I not trust that others do the same for me? Third, I don’t even think that person-to-person is the deepest level of offense.

I think that anytime we hurt other people, we also hurt God. When I insult someone, I insult His creation. When I’m impatient with someone else, I’m impatient with His creation. When I hurt someone, I hurt His creation. I do damage to His own impartation of Himself, His personality, His character.

But listen – if God, in Christ, forgives us, who are we to say we “just can’t forgive ourselves”?
If the person against whom we commit the deepest offense says that we are absolved of the blame for it, why do we live in perpetual self-blaming? Or, why do I live in self-blaming?

My answer – albeit incorrect and unjustified – is that I want to protect other people. I don’t want to assume everything is okay if it’s really not. I don’t know how to go from hurting someone one second to being best friends the next second. Could it be that our human tendency to take time to heal from wounds is natural and normal? Could it be that a little recoil from our own mistakes is to be expected?

I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know.

(Dogs and relationships teach you lessons.)

When I find out that my dog tore up the latest thing in my room (be it a shoe, my pillow, etc.) I’m mad for a little while, but I know it’s temporary. I forgive and forget, and then I want to play with my dog. But if my dog clams up, I get sad. I want him to approach me again. I want him to come play. I want him to not be plagued by guilt, or not assume that what he did has disqualified him from playing with me. He’s still my dog, and I’m still his owner, his “dad.”

When I upset my girlfriend, we talk about it, and she forgives me. She doesn’t want me to stay mad at myself. She doesn’t want me to clam up. She doesn’t want me to be a baby about things. That’s the opposite of what’s helpful – it’s more helpful for me to get over it, and get back to being her boyfriend.
When one of my friends hurts my feelings, I forgive them. I forget about it. I don’t hold a grudge. I want to hang out with them and have conversations like normal, just like things always are.
(let’s take this one step further…)

When I screw up and sin and hurt God, He forgives me. He doesn’t want me to sulk and not live and stop doing things. He wants me to come back to Him, to approach Him, to talk to Him. Not to act like my own perception of myself is bigger or better or more important than His.

To put it simply: don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t think of yourself too highly. Learn how to receive forgiveness, and learn how to accept that you’re forgiven. You do no one any favors by sulking and wallowing in your own self-hatred.

You are forgiven.

Own your choices.

I was never obsessed with the Myers-Briggs personality test (I’m still not obsessed, per se) until a couple of friends I met a year or so ago, with whom I’ve been able to talk about it incessantly. It’s now a regular part of our jargon – when I apologize for being upset about plans changing, I say that my J function was on too high. When I’m being sensitive, I say that my F is taking over my T. Actually, it’s funny, because I’ve realized I’m about 51% T and 49% F. That is, I’m slightly more of a thinker than I am a feeler.

If you’re not familiar with Myers-Briggs, it measures you on four different spectrums: Introverted or extroverted (I or E,) sensing or intuitive (S or N,) thinking or feeling (T or F,) and perceptive or judging (P or J.) Thinking or feeling has a lot to do with how you make your decisions – do you base them on facts and logic (T) or emotions and feelings (F)?

I’ve realized that a lot of times, I’m both. I’m a short-term feeler and a long-term thinker. I’d rather be a thinker by all accounts, which makes me think I’m a thinker. My emotions just won’t let me sometimes. And sometimes I want to be emotional but my thoughts won’t let me. It’s actually somewhat frustrating.

But the nice thing is that I’m realizing this about myself, and I’m able to more aptly recognize the patterns in my thoughts and make more sense of it.

In the present case and the case of a lot of my more recent posts on this blog, you can see my tendency to try and diagnose. I think that’s what happens when I try to think while I’m feeling – I try to diagnose. And every new feeling is like a symptom, and the diagnosis changes. If I’m tired, it might have been because I didn’t sleep much or well. But then I remember that I played sports the day before, so maybe it was that. Oh, and factor in the fact that I worked a long shift. Oh, and there’s the ominous stress of the messy house I’ll come home to and the organization I have to do. Oh, and the blog I wanted to write. Etc. etc. etc. and eventually, I tie myself in knots trying to figure out why I’m really tired.

The thinker in me gets frustrated because the feeler just wants to feel, and the thinker wants to figure it out. In other extreme emotional cases, the feeler in me doesn’t want to feel, but it won’t relax until the thinker has figured the problem out.

Lately, I’ve been working through some spiritual stuff, which I’ve chronicled out in the last few blogs. I thought I had it all figured out in my post entitled “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Then, I realized I didn’t have it figured out when I wrote Hold Fast Our Hope. I diagnosed the problem, then I diagnosed the diagnosis.

At present, I feel as though I finally do have a satisfactory answer for everything that’s gone remotely wrong in the last few months. Or, maybe a series of ideas to consider, and I hope they’re worth anything to anyone.

You’ve probably read my story by now if you read my blog at all. If not, then look back at the post entitled “I want to want You: chronicling circumstance of the last few months” (it’s about five posts back, I think.)

Big idea is this: I left community to find community. I left a church full of people who I knew and who knew me, and I thought I’d find another one sooner than I have done. Truth is, in leaving the church family I had (and, realistically, I still have, and I know it) I chose to go a few months without guardrails. I chose not to surround myself with people off of whom I could bounce the decisions I wanted to make and the thoughts I was having. I was alone. I realized it when everything in life was becoming a little bit too big for me – I felt overwhelmed by that loneliness, I felt overwhelmed by trying to remain strong alone, I felt overwhelmed by every little decision I had to make, and by every thought I had. I realized it when I sat in the back room at work, crying because I realized I’d made mistakes in the last few months and I didn’t know who to tell about it.

And I made some choices. This isn’t the place to divulge them, so forgive me for being (hopefully uncharacteristically) vague, but I made choices. Things I said, things I did, things I thought. Choices that, if I’d been in that situation 6 months sooner, I wouldn’t have made. At least, I’d be less inclined to do so. By choices, I probably mean mistakes in most cases. Things that, for me, the jury may still be out on. In a certain sense, I don’t regret any of them (perhaps more on that later.) But I felt like a stranger because of those choices. I felt like an intruder, someone outside of my own body. There were days I would look myself in the mirror and think, “there’s no way that guy used to be a preacher.” I compared myself to my own past, which may be a mistake in and of itself.
I wrote a lot trying to process these choices. I wrote blog posts about how I wasn’t a committed follower of Jesus. I prayed a LOT. I wrote many a song or poem about how messed up I am and how I’m trying and how I feel so strange and feel so afraid. Heck, my last post is one of them. My most accomplished piece of art came as a response to me doing something I didn’t think was right but chose to anyway, and about how my behavior is counterintuitive to who I know I really am. I still love that song.

I strove and strove to figure out the issue until the other day, when I made a realization (or, to be more accurate, a realization was given to me.)

I was in the middle of thinking of who I used to be – an involved member of my church, a worship leader, a songwriter, a council member, a preacher, a children’s ministry teacher, etc. etc. – and I was hit with shame so heavy and so hard that I’d never felt anything like it before. Crippling shame. Useless shame (which is shame in general.) And my sick brain compared who I was and where I was 6 months ago and earlier with who I am today, and I felt disgusted with myself.

“You are none of those,” a voice said. “That’s not who you are anymore. You gave that all up.” To an extent, that was true. I had given them up. But I realized that the lie of it was that it’s not who I am anymore. I realized that I’m still the same person – I have the same body, the same brain as I’ve had all along. I realized that every mistake I’d made was a mistake I may have been bound to make all along. And that’s when I realized:

If you don’t own your choices, your choices will own you.

See, I’d spent so long trying to run from my choices. I blamed other people, blamed myself, blamed the church for the guilt I had, blamed God to an extent, and I wouldn’t accept the choices I’d made. There had to have been a reason. There had to have been a cause, and someone had to be at fault. Maybe that’s why I tried to tell myself I wasn’t a follower of Jesus anymore – because then I’d at least be able to accept that I’d changed and that’s why I made the choices I did.

But I know it’s not the case that I gave up on Jesus – that’s not in my DNA. I don’t know if anyone would say anything to the contrary (because I’m sure that there are friendships I’ve let slip away) but typically, I don’t quit out on relationships because they get hard. The same goes for my relationship with Jesus – I was having a really hard time. I was feeling guilty about what I’d done plus a little bitter that there were any “rules,” or a certain standard for how we should live. I thought things about God I’d never thought before. I had cynicism about the church, about the bible, and about the whole of Christianity that I’d never had before. I was angry. Frustrated. Guilty because I knew that God had to be right.

But I couldn’t bring myself to detach from Christianity or to give up on it – maybe because it’s so familiar and I’ve spent such a long time of my life in it, but that’s not the worst reason to stick with it. I kept looking at my arm and where I have “nevertheless” tattooed on it and I kept asking myself, “will you follow nevertheless? Even though you’re mad? Even though you’re guilty? Even though you’re frustrated, and even though you may feel alone?”

All that was to say, I found myself at a crossroads. And I feel as though this [whether or not I was committed to Jesus] was the core issue.

Because if I went one way, I could pretend like I never messed up. That path would involve endless justification of myself, and in doing so, I would have to indict someone else. I would end up blaming the church for all of the guilt that I felt, guilt which drove me to eventually tire of trying to draw close to God, and then I decided to give up on the whole “God thing.” In this scenario, I’m detaching myself as much as possible from the people I’ve known for the last nine years and convincing myself that I don’t owe them anything, that they were ultimately meaningless if not harmful. (by the grace of God, as I picture them in my head, I realize that that’s the craziest possible extreme I could feel about such a wonderful group of people.) I’m detaching myself from the paths I used to be on (and we’ll see if I get on them again, who knows!) of ministry – from preaching to writing worship songs to leading them to teaching Bible studies and small groups – telling myself that I never had what it takes and that I couldn’t fake my faith anymore. Detaching myself from the role model I used to unknowingly be to 10-16 year old young men in the church. Detaching myself from the authority and love I enjoyed from my senior pastor who is also my spiritual father.

But that’s just one way.

The other way requires me to own up to what I’ve done and reconcile it with who I am. Maybe they’re congruent. Maybe they’re not. Either way, I remember thinking the last time I saw my spiritual father that I couldn’t look him in the eye because I was so ashamed, so worried that he’d be disappointed in me. How could such a faithful follower of Jesus get so far away? I remember thinking, “I’m not the same person anymore.”

And that’s where, I’m convinced, Jesus stopped me.

I am the same person.

Same body, same brain, same life, same experiences, same memory.

Same person.

Stop making excuses.

It’s too easy to detach. That’s the easier option. It’s easier not to confront things like this.

It’s actually really forced me to re-evaulate how much I thought I understood grace.

Analogies fail me at this point, but to break it down, I felt like I had driven myself to a point at which I didn’t know what to do, and then I wanted to pretend it never happened. The closest I can do with an analogy would be if you imagine that you wreck your car. You have three options: get a new one (the first path I outlined, in which sorrow and guilt drove me away from my faith) you pretend you never wrecked it in the first place and end up doing more damage because your car simply isn’t fit to drive (turn off my conscience and fake it like nothing ever happened,) or get it fixed (the present path.) You have to own it.

Own your choices, or your choices will own you.

Ultimately, what I learned about community has made it easier to accept the situation I’m in. and that’s what this is really all about, I believe. People need community – it’s the most important thing. It’s guardrails. It’s having people around to test and challenge what you’re thinking about. It’s having people encourage you when you’re down, correct you when you’re wrong, and tell you you’re loved when you feel ashamed.

Own your choices, or your choices will own you.

I’m a lot more willing to do this now. I’m willing to admit I’m weak, especially without guardrails. I’m willing to admit that I did what I wanted, and I’m willing to admit that to a certain extent, I don’t regret anything, because it’s not worth the time and emotional capital to do so.

Own your choices, or your choices will own you.

Own your choices, or you’ll run from your friends trying to pretend you’re okay. Own your choices, or you’ll be unable to look people you love, respect, and admire in the eye.

Own your choices, or your choices will own you.

Own your choices, because Jesus paid the debt you owed for them.


i’m afraid to look into your eyes
because I’ve been places I thought i’d never go
I’ve seen things I promised I wouldn’t
I’ve said things with these lips

so unbecoming of the man who once preached you the truth

what have I become?
where do I belong?
they say there’s a cloud of witnesses
is that supposed to comfort me?

because on one hand I feel
your eyes never left me
and every time I fail
you see everything
I question myself
and ask who this stranger is
I betray my conscience
and float by so meaningless

but on the other hand I feel
that i’m all alone in this
like I left the fold
and i’m paying the price for it
I miss your strength
and the calmness you gave to me

am I the same?
or have I run away for good

I question everything

could it be the case
that miles have done this?
Did I have no roots? (psalm 1:3)
am I the bad soil? (mark 4:5)
is none of this real?
was all of this folly?
did God ever leave?
or is it just my weakness

here I stand
just a man

nine years aren’t wasted
I’m far from finished
aren’t You?

I cannot stop
I can’t even live
if I turned my back now
took my hand from the plow
but I fear I’m now tainted
I’ve never had to see Your grace like this
let’s just find out what this now means

’cause I’ve been lost
without a guide
I don’t trust my conscience
my heart will deceive me

I keep doubting myself
and who I say I am
at times I feel home
but at times I feel miles away

I trust You
I love You
don’t hide Your face from me
don’t let Your voice fade out

[hold fast our hope.]

we can spend ages
spinning in the darkness
when there is no diagnosis
trapped and deflated
with no obvious forecast

we can’t lift the fog
the wind won’t hear our voices

imperceptible forces
driving us forwards
are we masters of our own fate?
or subject to a story we can’t change?

could it be better to rest
and stop wrestling with what we can’t control?

the dawn is slowly coming
the waves are soon subsiding
if we hold fast our hope
stand tall in the throes
if we hold fast our hope
if we hold fast our hope
if we
hold fast
our hope