It’s more natural for us to judge and to hate than to simply name and label. We human beings are born resisting the things we don’t like, starting with the birth process itself. Get me back to where it’s warm and cozy, and why are you patting my butt so hard? Unfortunately, we tend continue spending our lives hating, judging, and resisting, and that’s especially true of what we most dislike in ourselves.
It’s just easier for us to resist than to be neutral, and yet it’s in practicing neutrality that we discover that God is with us. By “practicing neutrality,” I simply mean refusing to judge and hate. It sounds conceptual, but it plays out in real life, in real time. For example…
My last few weeks have been up and down. It’s a cliché that fits: it has been a roller-coaster. I consider myself pretty emotionally-steady (or at least, I’m pretty good at keeping a straight face). But my emotions have yo-yoed this way and that, and it’s been harder to hide. Today, even as I write, I’m feeling down, out of control, insecure. My mind is blowing everything up into a worst-case scenario and barraging me with “what ifs?”
What if everything falls apart?
What if all this time and energy and effort I’m investing as a pastor is mis-spent?
What if I’m doomed to feel lonely?
I literally woke up this morning comparing myself to other leaders and our church to other churches. What a total waste of time, and yet when I’m in this space, I can’t seem to find the ‘OFF’ switch. I am aware of my humanity (my insecurity, my frailty, my jealousy), and hating it.
I shouldn’t be here, not again, a voice says. Am I really still this immature?
Not only is the insecurity unpleasant, but I judge myself for feeling it. And that’s the important thing, because judging my weakness and my humanity, including all those unpleasant thoughts and feelings, is the very thing that cuts me off from transformation. The more I resist, the deeper into the black hole of self I go, rather than into God. Ironically, the more we judge and hate ourselves, the more significant we make ourselves and the less significant we make God! The answer then, is neutrality, which means refusing to hate or judge my humanity.
I was always told as a child on family beach trips: if you get caught in an undertow (a sudden and strong under current that can drag swimmers out to sea), don’t fight it. Resisting it can wear you and out drown you. We heard the mantra a thousand times: “swim to the side, not against.”
Naming and labeling instead of resisting and hating is the spiritual version of “swimming to the side.” When we simply name and acknowledge, we make ourselves way smaller and make space for God to be way bigger. God is only allowed into the space that we create. This doesn’t limit God; it just shows how much he respects us our choices.
In a posture of neutrality, refusing to judge or hate our humanity, we discover how much God loves us. In being tender with our frail places, we discover that we are echoing back Jesus’ posture to us! A smoldering wick he will not extinguish (Matthew 12:20). Our weakness, then, when we refuse to judge or hate it, is actually the touch-point for experiencing the love of God. We can’t experience it anywhere else! If we come to understand this, it changes everything. No wonder Paul “rejoiced in his weaknesses.” On the other hand, if we go on judging and hating ourselves, our resistance is like a wall that blinds us to God’s love, mercy, and provision.
Would that it were easy to learn this, but it takes real effort. But what feels foreign at first can become native. What feel unnatural can become normative.
So this morning, instead of judging and hating my weakness, I am (yet again), practicing simply naming and labeling it.
Oh, yeah, there’s that feeling again. There’s jealousy again. There’s insecurity. Well…that’s interesting.
This is a way more resourceful posture than “Oh, no, what’s wrong with me!” By simply acknowledging that negative thoughts and emotions are a part of my humanity, I open myself to God. When I’m finally done judging, I can simply hold reality in my hands: my envy and jealousy are not part of my identity as an adopted child of God. They are part of humanity, yes, but they are not my true self, adopted in God. Why then, am I going to take them all that seriously by spending energy hating and judging them? Moreover, practically speaking, they are probably never going away, so I better get pretty good at not letting them dominate my thoughts or emotions.
Most of us don’t come to God because we simply aren’t humble enough and can’t believe he desires communion with us when we are still so unsorted. It’s a scandal, but of course, the Gospel—the Good News of new life in Christ should be a provocative, disconcerting, even confusing new way of living, until it becomes our new reference point for reality. We can enter into the good news by practicing humility, by refusing to judge and hate.
I invite you then, in your everyday life, to begin noticing when and where you can simply name and label your weakness, rather than judging it. Don’t even try to resist it, because resisting it actually feeds and strengthens it! By naming and labeling, you will find yourself in a place of awe and wonder that God is so good to love and hold you even when you are so aware of how unworthy you are. You will discover that you're falling into grace!