Self-Loathing Almost Ruined My Easter — And I’m Glad It Did

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Many times, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the gap between my beliefs and my behavior.

The week before one particular Easter, I did something that caused me to deeply dislike myself. On a dinner date with my wife, Patti, I expressed my frustration with a certain individual, and then started tearing the person apart with gossip. After I finished assassinating the person’s character with my words, Patti looked at me and gently responded, “Scott, you know that you shouldn’t have said any of that.”

This faithful, corrective word from my wife sent me into a personal crisis. Anyone who listens to my preaching knows that I abhor gossip. I often equate gossip to pornography of the mouth because it seeks the same thing that a lustful fantasy seeks: a cheap thrill at another person’s expense, while making zero effort to honestly connect with or commit to that person, in effect turning them into a thing to be used—for the sake of a self-serving emotional rush.

Patti’s gentle rebuke took me to a sobering place. How can I presume to be a minister of the gospel and a communicator of God’s truth? Having so easily cursed a fellow human being who bears the image of God, dare I use the same mouth to proclaim the blessings of God week after week? “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. . . . These things ought not be so” (James 3:9–10).

This incident jarred and alarmed me, and sent me into self-loathing. It got so dark that I pulled Patti aside and asked her if she thought I was a fraud. Did she think it would be best if I just quit the ministry altogether? She was the one person in the world with a direct, daily glimpse into the darkness I was feeling.

The person who knows me best didn’t hesitate to agree that my heart is dark. But then, she also affirmed my calling to pastoral ministry and of the privilege God has given me—the same privilege he gave to the adulterous David, the murderous Paul, and the abrasive Peter—to serve as a spokesman for the pure and perfect One who is full of grace and truth and whose name is Holy. Patti proceeded to affirm that I do a good, consistent job of preaching both sides of the gospel to others—that (1) we are all busted-up sinners who have no hope apart from the mercies of God, and that (2) God has met that need richly through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We are at the same time desperately in ruins and graciously redeemed.

When we preachers limp into and out of our pulpits, God tends to do a lot of terrific things in the lives of our communities.

“Scott,” she said, “now is the time for you to preach the second part of the gospel to yourself in the same way you preach it to the rest of us week after week. Yes, you are a mess. But the darkness in you can never outrun or outcompete the grace of God.”

So, that Easter Sunday, I told our church and a whole lot of guests that I have a theory about why my week had been as dark as it was. I think it’s because God wanted to be sure that people who entered our sanctuary on Easter encountered a pastor with a limp. When we preachers limp into and out of our pulpits, God tends to do a lot of terrific things in the lives of our communities. But when we hop up there with a swag—when we turn the pulpit into a pedestal or a stage instead of an altar—it’s only a matter of time before our communities are weakened.

Anne Lamott once said in an interview that everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. That’s just a wonderful way of saying that God’s grace flows downhill to the low places, not uphill to the pompous and put-together places. As the hymn goes, all the fitness Jesus requires is that we feel our need of him. Or as Tim Keller has said often, all we need is nothing; all we need is need. That Easter, these words became a fresh and sorely needed lifeline for me. When you feel like the most messed-up person in the room, and you’re the one holding the microphone, that’s a time when you need some serious reminding—both from Scripture and also from the voices of family and friends—of how the grace and mercy of God hovers over you and within you.

Like Peter, we’re all duplicitous, sinful wrecks. We zealously confess him as “Lord,” promising to never betray him, and yet within a few short hours we deny him like a traitor (Matt. 26:30–35, 69–75). But then, he comes to us just as he did to Peter, reaffirming his love and also his intent to include us in his plan to renew the world and to shepherd and feed his sheep (John 21:15–19).

Walk with a limp, not a strut. Because when you do, God might just shake the earth through you.

After the week I’d felt like throwing in the towel and my Easter Sunday confession, a member of our church added to Patti’s encouragement the following affirmation, in the form of a letter from a father to his self-doubting, struggling son:

Dear Son,

I continue to pray for you in the struggles you face. I’ve been so helped as I’ve thought about some of the following things. I don’t want you to ever forget that Moses stuttered and David’s armor didn’t fit and John Mark was rejected by Paul and Hosea’s wife was a prostitute and Amos’s only training for being a prophet was as a fig-tree pruner. Jeremiah struggled with depression and Gideon and Thomas doubted and Jonah ran from God. Abraham failed miserably in lying and so did his child and his grandchild. These are real people who had real failures and real struggles and real inadequacies and real inabilities, and God shook the earth with them. It is not so much from our strength that he draws, but from his invincible might. I am praying that he will give you courage in this quality of his.

I love you, Dad.

Whatever your story, and whatever your regrets, I hope that you too can be strengthened by these realities. Because Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again, your worst failures and regrets don’t get to define you, and they don’t have to disqualify you, either. In fact, being brought low to a place of contrition and repentance by your own pornography of the mouth—or by some other moral failure—might be the actual beginning of a fruit-bearing ministry for you.

Walk with a limp, not a strut. Because when you do, God might just shake the earth through you.

This is an adapted excerpt from Irresistible Faith: Becoming the Kind of Christian that the World Can’t Resist. Used by permission from Thomas Nelson.


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