So we said farewell yesterday to one of my favorite all-time series, Mad People Disease.
But it went out with a flourish, addressing the issue of what do you do when the one you’re mad at is you?
The answer drew from Isaiah 6:5, Romans 8:38-39, and even Psalm 139:13-14 to land at this bottom line:
Admit you’re a mess so you can hear that you’re loved.
One of the highest part of my calling to pastoral ministry here is to let you all know more about . . . tennis. To give you an inside peek at just how quirky, odd, and temperamental tennis players really are. Because they (we) get MPD and the object, the target of their anger is so often so very interesting. Like this clip that involves Russian Mikhail Youzhny, who you probably have not heard of but who has been as high as #11 in the world:
And now everything about my life, my eccentricities, my peculiarities have snapped into focus.
But isn’t it fascinating when we zoom back out from Mr. Youzhny & look at the human race to see how often we become afflicted with MPD and the person you’re maddest at is YOU? It certainly works this way for me. While I never bloodied myself, I broke more than my fair share of rackets back in the day & I let loose more than a few expletives. As I grew up and moved out of the tennis biz, I get so mad at myself when I lose something, when I realize in the aftermath of a temper tantrum that I got too mad at my kids, when I make a decision too quickly & without all the information, when I have a bad hair day. You know what I’m saying.
For you, you’ve had those times in your MPD when the person you’re maddest at is you. It starts with the mundane, like when you blow your diet with a brownie, when you break a nail, when you miss an exit on the freeway. And then it moves to the momentous, like when you lose sobriety, when you break a marriage vow, when that thing you say in the heat of the moment costs you your job. Again … you may not hit yourself over the head with a tennis racket, but I know that more than a few of you come here today and the person you’re most upset with is the one you see in the mirror. So you wonder, both for the now and for the tomorrow, what do you do? How do you have deliverance from self-directed, forehead bloodying, MPD?
Because there are a couple of ways that people deal with MPD when they’ve got some self-disgust and even some self-hatred going on. One response is sort of 1980s and the other is more like the 90s. Yeah, one way people respond is to battle it with the glorious invention of 1980s pop psychology, mix in some Norman Vincent Peale theology, and PRESTO! You’ve got the gospel of self-esteem! Doubt me that it comes from the 80s? Listen to this lyric from the #1 song of 1986: PLAY CLIP OF and read lyric from The Greatest Love Of All:
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all
The problem with all that is two fold (three if you count the gag reflection most of us just got): 1) you know how that lovely singer’s poor life ended up and 2) do you know where you find the highest rates of self-esteem? Among people who are incarcerated. They are high on self-esteem and low on self-awareness. So: I am done with the gospel of self-esteem; I don’t want us to battle self-directed MPD with a heavy dose of “you’re so great” and as much as I loved the 80s, I don’t want to live there anymore.
But the other extreme is just as dangerous. It’s when self-disgust morphs into self-hatred and changes from a temporary abode into a permanent residence. And it turns to shame. Shame stagnates. You can’t move when you’re covered in shame. It’s sort of like the nihilistic, suicidal early 90s, like Kurt Cobain, that era’s greatest artist who ended up taking his own life.
But know this as well: intractable self-hatred is just as narcissistic as inflated self-esteem. It’s just self-absorption from a slightly different angle. Because whether it is a pity party that never ends or a false bravado that takes advantage of others, both responses focus overwhelmingly on SELF. Self is king. You respond to self-directed MPD by focusing more attention on self. All me, all the time.
Which is why I want to look at a couple of high water maks in Scripture; locales that if you hold in balance will allow you to use your self-directed MPD as a launch pad instead of a landing place. The first is in Isaiah 6:5, were in a moment of unparalleled access in 800 BC, Isaiah gets a glimpse behind the curtain in heaven:
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
I love that! “I’m ruined! I’m a wreck! I’m messed up!” I see myself in relation to God, my frame of reference will never be the same, and I have come face to face with the rottenness at the core of my own being. What a mess I am. It’s like his racket is poised, ready to strike! And if that was the biblical library’s final word on our human state, then we be a place of fear and self-loathing. But it’s not.
Because to balance out the reality check of Isaiah 6 comes the declaration of Romans 8:38-39. Here’s what we’re going to do: I read, you listen, and when I’m done you call out anything you can DO or BE that will make God stop loving you.
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ah, what a beautiful silence. And then it’s clear: Isaiah 6 without Romans 8 leads to 90s shame. Romans 8 without Isaiah 6 leads to 80s ego. Both are narcissistic, both unhealthy, both deadly. Together – and this is why the library is so cool – they help us walk that very fine line between justifiable guilt and debilitating shame. They land us here, all you self-directed MPDers: Admit you’re a mess so you can hear you’re loved. Delicate balance but a life-saving one! You can’t really hear that you are love without first admitting you don’t deserve it AND you can’t honestly acknowledge your flaws unless you surrender to your Savior. He brings it all into perfect clarity. Admit you’re a mess so you can hear you’re loved.
And the reason all this is so vital as we wind up MPD is that it takes the focus of all your self-anger off you and puts it where it belongs: on God. A man named JI Packer wrote a 20th C classic called Knowing God and these thoughts from it are so good that we’re not only going to project them:
There is unspeakable comfort in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.
Embrace how flawed you are so you can encounter how loved you have become. Admit you’re a mess so you can hear you’re loved.
Do you know who knows this balance better than anyone? People in recovery. Step One admits powerlessness and acknowledges that our lives had become unmanageable. You lose everyone and everything you know to alcohol, and that’s plenty of reason to get caught up in MPD. But Step 1 is also a great reminder that the program is 12 Steps – same kind of balance as in the bible! – and over the next 11 there’s the realization that a “power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” So good, whether you’re in recovery from alcohol, drugs, gambling or not. Admit you’re a mess so you can hear you’re loved.
Because I suppose making sure you don’t end up with self-inflicted wounds bloodying your forehead will involve what voice you are going to spend time listening to: the voice of self-condemnation or the voice of God’s commendation. See, I believe you need to hear the voice of self-condemnation. Briefly. As a way station on the path to hearing the voice of God’s commendation. So every time you blow it; every time you think you have sinned yourself out of the kingdom, God comes back: are you that arrogant that you think your actions are stronger than my love? Do you think you are so powerful that your sin outweighs my cross?
See: the truest thing about you is not your self-esteem, it is not your resume, it is not your accomplishments. The truest thing about you is that you are loved! And I want your honest assessment of your flaws and weakness and places where you frustrate you . . . I want all that to drive you to that desperately grateful place where you admit what’s most true: I am loved. I AM LOVED. Not that you are love-able. Not that you generate love. Simply that you are the object of, the target of, relentless, persistent, annoying love. Admit you’re a mess so you can hear you’re loved.
And do you know what’s NOT true? That all you had to do to be loved is to be born. Nope! Before that! Look at Psalm 139:13-14:
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
You know all you had to do to be loved? BE FERTILIZED! You were loved embryonically! You were making your own mom throw up in the morning and you were still loved! Admit you’re a mess so you can hear you’re loved.
So, yeah. Hear that word of honesty. Of admission. I’m flawed. I’m a mess. But don’t park there. God has called you pure, clean, a member of a royal priesthood, his family . . . and so he doesn’t want you running around crying “oh I’m just a wretched sinner saved by grace.” Let whatever anger you feel at you merely be the prelude to the celebration you have when you realize you’re a member of God’s royal family, a collection of people about whom the truest thing is that they are loved.
It’s a bit like the boy whose family would play “What if?” What if you could be anybody on earth, who would you like to be? His sister said, The Bionic Woman. Brother said, Michael Jordan. Then the boy answered, I’d like to be me. Well, why do you want to be you? Because I kinda like me since I know who loves me.
Yep. That’s the way it goes. Instead of blood on your forehead, blood applied to your sins, love applied to your soul, perspective applied to your anger. Admit you’re a mess so you can hear you’re loved.