Maybe it begins as soon as you wake up, or perhaps she lets you drink your coffee first. On and off throughout the day, you hear the whispers of doubt. The yammering, nagging voice of inadequacy, the mocking reminder of all you haven’t done, the list-maker of the ways you still don’t measure up.
I don’t know about you, but my inner critic can be a real bitch.
The language of our inner critic is shame. Shame says “No matter what you do, you are never enough.” Shame says “if they really knew me, they wouldn’t love me.” When we experience shame, we feel the need to constantly hustle to prove our worthiness. Although shame is a universal emotion and all of us experience it to some degree, most of us are reluctant to talk about it. According to bestselling author and shame researcher Brené Brown:
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, acceptance and belonging.
As I’ve gotten older and learned more about what kicks my inner critic into high gear, I can sometimes recognize her shenanigans, call her on her crap and shut her down. However, there are seasons when she seems to gain the upper hand for a time and I need to get more focused on listening to the other voices in my life: the voice of God and the voices of the people who love me.
Here are a few concrete ways I turn up the volume on the better voices:
Shame is a language of lies. For believers, God’s word is the source of truth. Although reading and studying scripture on a regular basis fills up the well from which I draw strength in the tough spots, sometimes I need something clear and simple to focus on. When my inner critic gets too loud, I try to find a phrase from scripture to repeat over and over again to replace the lies with truth.
This past Sunday in church, my pastor gave us a wonderful example of personalizing and using scripture to remember whose we are and to whom we belong. Throughout his sermon, he continually (seriously, over and over again until I had it memorized) asked us to repeat this verse from 1 John 4:4:
The one who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world.
Every time my inner critic has reared her ugly head this week, I have said this verse right back at her.
God names us Beloved, Beautiful, Worthy, Forgiven, Redeemed, Victorious, Daughter of the King, Light of the World, Salt of the Earth, His Masterpiece, Holy and Blameless. He says he will never leave us or forsake us. He says he is willing and able to complete the good work he has begun in each one of us. AND he says he has put within us a spirit, not of fear, but of power, love and self-control.
Find a scripture, personalize it, repeat it again and again and again until God’s voice is louder.
Scripture tells us to pray continually. Breath prayer, a brief sentence or simple phrase that can be repeated in one breath, is a way of praying that Christians have practiced for centuries. Throughout our day, as we go about our regular activities, we can invite God to fill us with his peace and presence by praying prayers like:
- Father, take away my fear.
- Lord, teach me to love.
- Jesus, help me feel loved.
- Abba, hold me close.
- Jesus, heal my heart.
One of the most common breath prayers, often called the Jesus Prayer, says “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
In his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster recommends choosing a personalized breath prayer by seeing what comes to mind if we imagine God asking us the question “Beloved child, what do you want?” He suggests we choose one prayer to repeat over and over again and allow God to plant it deep in our spirit. Foster tells the story of praying one particular breath prayer repeatedly for eight months before he felt God had completed the work in him.
When we are struggling, we can talk to God about a one sentence prayer that embodies the deepest desire of our heart and then pray it repeatedly until God’s voice is louder.
The Power of Me Too
Reach out to a friend and tell your story. Find someone you trust and tell them about the struggles you are having with your mean inner critic. Listen to them and hear their story. Revel in the power of me too. The antidote to shame is empathy. In the 12 Step program, we often say “Our secrets keep us sick.” When we hide from each other, we start to believe the lies. When we share our story, we find out that others struggle just like we do. As we listen to each other, as we name each other brave, we start to hear the voice of God again.
We have to talk to each other until God’s voice is louder.
I walk frequently down a wooded path near my house. As I was walking early one morning this week listening to music, these lyrics reached out and grabbed me:
All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship
All of my life, in every season, God has been faithful and present. Sometimes, when the other voices are louder, I forget. God hasn’t stopped talking, I just can’t hear him and I know it is once again time to intentionally, prayerfully, joyfully turn up the volume.
In the comments, I would love to hear your favorite scripture mantras and one sentence prayers. Tell me, how do you turn up the volume on the better voices?