"Enough with the Self-Talk"#87-14
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 1, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Luke 18:9-14
I know a woman named Shirley who scolds herself whenever she does something that she wishes she hadn't. So for example, she's in the kitchen, washing dishes, she breaks a glass, and she says, "Shirley!" Or she forgets her friend's birthday. She had a card picked out and everything, but she forgot to send it. She says, "Shirley!" Or she says something to someone and realizes that she hurt their feelings. She says to herself, "Oh, Shirley."
Well, she realizes that she was doing this, and so she decided to take her self-talk in a different direction. So the next time she was at the grocery store waiting in the checkout line, and she realizes that she forgot the reusable grocery bags that she had bought. Again, she forgot them. She says to herself, "Surely—goodness and mercy will follow me all the days in my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
What's your self-talk? How does it sound, the internal monologue that you have? What's the tone? Now self-talk is different than what you might say in a self-evaluation or a self-assessment that you have to give to your employer. In a self-evaluation, you have to posture a little. You have to position yourself. You want to sound good, but not too good. You want to be honest about your shortcomings and your flaws, but not too honest. But self-talk is different. Self-talk is the voice you hear in your head when you're all alone in your thoughts.
Jesus of Nazareth actually tells a story that includes some self-talk. It's in one of His parables in the Gospel of Luke. There's a guy in the story who on the outside is apparently praying, but Jesus tells us that he's praying about himself. He's kind of praying to himself. So that's not really prayer, isn't it? It's self-talk. Jesus tells this story as He's walking to Jerusalem what will be for the last time before He's crucified. And a lot of people are walking with Jesus, and Jesus knows something about these folks—at least some of them, that they think pretty highly of themselves. They're pretty proud of themselves. They trust in their own goodness, in their own righteousness, and they look down on other people. And so, Jesus tells them this story in Luke 18, beginning at verse 10.
He says, "Two people went up to the temple to pray. One a Pharisee, someone who was very serious about his religion, and the other a tax collector, a social outcast. And the Pharisee stood and began praying to himself. 'Oh God, I thank You that I am not like other people—robbers, evil doers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I give one tenth of all that I get.' But the tax collector stood far off and would not even lift so much as his eyes to heaven. And he was striking his chest saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner.'
"'I tell you,' Jesus said, 'This one rather than the other, went down to his house having been made right with God. Because everyone who lifts himself up will be brought low, and the one who is brought low will be lifted up.'"
What is your self-talk sound like? Me? I can identify with both the Pharisee and the tax collector in Jesus' story. Sometimes I feel pretty good about myself. I feel pretty proud of myself, and I look down on other people. Other times I am ashamed of who I am. I don't like who I am at times. Sometimes I don't even know who I am.
People tell you, "Be yourself. Just be yourself." Well, how? How are you supposed to be yourself if you don't like yourself? How am I supposed to be myself if other people don't like who I am? How am I supposed to be me when I don't even know what it means to be me? I'm a lot of things. I'm a husband. I'm a father. I'm a son. I'm a brother. I'm a member of the military. I'm a teacher, a pastor, a speaker, a neighbor, a friend. I also call myself sometimes "idiot," "stupid." Sometimes I say to myself, "You're a fake." "You're a failure."
Who am I then? I need an answer to this question that's more than just self-talk. I need an answer to this question that comes from outside of myself. I need an answer to this question that can hold me together when I'm falling apart, and I find an answer to this question in Jesus. In Jesus I hear that I am loved and sent. And these words are for you, too. They tell you who you are and why you matter. Loved and Sent is the title of a book by a friend of mine named Jeff Cloeter. You might've heard him speak on this program last week. And you'll get to hear him speak after these sermons in the month of December. Today's December 1st. It's the beginning of Advent. Advent is a season in the church where we look forward to, we prepare for, the arrival of Jesus. That's what advent means, the "arrival." We remember the arrival of Jesus in history. We celebrate the mystery of His arrival now in His Word, in His Sacraments, and we look forward to His arrival to be the judge of the living and the dead. That's what Advent's about. And during the season of Advent, Christians through the ages often take up devotional practices.
And so, if you're looking for a devotional practice, or if you just want to change the direction of your self-talk, I recommend that you read this book, Loved and Sent, by Jeff Cloeter. Jeff says that he wrote the book not just for you and me, but he wrote it for himself. He wrote it so that he could find an answer to this question: "Who am I?"—a clear and consistent and concrete answer to the question.
Now the Bible's answer to the question, "Who am I?" it comes in two parts. Now, the first part is so bad that I wish it were not true. And the second part, if the first part is right, sounds too good to be true. The first part of the Bible's answer to the question, "Who am I?" is you're worse than you thought. And the second answer is you are more loved than you imagined. Love, if it really is love, cares about truth. For example, if your loved one has cancer, but you choose to ignore that because you don't want to upset things. That's not love. What is that? It's not love because love cares about truth. So also with God's love, God cares about the truth, and so His first word to you when you ask this question, "Who am I?" is that you're worse than you thought.
I was walking in the park near my house a few months ago, and I saw a tree that had blown down during a storm. So I walked over to see what happened. It's a big tree with thick branches and leaves, and I wondered why would such a strong tree fall down in a storm? And I got to the tree and I could see that it had been uprooted, and the base of the trunk was exposed, and then I saw what happened. I saw the truth was revealed. The core of the tree was decayed. It was rotting from the inside out. Sometimes the forestry division in my city, they will preemptively cut down a diseased tree to prevent it from falling on something or somebody. Now, if they had cut down this tree that I saw that day, I would have gone over and said, "Why are you cutting down a perfectly good tree?" It looks fine on the outside. Only the person who knows what's going on inside the tree knows the truth about the tree.
The hard truth of the first half of the Bible's answer to the question "Who am I?" is that you're worse than you thought. You're more corrupt; you're more deceitful; you're more treacherous than you thought—and the God and Father of Jesus loves you, nonetheless. Now, this is a peculiar kind of love you've got to admit. It's not a love based on need. You don't have anything that God needs. It's not a love based on attraction. God loves you, but not because you're attractive to Him or impressive or productive. God's love is His undeserved gift to you. You're loved not because you're valuable, but you're valuable because you're loved and truly loved.
It's not simply that you're tolerated. We hear people talk a lot about toleration. But toleration can just be another word for indifference. No, you're not just tolerated begrudgingly by God, but you're loved. He loves you. He likes you. He wants to be around you. He was willing to sacrifice His Son so that He could be with you. So let's review.
God's first Word to you, when you ask this question, "Who am I?" We call it God's Law. It's given to cut you down. And God cuts you down, not because He hates you, not because He wants to hurt you. He cuts you down because He loves you. Because you and I in our old selves we're like rotten, decaying trees, and we're in danger of falling and hurting other people, of hurting ourselves. You're worse off than you thought, and so am I. So God's Law cuts you down, but God doesn't leave us there like a stump, a dead stump in the ground. God gives us Good News. We call this God's Gospel.
The Gospel says that you are more loved than you imagined. One of the traditional readings that is often heard in the church during the season of Advent is Isaiah 11. And God makes a promise to His people in Isaiah 11. He says, "There will come forth a shoot from the stump from the stump of Jesse." Jesse's the father of David. There will come forth this new life from the dead and decayed line of King David, and this Descendant would fulfill the promises that God made to David and to Abraham. This descendant would be a blessing to all the nations. He would fill the world with His fruit. And Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise by His death and by His resurrection, by the presence of His Spirit, and by the promise of His return. He's bringing new life out of my rotten roots, out of your dead stump, because you are more loved than you imagined, and you are sent with greater purpose than you can comprehend. That's who you are.
"Who am I?" is the title of a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran Christian pastor serving in Germany during the time of Hitler and the Nazis. He was arrested, imprisoned, and executed for his role in the German resistance against Hitler and the Nazis. Bonhoeffer was a brilliant, articulate, confident man. He held his head high. He maintained his composure even while he was in prison. He was the source of inspiration and strength for those who knew him. He seemed to be able to handle anything. In his poem, however, which he wrote shortly before he was hanged for treason against the Nazis. He lets us hear his self-talk, his doubt, his uncertainty. He finds an answer to the question "Who am I?" not in his internal monologue, but from somewhere else. In another writing, Bonhoeffer quoted Martin Luther who said, "Seek yourself in Christ and not in yourself, and you will find yourself in Him eternally." Seek yourself in Christ, and not in yourself, and in Him you will find yourself eternally.
"Who am I?" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. "Who am I? They often tell me that I step from my cell's confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country house. Who am I? They often tell me that I used to speak with my warden freely and friendly and clearly like it was mine to command. Who am I? They also tell me that I bore the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win. Am I? Am I really that which others say of me? Or am I only what I myself know of myself? Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, tossing in expectations of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint, and ready to say farewell to it all. Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? Before others a hypocrite, before myself a contemptible, pitiful weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved? Who am I? They mock me—these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest me, Oh God. I am Thine. In the Name of Jesus. Amen."
Note: The Lutheran Hour is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we encourage you to listen to the audio at lutheranhour.org. It includes emotion and emphasis not reflected in the transcript.
Reflections for December 1, 2019
Title: Enough with the Self-Talk
Mike Zeigler: Once again, I have joining me, my friend, Jeff Cloeter. He's the pastor at Christ Memorial Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri. He's also the author of this book that we're going to be talking about through these Sundays in Advent: Loved and Sent: How These Two Words Define Who You Are and Why You Matter. Thanks for coming back, Jeff, Pastor Jeff.
Jeff Cloeter: Pleasure to be here again.
Mike Zeigler: In this part of the book where you're dealing with this question, "Who am I?" you tell the story of moving to a new high school, and I felt your pain because I had to move in the middle of high school and that's just hard move. You were a junior when you moved.
Jeff Cloeter: Yeah, between sophomore and junior year of high school.
Mike Zeigler: I moved in between my freshman and sophomore year, and that's just a tough move. And you talk about how you were tall, and you were like this famed phenom of athleticism.
Jeff Cloeter: That was the word on the street.
Mike Zeigler: But it wasn't quite that. I was like five foot two, and there was no fame that came with my arrival. But, but you tell this story of feeling, even though you did have this great reputation that preceded you, feeling lost, feeling, I think even used the word "worthless" and just wondering, "Who am I?" And I think this question is put on us in varying degrees throughout our lives. Looking back and kind of looking where you are now, when is it difficult for you to believe as an adult that you are truly loved by God?
Jeff Cloeter: Well, I think if we all go back to junior high or high school, any human being could probably identify something that was awkward, embarrassing, marginalizing. And so now we both have high schoolers now. So when the first day of high school starts, and I go in, I smelled the gym floor, or I hear the sound of lockers slamming—all of that kind of brings up that stuff, and we feel kind of that people are looking at us, and I'm trying to figure myself out.
And those seem to be very juvenile things. But what you're saying, and your question makes me think about the fact that we always have those juvenile fears. We're always children to some degree inside. Now as adults I think we get better at coping with that, or we find ways to defend ourselves or cover that insecurity up. But I think it never fully goes away. You're always trying to prove yourself, justify yourself. You're always asking, "Does anyone love me? Will anyone stay with me?" We just get really probably more complex in our ability to deal with it or to develop our own kind of identity that makes us feel somewhat secure. And so, you know, to be transparent, and I think as pastors we have to, I, I still wrestle with that. And I would say a moment weekly when that hits me is Sunday mornings when I wake up, and I've got to stand in front of hundreds of people, and I don't really want to.
And I think is this gonna make any difference? Am I really called to do this? I have to speak words for God. Am I any good, or am I worthy to do that? And that's when the self-doubt creeps in. And it reminds me of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness with Satan. And, his question, Satan's question, again and again is 'If, if You are the Son of God ..." he's questioning the very identity of Jesus. And so I think we all wrestled with that. That's part of being human; our identity is questioned every day. Now we don't say it that way, or we aren't as explicit about that. But underneath, so many of our strivings or workings are to answer that question, justify ourselves.
Mike Zeigler: I think it's that internal monologue is the juvenile part that remains throughout life. You know, am I loved? Do I matter?
Jeff Cloeter: Yeah, and we don't want to admit that. And those are, you know, not the conversations you have every day. But we were talking earlier, and somebody gave me these three P words that we try to gain our identity by being pretty, popular, or productive. I'm past the stage of being pretty or trying to be pretty or even popular, but productive, especially for a man, you want to earn your way; you want to prove yourself, to produce something that I have value.
Mike Zeigler: Yep.
Jeff Cloeter: We all wrestle to varying degrees with all three of those and that those are striving for a sense of identity and purpose.
Mike Zeigler: You talk about how God's grace and God's Word remind us who we are—that we are loved and sent. And that grace and Word always comes to us in embodied community, a church, not necessarily an institution, but a group of people who are committed to the love of God and the mission of God. So what would you say to people who—you've heard people make this comment like—"I've got God, I believe in God. I don't need to go to church. How would you respond to, to that sentiment?"
Jeff Cloeter: Yeah, that's a good question. We're on the radio, correct?
Mike Zeigler: Right. We are.
Jeff Cloeter: So there might be somebody listening who would say,
Mike Zeigler: "I listen to the radio." Yeah.
Jeff Cloeter: "I don't need to go to church." So that's a very real thing. And especially today I'd say among younger generations that we've experienced that.
Mike Zeigler: Sure.
Jeff Cloeter: Where, as you said, maybe the institution or the organization of the church, and I understand that to go to church can be spoken in a way that is that it's just a right or a ritual or a motion that I go through—we're not talking about that. The question I would ask is are you connected to Christ, or do you want to be connected to Christ? If so, then you are connected to His body. You're connected to a community, a family, whether you like it or not. That's really the critical question because it's dangerous to be alone. It's absolutely dangerous to be alone from God, most certainly, but God gives us people, and we don't want to be the straying cattle in the National Geographic videos that kind of gets away from the herd and gets picked off by the hyena. That happens in the life of Christians. And so community is where we find the grace of God embodied. So it's Loved and Sent: How These Two Words Define Who You Are and Why You Matter. A book by pastor Jeff Cloeter, check it out and know that you are—loved and sent.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Stay Awake, Be Ready" by Christopher Walker (© OCP Publications) Used by permission.
"Savior of the Nations, Come" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)