In my fiction writing class at the university this week, a subject came up that seems common to just about all of us, writers or not: self-doubt.
We were discussing the sorts of things that trip us up when we are trying to write. Some are uncontrollable, like the sound of the neighbor’s leaf blower. Some are well controllable, like procrastination. Many of the items we listed as blocks to productivity, though, were really reactions to the voices of our own inner critics.
Each of us, and I mean every one of us, could empathize with the voice in our head that constantly criticizes.
“No one will find that interesting. It’s been done before. That’s an awkward sentence – better stop and rewrite it before you move on,” it says, effectively preventing us from being able to get any writing done.
My professor, who is a published novelist, admits to hearing the inner-critic as well. It was comforting to find that we students weren’t the only ones experiencing doubt, but that comfort falls under the category of misery-loves-company. Our professor wanted to offer suggestions for how to combat it.
One of his suggestions was a strategy of his own. He writes on a word processing program on the computer. When he hears the voice of doubt nagging him, he will turn off the computer monitor while he is writing. He’ll continue to write, but by not being able to see what he is writing, he effectively blinds his inner-critic. It can’t cast doubt on what it can’t see. That strategy struck me as something similar to how I handle the inner voice of ill will. Instead of turning off my monitor, though, I have learned to turn the ideas of “love thy neighbor” and “judge not” around on myself.
It occurred to me at some point that the commandment Jesus gives us to “love thy neighbor as thyself” logically requires a pre-existing love of self. When I was young, in my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t really understand what it meant to love oneself. I thought that serving others first meant that I had to view myself as lowly in comparison to everyone else.
That’s not at all what God wants of us! In fact, loving others has little to do with comparing how we love others to how we love ourselves. Comparing is what gets us in trouble. When we judge ourselves based on the achievements of others, we are not only doing ourselves a severe disservice but we are also thumbing our noses at God. Look at this verse from Psalm 139:
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.
If we are truly allowing God to guide our lives, we must acknowledge that He has created a wonderful work in each one of us. Once I realized how precious my own life was, I realized very quickly how precious everyone’s life is. That realization allowed me to understand that the fears and doubts that plague me throughout my days and my nights are the same ones that dampen the spirit of everyone I meet.
I saw that if I were to allow God to do His work on earth through me, it really is my duty to lift people up – starting with myself! I want to love others well, so I must love myself well first! That understanding led to my cure for self-doubt.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says,
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
Now, if we can see the wonderful creation God has made in us, if we are loving ourselves, and loving our neighbor the same, the next step is to stop judging ourselves. We should pardon instead, not only others, but ourselves as well.
By allowing ourselves the liberty to fail, and to forgive ourselves when we do, we divide away from ourselves the harsh inner critic who stifles our every action. We allow ourselves to view our motives with a discerning eye as opposed to a judgemental one. We give ourselves the freedom to fall flat on our faces, then try again better.
Ultimately, this understanding of God’s desire for us to value ourselves and our products is another way in which giving up our own control allows God to work abundantly in us. My professor turns off his monitor and keeps writing. I turn over my control to God, do what He tells me is best for me, and just keep going.