Freedom from Self
by Sarah Phillips
Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalms 51:12)
Do you have a hard time embracing the idea that God loves you? Do you struggle with a nagging sense of inadequacy or unworthiness?
During Lent, we encounter a lot of talk about sinfulness, reparations, confession, and penance. The Lenten focus is wonderful and necessary for all of us. We are sinners in a fallen world, and we can find ourselves forgetting our need for God and His grace readily.
It’s easy to see how Lent can infuse humility into one who suffers from pride. But what about those of us who suffer from scrupulosity? A quick internet search of this term brings us to Wikipedia which defines scrupulosity as “obsessive concern with one's own sins and compulsive performance of religious devotion.” Scrupulosity is basically an obsession with our own faults and failings. It often plagues perfectionists and can be paralyzing to the believer’s life. The scrupulous believer holds on to his or her sins and even erroneously labels innocent acts as sinful, convinced God could not love them enough to forgive them.
When the tendency to hyper-focus on imperfections and sins takes over, we need to remember that Lent is the journey towards Easter. It is meant to help us grow in our relationship with God, not lead us into clinical depression.
Let’s take the Lenten practice of fasting, for example. Why do Christians fast? Fasting can be found in both the Old Testament and the New, with Moses (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9,18 ), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and our Lord (Matthew 4:2) all participating in 40-day fasts. Biblically, fasting centers around genuine humility and a desire to be in right relationship with God. Fasting is a way of denying ourselves excesses so that we might be more attuned to the Lord's voice. This requires first and foremost a belief that one can be in right relationship with God; that He is accessible to the believer!
Fasting makes the most sense when we consider it in light of Genesis 1, which reveals that we all have inherent dignity as creatures created in the image and likeness of God. An excerpt of this chapter states:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them... God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1: 26 - 27, 31)
As human beings with this dignity, we can exercise our gift of free will to embrace opportunities God gives us to experience His refining grace in our lives. In doing so, the small aches and pains that come with fasting should draw our attention away from our failings and towards the reality that God loves us so much that He would suffer profoundly for us on the Cross.
Intersecting Faith & Life: If you suffer from scrupulosity, give it up. Instead of repeating your sins to God over and over, spend the next several weeks studying the gospel in light of God's love for you.