“Please just be quiet. No one wants to hear you speak.”
“You’re the youngest. You have nothing of value to add.”
“This person isn’t enjoying this conversation. They’re just waiting for you to finish speaking so they can change the subject.”
“Well that was a complete failure. You should stay home next time.”
Bullying is a common problem of childhood. The biggest boy on the playground shoves the littler ones around to prove his superiority. The popular girl in junior high deliberately snubs and laughs at the girl who cares more about chess club than cheerleading. Kids can be humiliated, shut out, and even physically injured by other children. In every case, the child who is bullied feels powerless against his oppressor.
I never faced a true bully. I was never the target of a cruel enemy who enjoyed making me miserable. But as an adult, I’ve come to know the worst tormentor of all. This adversary constantly stalks me, tirelessly working to make me crumble under the pressure of her disapproval. Her cutting, belittling words cripple me in situations where I would normally thrive, ruining a perfect moment and tainting it with frustration and embarrassment. The worst part is, nobody else knows she’s there.
My biggest bully is me.
I attend a church fellowship and wind up standing close to my husband the whole time because I’m afraid to engage another woman in conversation. I tell a story to a group of friends and fight a mental battle, questioning whether they really want to be listening. I sit at small group, surrounded by people who love Jesus and love me, wondering if anyone really cares if I’m there or not. These poisonous thoughts come unprompted by unkindness or inconsiderate behavior. They simply spring up from my own insecurities from past failures. And, like a child on the playground with a bully on his back, grinding his face into the dirt, I feel utterly powerless to shut down the bully in my mind.
I know this has caused me to miss opportunities to help other ladies, to draw them into meaningful conversations about Christ, about family, about living with purpose. I know that I’ve sat through times with friends with an undeniably sour expression, looking as if I’d rather be anywhere but here. I know the Jesus wanted to use me, but my insecurities held me back from surrendered, joyful service.
When I live under the authority of my insecurity, I’m living in pride. I’m living in selfishness. I’m refusing to reach out for fear that the relationship will cost more than I’m willing to give. Worse, I’m placing my confidence and happiness in whether or not this lady or that couple likes me and thinks I’m fun to be around. I’m relying on other people to support my confidence, rather than finding complete assurance and worth in Jesus alone.
So how should I respond when my thoughts begin to bully me into silence and timidity?
Recognizing my insecurities are a result of idolatry
My husband has said often in his preaching that our heart is an idol factory. One thing that I have come to realize is that my battle over insecurity is a battle against my idolatrous heart. Tim Keller in his book Counterfeit Gods defines idolatry as being “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’ There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”
Relying upon my identity in Christ
My worth is found in nothing and no one but Christ. “You are complete in Him.” (Colossians 2:10) Nothing anyone says or does can add to or subtract from who Christ has made me. So when I find myself not speaking because I feel like no one wants to hear what I have to say, or I begin to make excuses about why I should just stay home in fear of failure, I need to allow God to adjust my heart and mind, and fully rely on who I am in Christ.
Though I still drift back into these insecurities more than I would like to admit, the Lord, in his goodness, is teaching me to recognize my tendencies, and to allow the gospel to conquer them.