I call them the harpies. They’re the voices in my head that shriek a constant chorus of just how awful I am. Exchange “awful” for any negative adjective. They’ve used most of them.
A few years back, I finally realized that these voices were not the voice of God. As St. Paul says, “Who can bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died, more than that, who was raised, who is seated at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8).
The harpies do not pray. They do not intercede in love. They harp. They mock. They ridicule and scorn and revile. They condemn.
They also shape-shift. Which means that just when I catch on to the particular form in which they’ve been saying, “You’re a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad person,” they switch gears, change the words and the tone, and suddenly, I’m listening to them all over again.
They’re very convincing. They feed on fear and insecurity and doubt. They take some aspect of myself that I would very much like to be rid of (my anger, say, which just exploded in ugly words to one of my children) or that I don’t particularly like (my tendency toward people-pleasing, say) and they start harping on it, making it seem worse than it is, bigger than it is, more wretched than it is, until that deformed part of me is all I can see.
Last summer they were particularly loud. I repeatedly found myself arguing with them, trying to defend myself from their attacks. That never works. They can outshout me. And they do. At one point, I realized with a shock that my internal posture was of someone cowering on the ground, groveling on her face with her hands lifted in surrender and a plea for mercy. The harpies have no mercy.
But there is Someone who does.
And suddenly, I saw my posture for what it was: idolatry. I was lying on my face in a posture of terrified worship, giving honor and power to the harpies, allowing them to tell me who I am and what I’m worth. I was listening to their voices rather than God’s voice.
I repented. Again.
And God said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
I know this. But knowing something in your head is very different from believing it, from living it. So I have to practice letting go of condemnation.
It starts by turning my back on the harpies and facing Christ. It begins with letting Him tell me who I am: imago Dei, daughter, bride, friend. All images that remind me of my belovedness. I learned years ago that knowing myself loved of God transforms my relationship with everyone and everything else. It frees me to live in a posture of openness rather than a posture of fear. But it is something I have to practice every single day. We do not live in a culture of love. We live in a culture of condemnation. For all our vaunted talk about tolerance, we are a rabidly intolerant people, quick to condemn, vilify, mock, and revile those we dislike or with whom we disagree. Hence the harpies—they are largely voices from the culture that I have internalized. To combat this cultural tendency, I must daily soak in the love of God. Only thus can I remember who I am. Because I only know who I am when I know Whose I am. I am God’s.
One evening in September, after months of battling the harpies, I was brushing my teeth, and these words floated into my head: “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.” I had recently read the story of Jesus’ baptism, so I dismissed the words as a memory of that recent reading. But they came into my mind again, slowly, with emphasis:
“You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.”
I burst out crying. I stood at the bathroom sink, smeared with tears and toothpaste, a total mess, and I felt those words settle over me, settle into me.
I didn’t have to get myself cleaned up and put together. I didn’t have to prove myself worthy. I didn’t have to do anything. I remembered what one of our priests had said several months earlier—that the Father’s commendation of Jesus came before His ministry began—before He ever performed a single miracle or preached to a single crowd or called a single disciple. Before any of that, He was God’s beloved Son, and the Father was pleased with Him, proud of Him. In a similar way, God says to each of us, “You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 40). He says, “You are my beloved child. With you I am well-pleased.” Not because we’re awesome or amazing or even competent. Simply because we are God’s.
That night as I lay in bed, I felt like I was resting in God’s hand, cradled and held in love. The harpies couldn’t touch me.
The featured images is courtesy of Aaron Burden on Unsplash and it is used with permission.
We are grateful for Aaron’s generosity and remarkable gift of seeing beauty in the great and small.
K. C. Ireton is a multi-published author of both fiction and nonfiction books, including The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and A Yellow Wood and Other Stories. She and her daughter, Jane, co-host Lantern Hill, a podcast for people who love books, children, and God. Visit kcireton.com to learn more about her work and download the first two chapters of her most recent book. Or visit her on Substack at kcireton.substack.com, where she publishes stories and liturgies.
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