Feeling Bad about Yourself? Consider God’s Kindness
By Kelly M. Kapic

In this essay, Kelly M. Kapic, professor of theological studies at Covenant College, invites readers to consider God’s kindness directed toward each of us.

Right as shelter-in-place orders happened, I heard a prediction: “A lot of people are about to learn that if they ‘just had more free time’ they would not, in fact, write a novel, learn a language, or get in shape.” It made me laugh at first, but as days turned into weeks and months it doesn’t seem as funny.

How are you feeling right now?  If you feel great, as I know some actually do, I am grateful for you, and I ask you to read on so that you can encourage others. If you’re not great, you have good reason. There are global and local catastrophes to lament: staggering levels of sickness and death, sobering economic change, and social and physical isolation.

Besides all the major challenges to lament and consider, two unexpected troubles have shown up: I am feeling painfully unproductive, and I keep recognizing aspects of sin in my life that I usually prefer to ignore. Does this sound familiar to you?

Right now, in the middle of your struggles God looks upon you with kindness and tenderness, not just forgiving you but actually delighting in you.

When I try to work, it feels like I’m running in thick wet mud. Sure, I make some progress, but it is slow and comes only with great effort. My ability to focus and be creative (which is crucial to my labor) does not come easy. At the same time, being confined to an occupied house exposes how irritable I can be and how soon I employ food or drink to fill the spaces of sadness. This sense that work is nearly impossible combines with the heightened perception of my sin to create a bitter and depressing potion. So what now?

In Ephesians 4, Paul calls his readers to value the unity of the body of Christ above self-interest, warning about behaviors that disrupt unity (e.g., deceitful desires, anger, theft, sloth, slander, etc.). What I always find remarkable and profoundly encouraging is the way that Paul ends that chapter: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32). In other words, even when we see those disruptive behaviors in our brothers and sisters in Christ, we should not condemn them nor cut them off, but “be imitators of God” (5:1) by being channels of God’s compassion. But what struck me recently was that this has relevance, not just in how I interact with others but also in how I treat myself.

I often feel the weight of sin and my struggles in life interfering with my work, with the result that I also feel that God is disappointed with me. But he isn’t! Paul’s words in Ephesians 4 are a vital help here.

If a Christian comes to me and talks about their frustration at how little they are able to get done during the pandemic, how do you think I would respond? If they tell me they have been made more aware of certain sinful patterns and responses in these circumstances, what would I say? I hope I would listen and respond with kindness and a tender heart. Pointing to the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Spirit. Without hesitation I would seek to bring them to the warm embrace of the divine benediction. In the past, I have been quick to accept, quick to encourage, quick to understand and offer them words of support in their longing to more faithfully follow and rest in the love of God. If I do this, I am imitating God!

Yet, why do I treat myself so harshly? Because I struggle to believe for myself what I happily and easily believe for others: that God’s love is so abundant and overflowing that the Father sent the Son in the Spirit to give Himself up as an offering and sacrifice in our place (Ephesians 5:2). Our sin, our productivity, our gifts, and our weaknesses are not what make us secure before this holy God. Instead, Christ has united us to Himself by the Spirit in the Father’s love. He is our security. He is our strength. 

Right now, in the middle of your struggles God looks upon you with kindness and tenderness, not just forgiving you but actually delighting in you. He has a deep fondness and joyful love toward His people. 

Beloved, let us have the courage to believe that when God calls us to tenderness and kindheartedness toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, He also calls us to tenderness and kindheartedness toward ourselves. As I offer comfort and extend God’s compassion to those around me, wondrously, I also can feel God’s love not just move through me to others, but it is also directed toward me. Because of His love we can now walk in love (Ephesians 5:2). May we be able to both receive and extend the kindness of God in this season of great struggle.

Kelly M. Kapic is professor of theological studies at Covenant College.

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