***This post originally appeared at Orange Leaders on 23 July 2015:
Ever receive one of the billion Internet memes floating in cyberspace? Ever let out a sigh when you receive a text from that kid, open it, and discover that you just got meme’d by an angry cat or a one second repeating loop from a 1960s sitcom? Of course you have, because you serve as a family ministry leader! Another phrase for “family ministry leadership” should be “meme receptor.” We serve a generation who loves making, finding, and sending memes, especially to us!
Just in case you might be the only person who reads this post and thinks, “Hmmm, what’s a meme?” Let me bring you up to speed: a meme is a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.
I get them all of the time. My students love to text me memes of cats falling off of tables, of cats spinning around on ceiling fans, of cats peeing in a toilet . . . noticing a trend? I feel obligated to tell you that I despise memes, but in all honesty, some of them make me laugh quite hard, and then I find myself passing it onto someone else—what we in the biz call meme’ing.
Recently, I saw a meme that I could not quite shake out of my head. It was a video meme that was so bizarre, so funny, that it held my attention as it looped once per second over and over again. Even after I shut it down, for the rest of that day I could still see the meme replaying in my mind, and at times, I would even give an audible chuckle.
It’s funny how certain images and phrases get stuck in our minds. On a dime, I can recall a dramatic scene from a great movie, where I was when I heard something profound, and who I was with when I experienced a great life event. The opposite is true, too. I can recall a hurtful word that a peer told me when I was in 5th grade—as if it happened yesterday. Sometimes, it can seem like the negative words we hear—either from others or even from ourselves—stick with us a lot longer than the positive encouragement we receive.
I think every ministry leader in some fashion wrestles with negative self-talk, those lines we speak in our mind that reinforce our negative experiences or traits. Lines such as, “I’m not good enough”; “I’m not gifted enough”; “I’m not smart enough.” Whatever they might be, every leader to some extent at some point in her or his life speaks those repetitive one-liners that ultimately weigh us down from the calling placed upon our lives to serve Christ and His Church!
I liken negative self-talk to one of those annoying, repetitive memes that capture our attention from the real life happening all around us. I’ve certainly dealt with my share of battles with negative self-talk. I can recall stressful, tough seasons of life where I felt like my self-talk consisted of one second loops, saying, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not good enough”—like the memes that just never end.
Yet, that kind of self-talk does more than just demoralize and defeat you; it defeats the truth of the cross and resurrection of Christ for you! The outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross declared to the entire world that “You are GOOD ENOUGH!” Will you fall short? Yes! Will you fail? Yes! But the cross and resurrection of Jesus makes you good enough in the eyes the Lord. The first chapter of Ephesians lays out an entire framework for identity that begins with the claim that the Father “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” (Eph 1:3 NLT). This truth ought to so enliven and free you to do the work of Christ in your local church that negative self-talk never becomes an issue again.
Yet, as it often does, negativity will once again creep in, but how we handle it can reorient our heart and mind to the truth of Christ for us. I want to suggest three ways to keep our mind free from negative self-talk to positive self-talk.
1. Stop the Memes – I used to receive dozens of memes from students, but now, I delete most of what I receive. Namely, because they suck my time and distract me, but quite honestly, I find them annoying. Do the same with your self-talk. Delete it. Stop it. Sure, you may have just bombed that talk. Perhaps you did something stupid. Rather than replaying the loop of failures over and over again, trust that the Lord forgave you once and for all on the cross, and He extends grace to you. Your ministry needs you to get back in the game and be fully present.
2. Find a New Loop – Ask a mentor, group of friends, or accountability partner to help you create new positive loops in your mind. Ones that shift from “I’m not good enough” to “Christ in me, the hope of glory!” Ask these people to keep you accountable. Even ask them to say them along with you. Perhaps each time you meet with them, you begin your time by saying those words out loud, instead of your negative phrases.
3. Stay Rooted in the Truth – Ultimately, when my negative self-talk begins to spin me out of control, I return to the truth of my identity: Scripture. I dig into the word and remind myself of the grace, salvation, mercy, and goodness of God for me. I drink deeply of the nourishing wisdom and life of Scripture to refill my energy and call.
The worst thing that could happen to any of us ministry leaders would be that we take ourselves out of the game because of our negative self-talk. The Lord called you. Your church needs you. Your parents and kids need you. Your own family needs you. Stop the memes of your negative self-talk, and know that Lord called and equipped you for such a time as this!