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Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Proverbs 11:2 NLT

Everyone has an inner critic, but sometimes it gets so loud that it crushes us whenever we make a mistake:

  • How could you be so stupid?
  • You will never be able to do this.
  • If you make mistakes, people won’t like you. 
  • You always mess up.
  • You are not good enough.

The shame that comes with these self-critical thoughts is overwhelming, which is why I like Proverbs 11:2. God gives us a way out of disgrace: just be humble. 

When we are humble, we can learn from our sins and mistakes instead of being defeated by them.

Peter, one of Jesus’s first followers, was a person in the Bible who felt self-criticism and disgrace. He felt so unworthy and so painfully aware of his sins that he tried to push Jesus away:

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me-I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Luke 5:8-11 NLT

Jesus responded to Peter’s self-criticism by giving him an opportunity to learn. He told him he could learn how to fish for people. 

Jesus knew that a sinful man transformed could be an inspiration to others to seek God. Simon Peter was a fisherman and Jesus told him that from that point on, he would no longer catch fish, but people. His new purpose would be to bring people to God.

Russ Ewell, He’s Not Who You Think He Is (p. 110)

Peter responded to this invitation and later became one of the most courageous and impactful leaders in the church. But he also made a lot of mistakes. That’s why Peter is a great person to learn from when we are self-critical. 

Let’s look at how Jesus helped Peter overcome the temptation to be self-critical so we can do the same.

Lesson #1: God turns failures into opportunities. 

Peter (also called Simon) spent years as one of Jesus’s closest friends—and then he messed up pretty badly.

Simon, Simon, how Satan has pursued you, that he might make you part of his harvest. [32] But I have prayed for you. I have prayed that your faith will hold firm and that you will recover from your failure and become a source of strength for your brothers here. [33] Peter: Lord, what are You talking about? I’m going all the way to the end with You-to prison, to execution-I’m prepared to do anything for You. [34] Jesus: No, Peter, the truth is that before the rooster crows at dawn, you will have denied that you even know Me, not just once, but three times.

Luke 22:31-34 Voice

Before Jesus died on the cross, he knew Peter’s faith would fail. Peter kept denying it, insisting that he would even die for Jesus. 

But Jesus wasn’t worried. Even though he knew Peter would fail, Jesus believed in him anyway. Rather than telling Peter not to fail, he simply told him to learn from his failures.

After Peter did in fact betray Jesus, he had two options: he could either get self-critical and shrink into shame and regret, or he could learn from his experience and grow in his understanding of God’s forgiveness and grace.

He chose the latter. Peter humbly faced his failure (see Matthew 26:69-75 and John 21:14-19) and became one of the most influential leaders in the Bible. He had learned about God’s grace and forgiveness firsthand, and he became passionate about sharing it. 

Peter’s failure was not fatal; it was an essential step in his journey to who he was meant to be. 

Pause and reflect

  • What are some good lessons God has taught me through times I felt like a failure?
  • How can learning from failure help me defeat the self-criticism I feel when I make mistakes?

Lesson #2: God’s love shuts down self-criticism.

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

1 John 3:18-20 MSG

Self-criticism is debilitating, which means it weakens us. It weakens our emotional strength and is linked to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and many other types of psychological suffering. This is why God wants to free us from it, and he does that by teaching us to love.

After Peter’s spiritual failure, he had a conversation with Jesus that shifted his focus. In this conversation, Jesus helped Peter think about loving God and other people:

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. [16] Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. [17] A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. 

John 21:12-17 NLT

Peter was still carrying the sting of his betrayal of Jesus, but Jesus did not dwell on that. He helped Peter move forward by focusing him on his love for God and his need to serve other people. 

We can learn from this when we are having self-critical thoughts after experiencing failure. Sometimes the best thing we can do is think about how we can serve other people. Even our failures, mistakes, and weaknesses can benefit others; sharing our own mistakes and how God helped us through them brings hope to people around us.   

Pause and reflect

  • How could practicing love for God and others free me from self-criticism?

Lesson #3: God is always teaching us more about his heart.

From Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ. To everyone who shares with us in the privilege of believing that our God and Savior Jesus Christ will do what is just and fair. [2] I pray that God will be kind to you and will let you live in perfect peace! May you keep learning more and more about God and our Lord Jesus. [3] We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned that he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. [4] God made great and marvelous promises, so that his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world.

2 Peter 1:1-4 CEV

Once, when I was going through a hard time, I remember a friend asking me what God might be trying to teach me. I grumbled and said something like, “Well, I guess he wants me to learn that I am unbelieving and I don’t trust him enough.” 

It did not occur to me that God could be trying to teach me something about himself. Learning isn’t about seeing all the ways we have messed up or aren’t good enough; being a learner means always learning new things about God. 

This is what Peter learned, as we can see from his writing in 2 Peter 1:2. He prays that we will keep learning more and more about God. When we approach difficult times or even our own mistakes with a mindset of “What can I learn about God?” we will be protected from going down the rabbit hole of negativity and self-condemnation. 

Lesson #4: God knows that we are happiest when we are growing.

Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, [6] self-control, patience, devotion to God, [7] concern for others, and love. [8] If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful. [9] But if you don’t grow, you are like someone who is nearsighted or blind, and you have forgotten that your past sins are forgiven.

2 Peter 1:5-9 CEV

Peter—the man who told Jesus to leave him because he was just too sinful—became passionate about spiritual growth and change. He learned that we can and should always change and grow. 

Learning to grow helps us defeat self-criticism. This is a fact backed by psychology –  Carol Dweck coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” in 2006. Having a “fixed mindset” means we think things like “This is just how I am,” “I’ve never been good at this,” or “I’m not cut out for this.” A self-critical mindset tells us that we cannot change and we will always be this way.

A growth mindset says, “I don’t know how to do this yet, but I can learn.” Having a growth mindset is tied to things like improved mental health, increased self-esteem, and overall well-being. 

Peter tells us that when we don’t have a spiritual growth mindset, we suffer:

  • We become nearsighted: We can only see what’s right in front of us (which is often our own limitations). We lack vision and only see our day-to-day lives.
  • We become spiritually blind: We don’t see God or what he’s doing. We can only see ourselves and what we are capable of, which is not much.
  • We become ungrateful for or unaware of God’s forgiveness: Jesus died for our sins, but when we’re not actively growing, we forget about the forgiveness we have access to every day. Instead of being fueled by our gratitude, we get stagnant and unappreciative of what God has done for us. 

Constantly looking for ways to grow will make our lives useful and meaningful. We will stop focusing on all the ways we are doing things wrong, and instead focus on where we can learn and grow. 

Pause and reflect

  • Have I been trying to grow in my spiritual life? Why or why not?
  • Have I been nearsighted, blind, or forgetful of forgiveness lately? How can I work to have a spiritual growth mindset instead?

Final thoughts

Peter overcame his self-criticism by becoming a learner: someone who loved to learn and someone who learned to love.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2 MSG

When we “keep company with God,” we can learn to love like he does. Rather than filling our minds with negativity and criticism, we can give everything of ourselves (our weaknesses, strengths, flaws, desires, dreams) to love others. 

A love as extravagant and all-consuming as that leaves us no room for negative or self-critical thoughts, and we can leave them behind as we love those around us with the love God gives us!

The LORD is kind and merciful. He is patient and full of love. He does not always criticize. He does not stay angry with us forever.

Psalm 103:8-9 ERV

God does not constantly criticize us. When we are humble, we can learn from God and his Word and find freedom from our inner critic rather than letting it overpower us. 

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This article was developed by the Deep Spirituality Editorial Staff.

Deep Spirituality logo

This article was developed by the Deep Spirituality Editorial Staff.

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