It was my pains Jesus carried—my disfigurements, all the things wrong with me. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was my sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—my sins! Jesus took the punishment, and that made me WHOLE! Through his bruises I get healed. I am like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. I've done my own thing, gone my own way. And God has piled all my sins, everything I've done wrong, on him, on him (Isaiah 53:3-5 Message Bible).
There have been times when I have castigated myself. I inflicted punishment on myself to relieve the painful guilt and shame from my goof-ups. Yes, there have even been times when I hated myself. Like Elijah under the juniper tree, I wished to die. (1 Kings 19:4).
I criticized myself severely. I took on the role of a parent lashing out his/her child for accidentally spilling a glass of milk. For not making his bed. For bringing home a bad report card. For talking back or as my mother used to call it, "being sassy."
And worse perhaps than words was the corporal punishment that went along with it sometimes.
Then there were the times of being restricted from what I really enjoyed. I remember one time not being allowed to go and play in one of Little League baseball games. The reason for the restriction has long faded from my memory, but the feeling of regret and loss comes back to me as I write this.
Self-castigation is weird. It's like I jumped out of myself and became a parent shaking a finger at myself and pronouncing some sort of punishment to atone for my mistakes and sins.
And here's another strange thing. After inflicting punishment on myself, I felt better. Like I had been cleansed. Purged. I don't mean to be gross, but we all know that nauseous feeling after eating bad food or from a stomach virus and the relief brought after regurgitating. Purging gets rid of the impurities and makes us feel better physically. Self punishment made me feel relieved emotionally.
Then, I'd vow not to do it again. I apologized to my myself and promised myself not to do the bad thing again. But that didn't work. It's like the proverb Peter referred to about the pig returning to wallow in the mud after it had been cleaned up (2 Peter 2:22).
I discovered that this self-punishment thing comes from those times I felt "I'm not any good. Worthless. Of no use to myself or anybody else. I can't do nothing right." It comes from a sense of unresolved guilt feelings whether from real or false guilt. It was a vicious cycle. It was an attempt to get rid of mistakes, shortcomings, and sins by my own efforts. I couldn't make that work no matter how hard I tried. Relief came temporarily but not permanently.
I thank God that I didn't carry my self-punishment to extremes. I've known students I've taught to come to school on Mondays with fresh cuts on their arms done by their own hands. I've known kids who have pulled out their eye lashes. It seemed girls did this more than boys. Why the gender disparity? I don't know. With boys, it seems like their self-punishment would be hitting themselves or banging their heads against the wall. Yep, I've seen that as a school teacher too.
I'm not being self-righteous. Far from it. I'm just thankful for what John Wesley called "God's prevenient grace" which is revealed in God's providential care of me without me even realizing it at the time He cared for me.
So, let me say then that I'm thankful for God and His prevenient grace in that I didn't punish myself by alcohol, drugs, or doing something like punching out a window or driving purposefully into a ditch.
As an adult, my self-punishment was more subtle. One thing I did to punish myself was over-eat. As a diabetic, when I over-eat, I get very lethargic and sleepy due to a spike in blood sugar. It's a nice way to take out your frustrations and punish yourself by over-eating instead of self-mutilation.
Moreover, instead of binging on alcohol to relieve the emotional pain of guilt like many do, I binged on comfort food in an attempt to absolve and clear away my guilt feelings.
Another thing I did was to isolate. My parent-self would tell my child-self to go to his room and stay there. In my teen years, I really identified with the Beach Boys hit song, "In My Room," written by Brian Wilson. Little did I know that that Wilson had his issues too. From my standpoint, I think he tried to redeem himself through self-punishment. He spent countless hours in his room and in bed. He became addicted to drugs and alcohol to try and kill his pain - to punish himself for feelings of guilt. Eventually, he couldn't function for many years.
I can't speak for Wilson, of course. But for me, isolation was a manifestation of self-punishment after making a mistake, falling short of my self-imposed expectations or for some other failure.
Over-eating and isolation were just two forms of several I used to punish myself for feelings of guilt that I had from a goof-up, mistake, or failure to live up to my expectations or the expectations of others.
I didn't do this stuff on purpose. It just was the way I coped. I was not self-aware and had little or no self-understanding about such things. All I knew was that it was not healthy emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. And, it certainly wasn't solving my dilemma.
What was and is the way out of this self-punishment cycle? The way out for me became my Good Friday.
Good Friday commemorates the pain, suffering, flagulation, beating, and humiliation of Jesus Christ. It finally dawned on me that I was doing to myself what Jesus had done for me.
And, what did Jesus do for me? He took on and bore the punishment for my goof-ups, my mistakes, my sins so that I wouldn't have to punish myself. He absolved me from ALL my guilt. He cleared me of my guilt, shame, and blame that I directed at myself. In other words, he purged my soul from what was making me nauseous and sick.
I had to make an intentional transfer of the load of guilt (both real and false guilt) that I carried to the load of the cross He carried for me. I continue to have to make that conscious transaction after those times I make mistakes, goof-ups, and failures.
I found that I can't carry guilt any more than I can carry a 100 pound sack of feed. I might carry it a little ways, but I'd have to stop and start over a again and again just like I tried to stop and start over after some failure or blunder whether it was intentional or intentional. In Christian jargon, it's called sins of commission and omission. Both bring on guilt feelings that must be reckoned with.
These guilt feelings can be temporarily absolved by my own self-effort through self-punishment, resolutions, or promises not to do it again, or they can be cleared away by transferring them to Christ through the suffering and guilt he bore for me on His cross.
I no longer have to jump outside of myself and play the stern parent and guilty child role waiting to receive punishment for my errors. Instead, I jump into Good Friday and by faith ask the Lord if He will add my sins to the burden of the cross He bears. I see Him taking my heavy load, putting it on a his back, stumbling and bleeding, taking my punishment, and making it His. This transaction releases me from feelings of condemnation, guilt, and shame caused by my failures real or imagined.
I feel truly liberated. Free! I fall to my knees and tears run down my face as I watch my Savior stumble again with the load I added to His beaten and bloody back. I shout, "Thank you!" He looks my way and manages to say, "You're welcome. I love you".
I go back to Good Friday again and again. I have to or I will resort back to the same old self-defeating pattern of self-punishment, resolutions, and failing again.
There's something about the transaction I made on Good Friday that I can't explain. There's something about feeling clean, blameless, and free from accusation (Colossians 1:22. I don't seem to mess up as much as I used too. I don't feel the need to punish myself by doing such things like over-eating or isolating.
What happened to me on Good Friday means life to me. He really did carry that load for me. He died that I might live and have a good life free from guilt and shame (1 Peter 2:24).
And the wonderful, amazing thing is that you can add your load on top of mine for Jesus to carry. Go ahead. Make the transfer. Jesus can bear it. He wants to carry it for you. Set yourself free and live. Then come back to your Good Friday transaction every time you mess up. Break the cruel cycle of punishing yourself for your faults. Jesus will cleanse your soul and make you whole.
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