Goodbye, self-condemnation

Today’s column comes from a young athlete who shares how identifying himself as God’s spiritual, capable, and valuable child enabled him to stop fixating on mistakes and instead experience more joy, confidence, and progress on the baseball field.

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My whole life, baseball has been my favorite sport, and I have never worked harder at anything else. Coming into high school, I was nervous about playing baseball because I knew the skill level was a big jump for me. But after a winter of training, I felt prepared and ready. When the season started that spring, I was thrilled when the coaches invited me to be on the varsity team as a freshman. As the season progressed, I started every game and quickly found my spot on the team.

Then, suddenly, my performance went downhill. I kept making mistakes, and I started to question whether I was a good fit for the team. I felt as if I was just disappointing my teammates and coaches. My self-confidence plummeted, and even my enthusiasm for baseball started to diminish. When I made mistakes, I would blame myself for not being good enough.

After practice one day, one of my coaches called me into his office and asked me how I was doing. I told him that I wasn’t confident and felt down on myself for all the mistakes I kept making. Like me, the coach was a Christian Scientist, and he shared with me a passage quoted in “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy. The passage says: “He assumes no borrowed appearance. He seeks no mask to cover him...” (p. 147). My coach compared my errors during the game to a mask that was covering my true identity.

That helped me see that I needed to think about myself in a different way. I had been identifying myself based on what seemed like my personal abilities, or even worse, my lack of abilities when I messed up. But my true identity is God’s child, wholly spiritual and therefore capable.

After we talked, my thought shifted and I saw clearly that while I could certainly reflect on and learn from my mistakes, they weren’t actually part of me and didn’t define me. Only God defines me, and I could look at myself spiritually, rather than focusing on what I was doing wrong.

As the season went on, I continued to pray with the idea of taking off the mask of a limited, material sense of myself, and I did see progress. But I was still finding it tough not to fixate on my mistakes.

My coach reminded me of this verse from the Bible, which is one of my favorites: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, New King James Version). I put that passage together with the idea I’d been working on about taking off the mask and it felt like finding the final piece of a puzzle. I suddenly understood that I wasn’t doing any of this on my own, as a limited individuality separate from God, but that I was actually God’s spiritual reflection. God’s healing power, the Christ, enables us to express qualities such as ability, joy, and kindness toward ourselves and others. The Christ shows us what we really are as God’s creation. I felt so relieved!

As the baseball season came to an end, I found I was consistently playing my best games. The belief that my mistakes defined me no longer had any hold over me. I was playing freely, and even if I did make a mistake, I wasn’t tempted to beat myself up about it anymore. I would just mentally take a step back, remember the way God created me, and jump back in the game. I regained my confidence and joy and felt like part of the team again.

This healing taught me that we always have a choice in the way we think about mistakes. Rather than learning a lesson and moving on, it’s tempting to focus on mistakes and to be self-critical. But all that does is trick us into believing in an incorrect view of ourselves. Instead, we can take a moment to correct this view and perceive the true view of ourselves – created by God as unlimited and valuable. This allows us to express more of those God-given qualities and to start leaving the mistakes behind.

A version of this article ran in the Q&A series of the Christian Science Sentinel’s online TeenConnect section, March 9, 2017.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

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