Recognizing Your Personal Weaknesses

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If you’ve ever been in an addiction recovery program, you know that having an organized relapse prevention plan is part of staying clean–and part of an effective relapse prevention plan is knowing your personal “triggers” or weak points. One recovering alcoholic may be easily roped into “drinking away” her troubles; another may habitually reach for the bottle when bored; still another may be used to celebrating special occasions with a glass of wine. And these categories have subcategories: one person’s greatest stressor is socializing at networking events; another may be invigorated by networking but turn into a bundle of nerves over bad news on CNN.

Even if you’ve never been tempted by any chemical stronger than coffee, everyone has areas of special vulnerability to sin that starts with “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” While sometimes we get caught off guard and can only cry out to God for His “way of escape,” it’s just plain foolish to deliberately walk into a situation we know brings out the worst in us.

If you aren’t sure of your weakest areas, recall the last several times you acted in ways that left you convicted of sin, and ask God to help you see what these situations had in common. (You may want to get help from a trusted friend or spiritual mentor.) Some “sin triggers” that are common problems for believers:

  • False guilt. Not every unsavory impulse or failure to give what’s expected is a sin. One of the devil’s favorite methods of tempting believers is to first soften them up by convincing them they’ve already done wrong: he knows about human tendencies to reason “I’ve already blown it so I might as well go in deeper.”
  • Overload. Another of the devil’s favorite tactics is summed up in the saying, “If Satan can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” When we feel we have to fill every need that comes our way, to the point we neglect prayer and rest time, we become ineffective at best. And, frequently, highly susceptible to sins of resentment and pride: “I work so hard and not even God gives me the acknowledgment and reward I deserve. Everybody’s just a selfish jerk!”
  • Fatigue or illness. Being worn down and under the weather brings out the worst in people. If you find yourself frequently getting irritable or making promises you can’t keep, often the most spiritual thing you can do is take a few weeks’ vacation without email. Or at least start saying “Sorry, I can’t help with that” more often, and going to bed earlier and eating more vegetables and protein.
  • Ingrained habits. Returning to the addiction example, there are people who really can’t take a sip of beer or log into a Facebook account without careening into a binge of the worst order; that first move may be a conscious decision, but their brains are literally programmed to take it and run with it, and the only way they can control themselves is to abstain from the activity altogether. Even people without diagnosable addictions have brain neurochannels programmed to respond in specific ways to specific situations: i. e., habits. There are two rules of breaking bad habits: find healthy habits to replace them, and think long and hard before going “just a little” way down the trail that consistently takes you into wrong behavior.

The good news is, God can use even our weaknesses for His purposes–which is one reason He doesn’t always eliminate our weaknesses even when we’re eager to be rid of them. Follow the example of St. Paul: give your weaknesses to God for His use, even as you trust Him to use your strengths.

Everything He creates–even the temptation-vulnerable areas of our personalities–He creates for a good reason.

COMING SOON! My new e-book, 100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World, will be released this spring. Join the 100 Ways email list for up-to-date news, special offers, and teaser optimism tips!



Knowing Your Strengths

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Perhaps it’s backlash against two generations of “self-esteem” emphasis that remains popular despite having been proven to accomplish little beyond generating attitudes of entitlement. Many Christian spokespeople are calling for a recovery of one-on-one confession, increased acknowledgement of sin as sin, and commitment to recognizing where we as individuals are most frequently led into temptation.

I recognize the value of these disciplines (and will talk about them in more detail next week), but for those of us whose weak spots include chronic perfectionism, often the last thing we need is to look even closer at our imperfections. Rather than being spurred to turn to God in confession, we’re tempted to withdraw from Him even further, assuming He wouldn’t want anything to do with losers like us.

Besides, every fault is simply a misuse of a good gift from God: the devil can only corrupt, not create. So it pays to keep aware of our natural strengths (and our spiritual gifts) as well as our natural weaknesses.

Here’s how:

Consider What You Enjoy Doing

The idea that God disapproves of our taking pleasure in our activities is completely fallacious. He certainly disapproves of our making idols of our pleasures (which can happen with wholesome-in-themselves activities as much as sinful ones), but He Who “richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment” can hardly be accused of labeling enjoyment a vice. Chances are your greatest personal strengths are tied to your favorite creative and productive activities; consider how you might channel those activities into service for God and others.

Consider What Others Compliment You For

I don’t mean “compliment you” in the sense of constant “I know we can count on you” requests; that’s the sort of thing that drives people to burnout trying to keep up with others’ expectations. Instead, think about where you hear spontaneous “Great job!” or “Beautiful!” remarks from others, especially over work you genuinely enjoyed doing. When your strong points center on things you enjoy, things you have experience with, and things others already appreciate in you, that’s a surefire recipe for success in God’s service.

Make a Regular Habit of Thanking God For Your Strengths

The main reason recognizing our personal strengths gets a bad reputation among Christians: human nature, in believers hardly less than unbelievers, has a tendency to forget Who gave those strengths and fall into “I have achieved this with my own strength and energy” pride. Not only does this accomplish little of eternal value, it robs us of deeper joy and security from using our gifts in awareness of the Giver.

Conversely, many people forget to rejoice in their strengths at all. Whatever they do, they do under the shadow of worry it won’t be “good enough”; however admirable the finished product, it never meets their standards. They make themselves miserable, and they imply that God made a mistake in not making them more “perfect.”

The best way to avoid both extremes is to thank God daily for the work He gives you to do and the power He gives you to do it–and for trusting you to serve Him, however imperfectly, in ways He can use for great purposes.

In the Source of all strength, we can accomplish more than we imagine, in ways we may not yet see. And we can discover that one purpose of the strengths God gives us is to increase our own joy!


COMING SOON! My e-book, 100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World, will be available this spring. Sign up for updates and get in on the best offers!

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at

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