Don’t Understand Yourself?

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I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can’t help myself because I’m no longer doing it. It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.       –Paul, Romans 7:15-17, THE LIVING BIBLE

Everyone has times of crying, “Why did I do that?” But those of us inclined to perfectionism are particularly likely to moan with Paul, “I don’t understand myself!” We don’t just want to get things right: we’re desperate to get things as right as they can possibly be. Yet we still manage not only to get things wrong with painful frequency, but to do the wrong things almost against our will. It’s as though we were robots programmed to go off course.

I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. Now if I am doing what I don’t want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp.       -Romans 7:18-20

We want to believe we can “reprogram” ourselves by sheer willpower, but it’s not that easy. There are enough good intentions in this world to create a thousand utopias–and after centuries of trying, the world hasn’t even come close.

It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin.     -Romans 7:21-23a

Even among Christians, good intentions are a weak defense against the pull of our inborn selfishness and pride. It’s only natural that we get frustrated with ourselves. Even when obvious change for the better is happening overall, perfectionists tend to be impatient to get everything exactly right, and we continue to be hard on ourselves for not becoming much better much sooner.

So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free.   -Romans 7:23b-25

Sometimes, even when we recognize God as the real Change Agent, we grumble at Him–or wonder if He’s forgotten us–because He seems to be taking His time in the process. Why He doesn’t save a lot of pain all around by perfecting us instantly, I can’t say for sure. But even human craftspeople and do-it-yourselfers would agree that without painstaking, bit-by-bit attention to detail, there just isn’t the same level of joy in the finished product.

In this life, we will always do things we regret and don’t understand. The real question is, do we accept that God still loves us, and won’t give up on us no matter what? And are we confident in, and grateful for, that assurance?

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1 Comment

  1. Jo Swank

     /  December 22, 2018

    Such a message of acceptance and understanding! Thank you! : )


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  • 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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