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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?”
In one of the more heart-wrenching episodes of the series, we find in this one that Princess Luna has been harboring a terrible secret. Still ashamed of herself for her crimes as Nightmare Moon, she feels she hasn’t suffered enough for her past sins and deserves to be punished for her guilt. As a result, she created an entity for the sole purpose of tormenting and torturing her every single night forever.
While none of us may be capable of generating entities out of nothing to torture us, the underlying problem is, unfortunately, a problem with too many people: suffering under an endless wave of guilt.
There are a lot of bad things in the world, and a lot of bad mistakes people can make at any time in their lives. While I like to think one of the primary tenets of Christianity is that we believe people can change, the world (and even other Christians) don’t always see it that way. Frankly, we don’t see it ourselves either. This is especially true in cases where we live under a house where love and acceptance, either consciously or subconsciously, was conveyed as something “conditional”.
The idea can be seen from childhood. In all houses, children misbehave and adults correct and punish. In some places, it is understood that the child’s behavior was bad. Yet in some places, the focus changes…saying that the child themselves are “bad” for doing those things. That leads to a warped view that carries on to many aspects of adulthood: the idea that there is no such thing as a good or bad action, but rather that a person themselves are good or bad innately. That what you do isn’t so much wrong as you, yourself, are wrong.
This is a skewed and warped viewpoint, and very damaging to an individual. In this case, your own worth is judged by everything you do. You’re only good until you do something “bad”, at which point, you yourself are “bad”. This causes people to become people-pleasers; to strive to be externally good and perfect all the time and to make other people happy, because if they show any disapproval for any of their actions that reflects on them as a person being a mistake, evil, wrong, etc. This can lead to a host of problems. Perfectionism is one example; a sickness where a person can never be satisfied because if they mess up it’s the end of the world and if they succeed they could “always have done better”. Unhealthy relationships are another, as a person can gravitate to one who makes “more mistakes” than them or gives conditional praise, leading them to get a sense of fulfillment by remaining with them.
At its heart, however, is the sense that one is always in the wrong. That one is not good enough, not pure enough, not Christian enough, is rotten, horrible, mean…or, to put it simply, innately “bad”. This is the worst feeling of all, as it diminishes all achievements, ruins chances for interacting with others, frustrates attempts to be “as Jesus” before they’ve even started, and constantly leads to a depressed outlook at oneself; thinking they aren’t worth love or attention. In effect, mentally condemning themselves for past sins and mistakes.
Yet the worst, the very worst, thing that stems from this is when we come from a Church, family, or background that teaches that this is the way God views us. This line of thinking can quickly lead one to feel they are forsaken or hated by God, and that no matter what they do they’ll never be pleasing to him.And when one’s thinking gets distorted like that, even reading the Word of God can give little comfort as one’s perception will simply “read what they expect to hear”; justifying all their negative feelings and calling it truth.
So what is the way to deal with this?
First and foremost is something I learned a while ago and have to remind myself of from time to time. True guilt, or “godly sorrow”, confronts you with the fact that what you did was bad. When you confess your sin to God and repent of it, the guilt goes away. False guilt and shame, on the other hand, tells you that you are bad, and continues to do so long after you have repented and atoned. It’s not real guilt at all in that case but a disease.
Second: to me, I think it helps to take a page from what happened with Princess Luna in this episode, and remember that just like all good things, the people in our lives who genuinely love and care for us are gifts from God. And since God acts through others, it might be a good idea to heed them from time to time.
What eventually got Luna to forgive herself was the realization that she was surrounded by people who had loved, accepted, and forgiven her. That if she truly valued them and truly respected them, then she had to have enough faith in their own judgment to be willing to forgive herself as well.
Similarly, if we have people in our lives who genuinely care for us and accept us in spite of all of our own past mistakes, loving us just the same, and we truly claim we believe the Word of God in how it says God loves and cares for us more than any other individual, then either we have to call those people in our lives liars, as well as God himself a liar, or we have to accept that God too loves and accepts us. And maybe, like Luna, what we really need to do is learn the ability to forgive and accept ourselves as others have already done.
Lastly, the phrase “unconditional love” and “unconditional acceptance” is, in fact, a misnomer. If love and acceptance aren’t unconditional, then they aren’t really love and acceptance. If you have to “prove yourself”, either through actions or self-punishment for past sins, to be pleasing to someone or earn their affection, then they never loved or cared about you in the first place. That’s the whole reason Lord Jesus’ ultimate act of love was given on behalf of all; both those who would readily accept it as well as those who would reject it, and irrespective of how “deserving” anyone was. We talk a great deal about how we are all sinners in the eyes of God and there is not one who is righteous, but we have to remember that Jesus’ Sacrifice wasn’t simply to make Himself look good by manifesting His Righteousness in giving Himself for a bunch of “unworthy creatures”, but to show the love and value He places on everyone no matter who they are or what they’ve done.
And, like anyone who truly loves us would, the last thing He wants to see is us chained by shackles of false shame, false guilt, and mired by our past sins. Jesus came to set us free from sin not just one day in Heaven but here today, and from everything associated with it. Let’s keep that in mind the next time we find ourselves emotionally beating ourselves up.
Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that when you forgive me of my sin, my record is clean and forgotten–as if the sin never existed either now, in the past, or in the future. And thank you for all the people I have in my life who I have revealed my true self to with all my past mistakes who still accept and love me. When thoughts of shame and past failure come to mind, help me to cling to the truth of your salvation. And forgive me for all the times which I ‘cheapened’ your love by refusing to believe that you could truly desire my welfare and salvation. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”