False beliefs tend to activate the shame messages internalized from our past. From that irrational yet familiar place, we begin to relive the “old tapes” that have played over and over in our minds more times than we care to admit:
- I’m fat
- I’m ugly
- I’m unlovable
- I’m worthless
- I’m stupid
- I’m unacceptable
- I’m a failure
- I’m not enough
- I’m unforgivable
- I’m supposed to be perfect
- I don’t matter
- I’m bad
From my early adolescence through my young adult years, I had a tape that played relentlessly in my mind. Its message said that the only way I could be loved was to earn it through performance, perfection, and approval. I (the sin within me, as Paul would say) had convinced myself that I would never be enough. Enough of what? I really had no idea. All I knew was that if I really was enough, my dad who I loved so much would not have abandoned me for “more important” priorities in his life.
This shame-based false belief provided the fuel to sustain a cycle of sin and shame in my life for nearly twenty years – from age twelve to into my early thirties. Make no mistake, it cost me dearly along the way.
The enemy is well aware of these chinks in our armor. So, they are exactly where he targets his arrows. He makes promises to provide relief for the shame-based pain we’re experiencing, all the while focusing his sights on our weakest, most susceptible places. He is a master of deception and lies and uses them as the impetus behind the only three arrows in his quiver: to steal, to kill, and to destroy.
Depending upon context, the word “susceptible” can be understood in numerous ways: yielding readily to; lacking protection or defense; responsive to external stimuli; open to being acted upon; readily persuaded or convinced; easily bent or redirected; and multiple others. What all of these definitions have in common is the lack of a personal boundary (productive shame) to protect us from temptation or risk. This leaves us wide open to believe we are strong enough to resist temptation, despite our past track record that would prove otherwise.
The author Homer, in his 800 BC mythological story The Iliad and the Odyssey, tells of a warrior by the name Achilles. Achilles was a powerful hero in Homer’s Iliad, and undoubtedly the greatest warrior on the battlefield at Troy.
When Achilles was just an infant, his mother immersed him in the river Styx, which separated the land of the living from the land of the dead, to confer on him immortality, and to make him invincible in battle. But when doing this, she committed a grave error. Through her oversight (neglect), she held Achilles by his left heel when immersing him in the river and forgot to immerse his heel as well.
And so, in spite of his great power, strength, and unsurpassed skill and prowess in battle, Achilles moved through life with one weak, susceptible spot, his left heel, which would ultimately become his demise. In the final battle of the Trojan War, Achilles was shot in his left heel with a poisoned arrow, which finally killed him.
I’ve been in this place of susceptibility more than once in my life. Strong and resolved on the outside, yet insecure on the inside. Fully mindful of the love and acceptance of God and others, yet unguarded and exposed to the enemy’s plans and tactics. Shame, many times, would overpower my objectivity and awareness. My Achilles’ heel would leave me greatly unprotected.
Most of the time, people-pleasing, being highly responsible, and putting the needs of others ahead of my own allowed me to maintain the approval needed to hold my shame at bay. In spite of my gallant efforts, there were still times when there would be what felt like disapproval (or the absence of approval) – whether real or imagined – and I would almost instantaneously open my mind to the enticements of the enemy. It felt like rejection, whether it really was or not.
We all have our weak or susceptible areas – our Achilles’ heel. Some are a result of our own sinfulness. Others, like Achilles, are a byproduct of someone else’s neglect or omission. Either way, they are ours now. Although every human being has areas of weakness, American culture has convinced us that any weaknesses is unacceptable. We must hide our weaknesses from others, or else they may not accept us or approve of us or love us. It’s like we’re so desperate for other fallen human beings to validate us that we’ll sacrifice virtually anything, even ourselves.
Matthew 16:26 (NLT) says, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” We often go to great lengths to outwardly appear acceptable and well put together in hopes of hiding our authentic humanness. We create a façade that tells others we’re strong and under control – that is, until the enemy releases an arrow that targets and exploits our Achilles’ heel. At that point, we’re totally defenseless, and our weakness has been exposed.
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