{Caveat lector: This post is long. Do not proceed if you are in a hurry.}

I was 13 years old when I let the harpies in. I didn’t even know I was doing it. I couldn’t know how much damage I was wreaking on myself by opening the door to these shrieking uglies. Of course, they didn’t start by shrieking. They wormed themselves along the lines of my devotion to God. “God hates the proud,” they said. “Are you humble enough?” And then they whispered words of condemnation, words that in my youthful naivete I thought were wise words, words meant to humble me and rid me of my pride and draw me closer to God. I could not have said this then. I did not know what I was doing, or what the harpies were doing.

Twenty-six years later, they had become part of me, the ugly soundtrack in my head. They screeched with delight over my every failing. Every time I raised my voice or, God forbid, actually yelled at my kids, they’d keel over in gloating glee. “You yelled at your precious children? These creatures God entrusted to you! That’s awful. That’s terrible. You’re a horrible mother.”

Every time I questioned my calling as a writer, they’d cackle and cry, “Writing is a waste of your time. No one reads your words. Clearly, you’re not very good at this. You’re a fraud, a poser, a loser.”

Every time I felt overwhelmed by my life, they’d spit poison in my ears. “See,” they’d hiss through their blood-red lipstick, “you can’t hack it. You’re weak and pathetic, and you’ll never be any better than you are now. You’re a joke and a failure.”

My thoughts ran their constant litany of accusation, fear-mongering, self-pity, self-loathing, self-flagellation, and condemnation.

My spiritual director, Margie, had been telling me for ten years, “Kimberlee, you know that’s not the voice of God, right? You know that God’s voice is a voice of love.”

And I had nodded and said yes, which was true. I knew that God loved me. Of course I did. I was a cradle Christian. I’d been actively trying to follow Jesus my entire conscious life. How many millions of times had I sung “Jesus Loves Me” or some other song that proclaimed the love of God? Of course I knew those ugly voices weren’t God’s.

Except I didn’t. And I didn’t know that I didn’t know until one December morning when Margie said something that turned my thought-life upside down. Or rather, right side up.

If the scene were a cartoon, we’d be pictured sitting in the small room at the back of Margie’s house, where we’ve been sitting and praying every month for a dozen years now. Through the windows at my back and hers, you’d glimpse the bare branches of trees against the gray winter sky. In a speech bubble coming out of Margie’s mouth would be, “blah blah blah crucifixion process blah blah blah.”

Seriously. At the time it felt as though I had cotton in my ears that suddenly and only for a moment got pulled out so I could hear those two words: crucifixion process. But those two words were what I needed.

I started up in my chair. “Margie!” I interrupted her. “That’s it! That’s it!” I stared at her with wide, wonder-filled eyes, trying to articulate the blinding flash of clarity her words had wrought in me. “All my life I’ve thought those voices in my head were the crucifixion process. I thought they were keeping me humble or—or somehow sanctifying me. I thought they were the path of salvation, the way of dying to myself. But it’s the voices that need to be crucified!”

Words cannot express the revolution that had just taken place in my thinking. If I had a personal devil whispering the harpies’ words into my mind, he would have been writhing in agony at that moment, cowering in fear because I’d found him out, gnashing his teeth in anger that his days of power over me were drawing to an end.


On another gray December day a year later, I woke feeling anxious. At that time, anxiety was still not uncommon for me, but it had been a long time since I’d woken up feeling anxious. The day devolved from there. By mid-morning my heart was pounding and my hands were shaking.

There was nothing to be afraid of. No saber-tooth tigers lurking outside the door. No ugly emails in my inbox. No school, even. A day off! Yet all I wanted was to curl up in a ball in my closet and cry.

You see, the harpies were shrieking ugly words in my ears—words like fool and failure, like poser and imposter, like greedy and grasping and hypocrite. And they were flashing ugly visions before my eyes—visions of public humiliation and everyone laughing at me and me too stupid to realize it, visions of my children as adults scorning and vilifying me, visions of a future marked by failure after failure after failure. And of course, they wrapped all this ugliness in a veneer of spirituality, making their fear-mongering words and images seem like Visions from Heaven, like foreknowledge from God Himself.

The harpies were loud that morning, and they only got louder the longer I covered my ears and pretended not to hear. The worst thing to do was the very thing I most wanted to do: cower in my closet and cry. It makes them so gleeful when I curve in on myself, and when they’re gleeful, they’re even more spiteful. So I put on my tennis shoes and took a walk. I breathed the crisp cold air and noticed the frost-covered leaves lining the sidewalks and jaunted down to my favorite little park with a bench overlooking the Sound.

Even as I walked, part of me was still curled up in a corner of myself, cowering in childlike fear of the harpies. Part of me was holding the cowering child, crooning over her and cradling her the way I’d cradle my daughter if she were scared.

And part of me was standing between those two and the harpies—a warrior queen defending her people from shrieking, fear-mongering, spiteful, wing-flapping hags. That part of me was wielding a sword—the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God—which she had drawn from its sheath in the belt of truth. I had learned a few things in the year since I’d had that epiphany in Margie’s spiritual direction room, and they were slowly seeping into my heart, slowly becoming the truth I lived by, and I knew that the only way to get rid of the harpies was to grab them by the throat and look them in the eye and fight their lies and and half-truths and less-than-half-truths with Truth:

  • God never discourages. Take heart, Jesus said. To take heart means to have courage. The God who commands us to fear not, to take heart would never dis-courage us.
  • God’s voice is never a voice of condemnation. Conviction, yes, but never condemnation. These accusing, condemning voices drive me into myself. God wants to draw me out of myself.
  • These voices scream and shrill and harp and ridicule. God speaks in a still, small voice. God is gentle and does not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick.
  • God loves me. And these voices definitely do not.

That was my last big battle with the harpies. Oh, they flap around a bit every now and again, especially when I’m tired or stretched too thin, but I’ve got their number now, so they can’t make the inroads they used to. They can’t blind me with their lies. They can’t curve me in on myself in fear and trembling—because I know that God loves me and upholds me and strengthens me (more on that next week).

That is habit three on the journey from anxiety to joy: silence the harpies. They will kill you if they can—and God is not willing that any of His children should perish. When the harpies start clamoring in your head, cut out their tongues. They are not you.

And they are certainly not from God. Cut them off. They cause us to turn inward, to live in fear. And God says, “Fear not!” God says, “Come forth!” God says, “I love you, and nothing can separate you from My love.”

Say it with me, friends: God loves me. Say it till you believe it. Say it till you receive it.

God loves me.
God loves me.
God loves me.

Say it till the harpies in your head shrivel and die.

Photo credit: Bells of St. Andrews, St. Andrew Orthodox Church, Riverside, California.

  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    “God loves me. Say it till you believe it. Say it till you receive it.” Amen and amen. Wash, rinse repeat.

  • K. C. Ireton

    Exactly, Jody! I am increasingly convinced that is THE key to a life of joy: to really receive the love of God. Hannah Whitall Smith calls it confidence (which is the very opposite of condemnation), that sure faith that God loves me and is present with me, no matter what.

  • June

    Oh, sweet friend, you are so brave. And your words are pure gold straight from the Father’s hand. Bless you for being the voice of Light in dark places.

  • K. C. Ireton

    Thank you, June. These words reached me on a day when I needed a word of encouragement, and I am more grateful than I can say.

  • Angie Burke

    Thank you for sharing these posts Kimberlee. This one is especially beautiful friend.

  • K. C. Ireton

    Thank you, Angie! I am so grateful for your words of encouragement here!

  • Lynn Pottenger

    “God never discourages. Take heart, Jesus said. To take heart means to have courage. The God who commands us to fear not, to take heart would never dis-courage us.

    God’s voice is never a voice of condemnation. Conviction, yes, but never condemnation. These accusing, condemning voices drive me into myself. God wants to draw me out of myself.

    These voices scream and shrill and harp and ridicule. God speaks in a still, small voice. God is gentle and does not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick.

    God loves me. And these voices definitely do not.”

    In light of these statements that you make and that I believe (except I would probably not say never), what do you make of Jesus when the said, “Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” I’d think Peter would have been discouraged and felt condemned.

  • K. C. Ireton

    Dear Lynn, This is an excellent question, and I thank you for asking it! It is quite possible, given such a stinging rebuke, that Peter might have felt discouraged and condemned, but I think it is clear from the context that Jesus did not intend for him to feel discouraged and condemned by this reproof. Rather, His purpose was to call him further up and further in to the things of God.

    In Matthew this reproof follows immediately upon the heels of Jesus’ commending Peter for his spiritual insight and giving him the keys of the kingdom; clearly Jesus sees something in Peter that He wants to cultivate and honor, and surely Peter knew this. I can’t imagine that he wasn’t somewhat (or completely!) amazed by the honor Jesus was giving him.

    In both Matthew and Mark (the two gospels in which this reproof is recorded), when Jesus speaks these words, he says them in the hearing of the disciples–it seems they’re hovering about, perhaps trying to hear this private conversation. (I do wonder if maybe they had nudged Peter, as the one who would hold the keys to the kingdom, to go talk some sense into Jesus. But that’s pure speculation.) After His rebuke of Peter (and perhaps of the others as well?), He immediately says to all of them that they have to take up their crosses in order to follow Him. This tells me that the purpose of His rebuke was to draw Peter out of himself and his own opinions and ideas and into the far greater vision of God. In addition, the very next story in Matthew and Mark is the Transfiguration, that vision of Jesus in His unveiled glory–a vision that was vouchsafed to Peter!

    Given the context, I simply cannot believe that Jesus’ words here were meant to condemn or shame or discourage Peter. Now Peter might have felt condemned or ashamed or discouraged by Jesus’ rebuke, but surely being included as one of the three people to see Jesus in His glory would have mitigated those emotions if not eradicated them entirely. Surely he would have recognized what an honor he had been given. And surely he knew his master well enough to know that Jesus did not speak those words to shame him but to help him see himself clearly. Jesus’ rebuke was intended to elicit repentance and deeper understanding of and closer relationship to Himself.

    The harpies do not have any of those intentions. They don’t want me to see the truth that if I repent, God is faithful and just and will forgive me. They don’t want me to understand that God does not desire the death of a sinner. They don’t want me to turn and be healed and restored. They are the children of the snake in Eden, and when I listen to them, I replicate the sin of Adam and Eve and go hide myself from God.

    Now, I have had instances in which I have sensed God rebuking me, but those instances have drawn me up short and helped me see myself clearly–a sort of wide-eyed shock of recognition. My response to them is one of “You’re right, God. That’s awful! I’m so sorry!” There is no condemnation in them, no sense that I am a horrible terrible no good very bad person who needs to grovel on the ground until God condescends to forgive me. Rather, there is a sense of being drawn further up and further in, a sense of old skin shed and good riddance–much like my response to Margie’s words about the crucifixion process.

    God’s reproofs are always meant to draw us further up and further in to His kingdom. Never to condemn us. We may choose to feel condemned, and turn in on ourselves and beat ourselves up, but that is playing into the enemy’s hand. It is not God’s purpose for us, for “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

    I hope that is helpful! And I hope that my essays tomorrow and especially next week will help to make clear this distinction. I have not articulated it here as well as I would like. I want this series to be as helpful as possible for people, so do please feel free to ask more questions!

  • Lynn Pottenger

    yes, thank you for explaining. I sensed some of what you were saying before I asked the question, but you put it into words for me. Thank you!

  • Denise Armstrong

    ‘Of course I knew those ugly voices weren’t God’s. Except I didn’t.’
    Kimberlee, my dear friend, in between those two expressions lies the revelation of God that our world so desperately needs right now, including many of us ‘cradle Christians’ as you put it. There is no one like someone who has been there AND BACK to tell it. I am copying these as well to be read to the vulnerable soul of one of my guys who might be too weak or too proud right now, to take the wax from a mom’s hand, or else too double-minded to seek help from Dad, to be tied to the mast called Christ. How great the love that custom-designs the grace He dispenses. These are a gift, the value of which I pray you get to observe the full effect of in the lives of many, before heaven!
    Thanks again, and again,

  • K. C. Ireton

    Thank you, Denise. Your prayers for me and your words to me encourage my heart more than you will ever know!