Deacon Keith Strohm is a deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago and travels the country creating and sustaining processes and programs of evangelization and formation at the group, parish and diocesan level that focus on making missionary disciples of Jesus Christ.
He is also the executive director of M3 Ministries (m3catholic.com) and a co-author, along with six other collaborators, with Sherry Weddell of the book “Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples,” which is a follow-up to the book, “Forming Intentional Disciples.”
He recently published “The Ten Biggest Lies of the Enemy and How to Combat Them,” (Word Among Us Press, $14) based on his experiences evangelizing others.
In this email interview with editor Joyce Duriga, he spoke about the importance of knowing the truth behind the lies so Catholics can grow in relationship with Christ.
Chicago Catholic: In your introduction you explain how the publisher of Word Among Us heard a talk you gave on these 10 lies and encouraged the book. Going back a little, what in your ministry led you to recognize these lies?
Deacon Keith Strohm: I do a lot of work in evangelization, not only equipping Catholics to share Christ with others, but also proclaiming the core Gospel message and helping men and women encounter the love of the Father in Jesus Christ. Time and time again I would meet individuals who experienced such profound bondage in certain areas of their life that they weren’t free enough to surrender their heart to the Lord.
The truth is that sometimes we have to be healed and set free in order to respond to the Lord’s invitation. We see this pattern in Jesus’ ministry. He would often heal those around him and then proclaim the kingdom of God.
Looking back on my experience in this ministry, it became clear that people’s spiritual bondage was frequently grounded in a mistaken belief, or lie, about the nature of God, their own self-understanding and life itself. What we believe about who God is, and what we believe this God thinks of us, profoundly affects how we approach a relationship with him and with our brothers and sisters.
The enemy, who is opposed to God’s kingdom, wants nothing more than to confuse us, befuddle us and bind us up in lies. If Satan can get us to believe lies about our identity or the Father’s love, for example, it becomes very difficult for us to want to receive the love, mercy and life of God.
Chicago Catholic: Why are these lies so effective in our spiritual lives?
Strohm: After the resurrection of Jesus, the drama of redemption takes place in the human heart. When I use the word “heart,” I don’t mean the seat of emotions.
Scripturally, the heart refers to the center of the human person, the foundation of physical, emotional, intellectual and moral activity. We may only see the surface appearance, Scripture says, but “the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Sm 16:7). In this worldview, the heart is the place of deep thought, understanding and moral choice.
The enemy has chosen the heart as the battlefield for just these reasons. If he can blind and deceive and trick the human heart, if he can bind it with all sorts of shame, self-hatred, accusation and condemnation, if he can warp our understanding of who God is and who we are — we are more likely to sin and reject the mercy of God in our lives.
The enemy wants nothing more than for us to come to the wrong conclusions, and therefore, he drops lie after lie around us in the midst of our life experiences, knowing that we may begin to internalize some of those lies. He is patient and cunning, willing to work with the inevitable trauma that comes from living in a fallen world.
For example, someone who experiences a string of breakups in their personal life may begin to think that they are unlovable. The enemy may also send that message directly to that person, or “push in” to that place of weakness by triggering memories of past breakups and accusing the individual of being the cause until eventually they start to believe it.
These lies are so effective in our spiritual lives because they strike at the heart of our identity. Society tells us that what we do defines who we are, but the truth of the Gospel is that what we do flows out of who we are. In other words, our identity isn’t rooted in our actions or what has been done to us by others. Rather, who we are flows from the reality of God’s love for us.
Once we are sufficiently bound by these lies, though, they can become a part of our very identity, infecting the framework of our personality, our spirituality and our relationships. In a sense, we become those lies — or at least our false self does.
The truth of our identity as sons and daughters of a loving Father cannot ever be taken from us, but we can build a false identity, constructing an image of who we are that is grounded and founded upon root lies, and that image is often a far cry from the beautiful child of God whose Father delights in her.
When we fall prey to the enemy’s lies, we end up closing ourselves off to streams of grace that God is pouring out for us. believing somehow that this is who we are.
Chicago Catholic: Is there one or two of the lies that people tend to believe more than the others?
Strohm: People’s experience in this area really does vary. That being said, we do often encounter “I am so broken or damaged that God does not want to save me” and “I have to be perfect (or nearly so) to earn God’s love.”
Both have related foundations in shame. Shame is different from guilt, for example. In our postmodern society we look upon guilt as something entirely negative. And yet, guilt can be a powerful way in which the Holy Spirit works through our conscience to let us know that we are not walking down the right path.
Shame is something much more insidious and malignant; it is a cancerous weapon that the enemy uses to break down our self-understanding. We then cut ourselves off from God’s love and mercy based on our own judgment of who and what we really are. Here’s how it works: Guilt says I’ve made a mistake. Shame says I am a mistake.
In the case of the “I am so broken or damaged that God does not want to save me” lie, the suffering person has come to believe that they are whatever it is that they’ve done wrong or whatever has been done to them. It shapes their self-understanding and they start to see themselves as outside the reach of God’s mercy because of his goodness and holiness.
The flip side of this lie is the “I have to be perfect (or nearly so) to earn God’s love” lie. In this we believe God’s holiness demands from us perfection before his love can be released to us, and we will never be able to live up to that.
Those who suffer under the effects of this lie often feel a tremendous pressure to get things right. Every failure, every sin, every imperfection can bring with it a heightened sense of fear and a sometimes overwhelming sense of guilt. Often, in this worldview, there is a struggle with releasing control and a niggling, but very real pattern of self-judgment, self-hatred or shame that lurks behind and beneath our thoughts.
It is because these two lies are rooted in shame that I believe we see them so often in people. Scripture calls Satan the “accuser of our brethren” (Rv 12:10), and that is certainly what he does to us when we give in to temptation and sin. Since our society has confused license (I can do whatever I want) with freedom (I can do what I ought to do), many people end up bearing the deep wounds of their unbridled license. Satan presses in to those broken places to move people into a worldview of shame.
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