Shame on Us

I have plenty of things I am ashamed of.  I have plenty of things I regret.  They just keep stacking up in my closet of remembrances.  It seems like each year that goes by, there’s something new I can add to that stack.  You’re going to have to forgive my mental noodling which I now foist upon the internet, but I’ve been struggling with the statement my pastor made that “shame has no place in the Christian walk.”  It’s so natural to think of shame as a proper response to a situation.  When our actions lead to people hurt, trusts betrayed, the acts themselves being destructive, shame seems like the appropriate, entirely proper, human response.  Yet, it’s also a counterfeit response.

Shame is “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous.” Shame is feeling bad for who you are, and is expressed as, “I’m not what I should be… I’m bad!”  Shame is the perceived loss of place with others, a loss of being, of who we are.  Shame is the experience of being exposed and feeling somehow “ugly”, “bad”, and “deficient” what for is exposed.  Shame makes you think of yourself as uniquely damaged and so we create personas which hides our true selves.  And because we don’t share it, we think we’re the only ones

We keep how we feel about ourselves a secret.  We don’t share our deepest fears, insecurities, confusion because the world is unsafe.  We live in a fallen world full of pains and hurts.  Sometimes even your church becomes an unsafe place.  We don’t want to be seen as pathetic, weak, or vulnerable so we hide it from other people.  In not wanting to be hurt, we have no freedom to be truly ourselves.  Since the experience of shame it too toxic for us to remain in, we hide.  And all of us have favorite ways of self-protection:  performing, people pleasing, withdrawing, fighting, isolation, anger, humor, silence … whatever it takes to not be hurt.  A lot of people settle for not wanting to be known.  Our secret fear in being open with others is the reaction of “I’ve seen who you are and you are wanting”.

Sin, such as the sin of shame, is a like a disease, a communal virus we pass along to one another and leads to sudden rupture in relationships.  Even with good intentions, we love each other poorly and hurt one another, so we operate out of fear.  This sense of shame infects our spiritual lives and even how we view God.  It’s like we come to believe that we have to do something to make God love us, as if His love is conditional.  Our gospel message becomes that we don’t measure up and He had to send Christ to die for us because we’re so screwed up.  But if we behaved a certain way, He would accept us.  Or we feel like we’re not forgiven because we can’t overcome one area of struggle in our life.  We may secretly believe that God can’t accept us is we can’t overcome our addiction, as if we have to get right in order to get right with him.  We’re left feeling that while God may “love” us, He might not “like” us very much, reducing our spiritual journeys to explorations of and exercises in guilt.

Shame becomes a counterfeit to conviction of guilt.  When you instead internalize the shame, it becomes guilt.  Guilt focuses on self and never frees us.  Usually it leads to a kind of boomerang effect as we adopt a “try harder” mentality.  And it wears on us physically.  Our face and eyes turned down, slumped over under the weight of letting people down or doing something unacceptable.  And we end up wallowing in it as if the act of swimming in shame and guilt is somehow “redemptive”.

Both guilt and shame are different than Godly sorrow and repentance.  Dr. Les Parrott in his book, Love’s Unseen Enemy, compares godly sorrow and guilt.  Godly sorrow focuses on the other person while guilt focuses on the self.  Godly sorrow recognizes pain as part of the healing process while self-absorbed guilt refuses to go through the pain required to heal a relationship.  Godly sorrow looks forward to the future while guilt moans about the past.  Godly sorrow is motivated by our desire to change and grow while guilt causes us to get bogged down and robs us of the energy to move forward and change.  Godly sorrow knows a change in our life is a choice for something better while guilt forces you to make a change to earn favor again.  Godly sorrow relies on God’s mercy and thus is free while guilt relies on self.  Godly sorrow gives us a positive attitude and results in real and lasting change while guild gives us a negative attitude and can bring change but only temporarily.

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes God’s love baffles me.  As many times that we feel shame, it’s because we’ve foolishly put our trust in something we weren’t meant to.  We’ve made an idol out of a relationship, church, self-protection, addiction, ourselves, the approval of others or some other seemingly benign thing.  Our shame comes when that idol we put our trust in fails us.  So we begin by renouncing that idolatry, though that realization may not come until we have an “end of self” moment.  We put our faith where it’s supposed to be and take on our true identity.

We so often hear about God’s divine love and acceptance, how nothing can separate us from His love, but do we believe that?  Most times, we really don’t.  To think that God knows me in the deepest possible way, loves me unconditionally, celebrates who I am, and wants me to grow into who I am, that’s the kind of love we can hardly fathom.

And He identifies with our humanity.  Christ’s example on the cross left him exposed for everyone to see.  Naked for people to mock, spit upon, and pour their own self-contempt on Him.  Yet Jesus willingly embraced it and came through the other side.  His wounded place exposes shame for what it is.  Exposed, trusting and with boldness, we’re free and ready to love others in our weakness.  To live out of that reality of His example.

I’m still not sure I buy all of that, though I suspect that I should.  I’ve bought into the idea of shame for so long, it’s tough letting go and embracing a new identity.

Stuck

“I’m sick of myself and I’m sick of feeling, so there’s not really anything positive there.”

I have this friend that just can’t see himself the way that I and others in his life see him.  Believing himself to be worthless, unfit for proper relationship, and even a burden for others around him as he struggles with various issues.  Thing is, I bet I could be speaking of a lot of friends in my life.  For that matter, we all can fall into these existential traps of loss of self, purpose, and perspective.  Be it not having the strength to overcome an addiction, tired of fighting and changing the flaws we see within ourselves, or simply resigning ourselves to the lie that this is all we’ll ever be.  It’s hard to escape the shadow of this negative light we often see ourselves and much easier to believe the lies about ourselves.

We become immobilized, locked behind insecurities we have about ourselves.  Stuck.

Being stuck is a good way to not take risks, a good way to not trust God, and a good way to not live life.

Living out of fear, afraid of that chance of rejection, we default to “I’m a failure” or “I’m a screw up” and give up (or worse, live into that).  We can spiral down a slippery slope of believing that we’re just going to keep being a disappointment to believing that we’re a sort of contagious cancer that people should avoid.

The simple truth is that we want to be accepted, we want to be loved, and we want to feel as if we are needed and valued.  Somewhere along the line, we were shamed (and re-shamed) accepting lies about ourselves and choosing failure through inaction by not attempting rather than risk trying.  It’s part of our need for self-protection.  Put simply, we don’t want to hurt or feel pain, a perfectly natural and human response.  Yet sometimes in our need for self-protection, we develop thick emotional armor, walls, or find other ways to numb ourselves from the realities of life in a fallen world.

I’m reminded of a take on Matthew 7:4 (“How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”).  What if the point IS to be able to remove the speck from our brother’s eye, but we can’t see it because of the huge plank in our own?  What if self-protection is one type of plank making it so that we     don’t have to feel pain of being rejected but also making it so that we don’t have to get serious about taking speck out of brother’s eye?  Our life revolves around it always being about “what’s wrong with me?” rather than extending ourselves to live for others.

We must be willing to speak truth, starting with the truth about ourselves.

“Just keep swimming.” –Dorrie (Finding Nemo)

Internal journeying is rarely easy or fun, especially if the circumstance isn’t a situation you can just “think” your way out of.  But you’re not as stuck as you think you are.  There is another way.   Moving forward is the key. Some people become stuck and need help to not suffer needlessly for the wrong reasons.  A counterfeit spirit and the Holy Spirit operate in similar ways.  The counterfeit spirit, our enemy, feeds us lies about ourselves, focuses on what’s wrong us, and heaps shame and condemnation on our heads.  We feel we must hide our dark core from everyone either from fear of being rejected or not wanting to drag anyone else down.  And we become mired in our own self-loathing.  Stuck.

The Holy Spirit wants us to dine on truth.  That we’re an image bearer of God, a beautiful creation.  Yes, we’re sinners, but there’s conviction, repentance, and redemption from that.  And freedom.  Freedom from the chains of our addictions, our self-loathing, our self-protection, our “ugliness”.  We’re loved as we are for who we are.  We need to set aside the lies we’ve come to believe about ourselves (or that have been programmed into us by others):  that we’re a villain, a cancer, toxic to those around us; that we’re unworthy of loving or being loved, that others are better off without us.

It’s a matter of getting our identity straight.  We are known by God.  We are loved by God.  Yet we don’t always believe that and don’t always see how it plays out in our lives.  When our faith can’t get traction in our lives, we become stuck.  We misplace our identity, things get shifted, then our priorities change.  We want comfort, personal happiness, and the right relationship with that special someone rather than being a living billboard for God’s glory and love.  We end up not living up to our potential like we should, thus we need to keep being reminded of our true identity:  we’re children of God, known for exactly who we are, and loved anyway!

I know my friend can’t see the blessing that he is to me and those who are privileged to encounter him.  I’m betting the same can be said for many of us.  Times that are the most difficult can be the times that are the most forming for us.  Our identity is not in our situations, but our identity is revealed by how we respond to them.  It’s difficult to keep that sense of desperation, that place of need, of only being able to clutch onto Christ as your hope.  And to be thankful that in our desperation, He is there.  Practically speaking, we must continue to ask ourselves where is our hope and what is it in? What are we being formed into?  What can we be doing better?  What relationships can we be pursuing?  Are we loving those around us to the best of our ability? Live into something positive rather than concentrating on “not doing” something negative.  We need to take stock of all the things were thankful for and carry on.  Thankfulness fans the flames of hope.

And I know it’s easier blogged than done.

Walls

I hear so many things from this tower where I live,
there is no door to let you in, from here I see your world.
There is no lock for you to find, I keep my walls secure.
I do not wish to be alone, that is I mean with you..
I like to keep you at a length, for you I do not touch.
I like my cave that I have made, it serves me when you push.
How can I show my walls to you, when all you do is search?
You try to find a way around, to be my shining knight,
When all it is I want from you is a “thanks a bunch! Goodnight!”

Space by Larissa Johnson

You don’t know me. I take that back, you know me better than most, Gentle Reader. Personally, I’ve rather enjoyed my demons. I’ve embraced them and funneled them into my art. Ironically, it’s easy as an artist to splay our souls for public consumption, to bleed for our readers. But, like with my stories, it’s easy to be vulnerable to anonymous masses: to me, from my keyboard vantage point, you are little more than a collection of electrons. In relationship, face-to-face, it’s harder. You don’t know me, you can’t know me, because I live within walls.

Our walls can take a variety of forms. We construct a life where we re-define what love is to match how we are treated that ultimately end up with us going into ourselves. Exalting our intellect, control emotions, living in/retreating to our imaginations, whatever it takes to cut ourselves off from having to deal with others (and the potential pain they bring). Living with the fear that if we expose ourselves, show people who we really are, they will no longer like or outright abandon us. Pre-emptively, we become convinced that we would rather be alone and unhurt rather than risk others in our lives. Slowly, our lives become about avoiding pain.

Self-protection isn’t all bad. It’s great at shielding us from the very real hurts in life and there are times we need to be shielded from pain. But we get used to and strive to live life on our own strength and terms. Pain avoidance, numbing ourselves from the everyday agonies of life, lays at the root of many addictions. Alcohol, drugs, movies, sex, internet, video games, many are the ways we continue to numb us from the pain of life. Life becomes about self-gratification without the complication of relationship or knowing; keeping us from dealing with life and what’s going on. But no numbing agent is perfect, no wall as solid as it seems, as our anguish may play out in other ways, seeping out of our carefully maintained pressure cookers as anger, depression, moodiness, anxiety, loneliness, or self-hate.

We grow pretty comfortable being safe and unknown. The core of your life is under a microscope with the knob adjusting the focus on it being vulnerability and transparency. Risking letting people in means when they look in your life and all they see is you. Love is a threat to our self-protection. Love reveals the lie, the reality that the scaffolding is the lie and we have to take it down.

Self-protection is easy as it is selfish. It’s easy to stay hidden. People are relationally lazy, so naturally self-focused it’s hard for them to see others in the first place. Self-protection sets the bar low into how well we can love others. There’s a well known verse in the Bible often used to discuss hypocrisy: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthrew 7:3-5). What if the overall point of the story is not so much about the hypocrisy, but about loving our brother better? That the point IS to take the speck out of our brother’s eye, but to do that, we have to first remove the plank from our own eye. And what if self-protection, our walls, are a plank in our eye?

Walls are about control. Faith and control don’t exist well together. Control asks “what do I need to do to make this situation work?” Faith asks “God, what you going to do make this work and how do I get involved with that?” We don’t see ourselves as God sees us, but rather, we come to believe a lie about ourselves. That we’re worthless, broken, and twisted in our soul; Villains in God’s story rather than created in his image. We leave out the fact that brokenness can be redeemed. When loved well, we’re taught about God. We can model for our children what God is like. We can just as easily teach things that aren’t true. And we don’t want to pass the lessons of self-protection down to our children.

The thing about walls is that you can’t live behind walls and love as you should. Feel loved like we should. People can’t experience you loving them from inside your walls. You can’t living behind them grow closer to God. But you have to come to that conclusion on your own and decide that you want to risk living life in a broken and fallen world that could hurt you. You have to risk experiencing the pain that comes with that world. And that’s a scary proposition. You have to risk knowing and being known. And the more you experience someone who knows you, especially in your sinfulness, it exposes the lie. And that’s a scary proposition.

Real love risks and offers redemption. Real love can’t operate from a place of fear. Real love can’t operate from behind walls. And loving people well is the point of why we’re here.

Friday Night Date Place – Embracing the Truth

Continuing our conversation from last week, I know it’s not easy to free ourselves from a lifetime of false lessons and beliefs about ourselves. It’s easy to get trapped in a mire of “woe is me,” a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuation spiral of self-hate. I don’t live under any illusion that we can just flick a switch and change.

But you don’t have to be who you are.

The overwhelming majority of folks I talk to know exactly when they are doing this emo dance of self-delusion and pity and simply can’t get out of their own way to stop it. It’s their default setting, a comfortable response to help them cope with the reactions they’ve come to expect from people. It’s the flip side of the chip on the shoulder posturing.

So I can’t say just stop it. I will, however, start by saying … stop it.

You are a precious creation of God. Precious. Accept yourself. No, better stated, accept the truth of yourself. Recognize that you, too, are an eikon, an image-bearer of God; worthy of respect, value, and love. We participate in the Divine Being, meant to partake in the Divine Life and Happiness*. We were created in love, for love, and are to open ourselves to the possibility of love. Embrace that love.

Draw on the love already in your life. I have several people in my life who are “sick” of how I see them. Because they don’t see themselves the way I see them. People of value, who deserve to be esteemed and appreciated. Whom I’m thankful God brought into my life and have made my life all the richer for knowing them. You know what makes them most uncomfortable? The idea that they don’t know if they can live up to how I see them … because they had had it so drummed into their heads that they weren’t beautiful or were somehow unworthy of being loved.

I’m ready to cut someone again.

Sometimes the only way we can really see ourselves is when we are reflected back in the eyes of someone who truly loves us. It gives us courage, strength, and a sense of worth we may never have known that we had. Find it in God, find it in the overflow of His love in your friends and family, and let that love begin to transform your thoughts.

Embracing the love and finding freedom and empowerment in it to love and be loved is a good second step. The next is to demand it. You DO deserve better. It’s okay to have high standards for yourself, to try to live up to them, and in so doing, help others to have higher standards. It’s okay to demand to be treated better.

In the end, part of the transformation is a matter of faith. You see, it takes a lot of faith in yourself to make such a step and make such a transformation. Confidence is little more than faith in yourself and that’s hard to teach. But embracing your value, that much of a step I think we can handle. As a start.

Because you deserve better.

*Special thanks to M. Basil Pennington’s True Self/False Self

Friday Night Date Place – Believing the Lie

After my “dating teh crazy” blog (which mind you, wasn’t meant to be the most serious of posts), I was troubled by a recurring theme among some of the comments. It was as if they were battling against some sort of image forged in high school or something which they have carried with them well into adulthood. An image of themselves that tells them that they aren’t worthy of “doing any better.”

We are the fruit of a lifetime of listening to voices. Such formative listening too often results in us listening to lies, many of which we tell ourselves or allow ourselves to believe. We’re told we’re crap by enough people that we start to wonder and doubt; then we become quick to leap onto any bad appraisal of ourselves and end up in a self-defeating loop. That’s why it is so important to choose carefully the voices you choose to speak into your life.

This false idea of ourselves begins in small ways. You may have well-intentioned parents or teachers who trade on their love, attention, and/or favor to get you be behave a certain way. You may have grown up among peers/friends who constantly judge one another on who’s the funniest, has the most stuff, the prettiest, the most athletic. The take home lesson absorbed through all of this: you only have worth if you behave a certain way. What you are amounts to what you have, what you do, and what others think of you.

Too many of us have had life beat us down and feed our insecurities like a bulimic at a buffet to the point where we don’t think much of ourselves. We believe the lies these “lessons” have reinforced. We live in a closed off place, afraid to let others into your life because you secretly believe they might find out that we are what we believe ourselves to be: ugly, unloveable, unappealing, and unworthy of attention. suddenly we not only can’t see why someone else would like us or see anything of worth in us, but also think we better take whatever comes our way and be grateful (even if it means dating teh crazy).

You deserve better. Stop believing those lies. Self-destructive and self-hatred are not cute. There’s no need for you to keep putting yourself in “relationships” or situations not worthy of you. You deserve better. You have the right to be picky. You have to put to death this lie you’ve created of yourself. You deserve better.

Show me who’s been filling your head with those lies. Don’t make me have to cut somebody.

You deserve better. You are loved and worthy to be loved.

Next week I’ll talk about what it means or might look like to accept the truth about ourselves.

Because you deserve better.

We Wear the Mask

“I can’t explain, you would not understand. This is not how I am. I have become comfortably numb.” –Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb

We put on masks, masks that become part of us, ones we wear in order to interact with others and the world. Before too long, we become trapped by these false ideas of ourselves. These false selves, these lies of who we are and how we see ourselves, start developing when we’re young. How our families shape us, how we let our friends define us, the fronts we put up in order to appeal to potential mates. We may derive our self-worth from what we do, we’re of value because of how we behave or what we have.

And yet some part of us is miserable under this definition of who we are and longs to find a way out from under it.

We come to believe this lie and try to fix it ourselves, essentially creating a self-salvation scheme as we try to re-create ourselves. “I am not”–a man, for example–but “I can be if”I have the right rims, the right car, the right kind of money, the right bling, the right girl, go to the right school, get the right job. “I am not”–where I should be in life–but “I can be if”I have the right job, the right house, the right kind of money, the right family, and live in the right neighborhood.

On one hand, we see ourselves as gods of our own domains, free to live as we choose. On the other hand, we’re trapped by definitions of ourselves that we can’t seem to escape. Part of leading a self-examined life means getting over the fear of facing ourselves. We have to see the obstacles in our lives, realize where we are, then we can overcome it.

Be they problems in your family, addictions, compulsions or bad decision making patterns, we have responsibilities to our lives. We must be diligent. We must strip away anything that hinders us from being the people we were meant to be. We must always be growing, be “becoming”. Start with a few simple questions: What do you want to change about yourself? What do you know needs to be changed in your life?

Think through the issues you need to change, don’t numb yourself to them. Shed the imposter and become fully who you were meant to be.

“Sanctity lies in discovering my true self, moving toward it, and living out of it… While the impostor draws his identity from past achievements, and the adulation of others, the true self claims its identity in its belovedness. We give glory to God simply by being ourselves.” –Brennan Manning