Exposing Shame and Condemnation

She looked at me intently. “What do these self-condemning voices tell you?”

I shook my head and tried to laugh it off. “I mean, it sounds ridiculous…I don’t know.”

But she was serious. “What are some of the things they say?”

My uncomfortable laugh gave way to a single tear and my loud, overconfident voice faded to a whisper. “That I’m not good enough. That I don’t deserve anything good. That I’m…a faker. All I do is hurt other people and…” I swallowed hard. “…ruin everything, no matter how hard I try. That I’m not…I’m not worth it.”

She continued to look at me, pen poised over paper. I was mortified that these things were being written down. “What else?” she prodded gently.

I took a deep breath and continued.

And the healing began.

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This picture is of me. I realize how awkward that is, especially since I’m not depressed. In fact, I had to set my camera very precariously on a chair, click the self-timer, and throw myself against the wall in a depressed heap in 6 seconds. This is what happens when your roommate is gone, leaving you model-less.

But the scene I described above was the first time I had ever actually voiced aloud the self-condemning thoughts that have haunted me my whole life. And I share this with you because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. I’m pretty sure that, on some level, all of us have dealt with shame and condemnation.

Most people who know me would describe me as an ambitious, confident person — and most of the time, I am.

But sometimes, I’m not.

And so tonight, at the risk of destroying that image, I’m going to publicly uncover the lies I’ve believed about myself — because I want to empower you to do the same.

Here’s the first thing you need to know about shame: It’s not from God.

Conviction of sin comes from the Holy Spirit and it is constructive. If you have hurt someone and you feel a prick of guilt that prompts you to make things right, that is conviction. But if you have overwhelming, dehumanizing, relentless shame that attacks who you are rather than what you’ve done, that’s a sign that there is no truth in it. 

“I’m disgusting.” “I’m worthless.” “I’m damaged.” These are all statements that focus on identity, but even if they stem from things you have done in the past, your actions do not determine your identity. If you are in Christ, you have a new identity that is not based on anything you have done. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). You are a child of the King, He loves you, He wants you to have abundant life, and He never intends for you to be paralyzed by guilt. Conviction is enabling; shame is incapacitating. If you recognize it as something that holds you back, it’s a lie that needs to be exposed.

And that is the only way you can begin to defeat shame: to expose it for the ridiculous lie it is, to speak it out loud and watch its power disintegrate.

You see, shame only exists inside your mind. It thrives on secrecy and solitary confinement. You feel as though it’s too shameful to be revealed, and so you keep it inside where it builds on itself, where it hides in the dark corners of your mind and consumes you.

But you are not alone.

You are not alone.

The longer you keep it inside, the more doubt it creates. The truer it seems. The more it paralyzes you.

When lies remain unspoken in your mind as vague and abstract thoughts, as intangible concepts that you can’t capture or put your finger on, they control you.

But when you identify them, when you force them into words, when you speak the lies out loud…

…they sound ridiculous. They are baseless accusations that only appear daunting because they hide in shadow, looming over you, larger than life. But when brought into the light, they wither away. They cannot intimidate you, because they are only ominous when cloaked in darkness. They can no longer control you.

Speak them. Write them down, in all their humiliating, hideous glory. It doesn’t matter who you are or what image you think you have to uphold.

“There’s something wrong with you.”

“You’re a waste of time and money.”

“How can you even call yourself a pastor? Who do you think you are?”

“You’ll never get better. This is who you are and all you’ll ever be.”

“You’re the only one.”

“You can’t tell anyone…what would they think of you?”

Whatever that thought is that you’re thinking right now — force it to speak, force it to show itself. It’s the only way to be free.

I’m begging you not to suffer in silence. Don’t wait, hoping it will disappear; it won’t go away unless you expose it. The moment you hear a voice of self-condemnation, before you even allow it to take root, write it down, tell someone, and laugh at its absurdity. If you feel like you have no one to talk to about it, please shoot me a message. It doesn’t matter who you are. You just need to get it out there.

“Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said, ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'” –Ephesians 5:13-14.

Make the choice to be free today.

 

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Published in: on September 13, 2013 at 12:12 am  Comments (1)  
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Part of the Journey

Desert-Tracks

I’ll be the first to admit that I am often unsure of where I am going in my spiritual journey. A lot of the time, I feel like I’m wandering around in darkness, hands outstretched, feeling for something tangible. Sometimes standing in a lonely room, blindfolded, just waiting for a nudge. Sometimes hearing a voice from somewhere beyond and running toward it, stumbling, bruising myself on random shadow-covered objects but embracing the obstacles that guide me to Him.

I know everyone has those times. But geez, I feel like it’s happening to me all the time! Am I normal? As soon as I’ve recovered my equilibrium, God reveals something else that sends me off into a crazy tailspin. Part of this is that I question. A lot.

And doubt. A lot.

But I’ve also learned to trust. A lot.

And, paradoxically, to trust in the midst of doubt and uncertainty.

I used to hate this about myself. I wondered why I was always going through these crazy cycles. I get tired sometimes. I just want to rest. I feel like my lungs never completely fill up before the next wave of uncomfortable revelation breaks over my head. And I used to panic and hold my breath, hoping I could pretend I wasn’t being swept out to sea. But when I was submerged in the unknown long enough that I gave up and took a breath, expecting to drown, I found that the enormity of God fills my lungs and sustains me. It’s okay to breathe in the realm of spiritual uncertainty.

Journal excerpt from June 2013:

I want so badly to surrender everything to Christ and to stay in that place of passionate abandonment. My heart cannot cry loud enough for a life that pours out everything. But I’ve been so confused that I’ve become apathetic, unable to find the joy of complete certainty in my Savior. My Bible has been closed and put away, my prayers infrequent and empty. I think I’ve been afraid of what He’ll show me. But today I cracked open the door for Him to speak to me, and in rushed His demanding love like a tidal wave, like a battering ram. He’s calling me again — up and out. It’s time to go; I can’t stay here anymore. I don’t know where I’m going, but it’s time to start following again in faith. Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. I want to come to You on the water, the things of the world blocked out by the blinders of my love for You.

My professor Dr. Lavender is an incredible man. In addition to the fact that he was born and raised in Italy, built a model space shuttle in his basement, once ran 100 miles in a day, and has the beautiful gift of sarcasm, he is the biggest spiritual role model in my life. For one thing, I feel like he can handle my crazy thoughts — and for another, God uses his calm and gentle reminders of the Story to bring me back down to earth, to ground me, more than anything else. Last week I was in his office talking about some of my latest inconvenient questions. In the course of the conversation, he made this statement: “Most Christians tend to be satisfied with what they’ve always known.”

And in five words I blurted out my entire life story: “I have never been satisfied.”

He smiled a little. “I don’t think you ever will be.”

I pondered this somewhat horrifying, somewhat exciting, thought for a moment, and he continued: “This prophetic calling you have from God — this restlessness, this searching — will be something that He uses to draw people into the bigger story, into His Kingdom on earth.”

If this is a prophetic calling — being yanked out of your comfy chair and then being called to yank others up as well — no wonder the prophets were pretty miserable. Yet there is a sort of untamed beauty in it too. And maybe that’s why, over the past couple of years, I’ve developed such a love for Old Testament prophets such as Hosea and Habakkuk. Prophets can be perceived as obnoxious and rude, but they only speak from their own brokenness. Hosea was doomed to constantly pursue the love of an unfaithful whore — probably not his idea of a super cool calling. Habakkuk asked for deliverance and God was like, “Tell everybody that a foreign nation is going to come destroy you.” He had his own struggle to cope with this unwanted reality, but in the end, he was still able to say, “Though there are no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). He and Hosea learned to breathe underwater, learned to rest in the tension of doubt and spiritual longing.

And while I can only hope to attain a sliver of the incredible faith that they had, I too am a spiritual nomad, a theological wanderer. I am always on the move, unable to stay in one place too long. But I’ve learned that the in-between times are not true crises. They’re only part of the journey.

The first few times I was uprooted, it was disconcerting and painful. There was a lot of kicking and screaming involved. “I don’t like this! I don’t have time for this! I don’t want to want what You want! I want You to be who I always thought You were!” But I feel as though I am beginning to find my rhythm in the lack thereof, and learning to embrace the wilderness with a sigh of, “Hello wilderness, old friend, what devastating and beautiful truth will you teach me this season?” Faith wouldn’t be faith if it wasn’t a stretch, if it didn’t routinely push us out of our comfort zone, if it didn’t call us to that which we cannot see or understand.

So, resigned, my prayer has lately become something along these lines:

God, reveal to me as much of Yourself as I can handle in my present weakness…and increase my capacity for more.

Claim the Promise

God made an incredible promise to His people Israel: He would lead them to a land they would call their own.  After 400 years of slavery, it was nearly unfathomable, especially when they saw how beautiful the land of Canaan really was.  In fact, it was so hard to believe that they…didn’t believe it.

Craig Bartholomew sums up what happens in his book The Drama of Scripture: “They say that the land is wonderfully fertile and would make a fine homeland for Israel, but its people are powerful and their cities well-fortified.  The reported strength of the enemy engenders fear, and the Israelites’ faith in the Lord collapses.  They become depressed and disgruntled, complaining that God has brought them this far only to kill them.”

They forfeited their right to claim the promise simply because they believed it was too good to be true.  How sad is that?  And how often do we do the same thing?

“I’m not worthy of love.”

“It won’t last.”

“God would never bless me that much.”

“This is impossible. Even for God.”  (Yes, I have actually thought this.  Not in so many words, perhaps, and not without realizing its stupidity immediately afterwards, but my disbelief and self-deprecating thoughts definitely convey this.)

First, nothing is impossible for God.  Nothing.  Second, while I don’t intend to portray the gospel as materialistic, God does love to bless His people who are surrendered to Him.  When you can finally open your clenched fists, He will fill them.  In fact, the only place in Scripture where God invites us to test Him is in Malachi 3:10 — “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…test me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”  I love the imagery in this verse, as if I’m a small child looking up in wonder and amazement as a pinata breaks open and candy rains down.

sorry, couldn't help throwing a little humor in there!

sorry, couldn’t help throwing a little humor in there!

At least, that’s what I felt like this past week as God poured down blessing after blessing until I was overwhelmed.  He is so full of goodness that is just waiting to rain down on His children who will receive it.  In Psalm 37:4 the Bible says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  This verse is often misinterpreted and overused, but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted entirely.  It doesn’t mean you will get a new car, or a fabulous body without dieting.  But God knows the deepest longings of our heart, and He wants to be the One to fulfill them in His time and in His way, if we will trust Him.

Abraham and Sarah believed it was impossible for them to have a child, so they eventually gave up waiting on God and tried to do things their way.  God hadn’t forgotten His promise; He was just waiting to prove His ability to overcome all odds and display His sovereignty.  God loves to bless radically to show off.  Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), and He will display His glory by the supernatural way He cares for His children.

If God has spoken to you, if God has given to you, stop doubting and believe.  Claim the promise, child of God; nothing is impossible for Him.

If He has called you to Africa, He will provide for you to go.

If He has given you a gift for writing, He’s big enough to publish your book.

If He has given you the desire for marriage, not only can He make it happen, He can provide someone who is perfect for you even beyond your wildest dreams.

As my dear friend and pastor’s wife Sarah Berger recently told me (listen to her life story, and you’ll realize she knows what she’s talking about), “God isn’t just good.  He’s better than you can even imagine.

When God speaks to you a promise that seems too good to be true, don’t let fear make you faithless.  He is big enough.

lake

 

Published in: on February 18, 2013 at 12:17 am  Comments (2)  
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Dear Grace: On Wrestling With God

There is nothing more intimidating than being asked a deep theological question by a 13-year-old who looks up to you.  But there is also nothing I love more.  Sometimes I flounder a bit, and sometimes I have to admit that I don’t have all the answers.

Tonight, in the middle of a crowded and noisy restaurant with the youth band playing Christmas carols, struggling to be heard over the noise, Grace asked me one of these questions.

“I just learned the story of Jacob wrestling with God.  Was that…okay? I mean, is that a sin?”

Instead of answering, I simply asked Grace this question: “Have you ever wrestled with God?”

She thought about this for a moment. “You mean mentally? Yeah…yeah, I have.”

“Do you think that was a sin?” I asked her.

“I’m not sure,” she answered. “If it is, I guess I’ve sinned a lot.”

“Do you remember from the story what Jacob said to God?  Why he wrestled with Him?” I asked. “He said he wouldn’t let go until God blessed him.  Sometimes we have to doubt before we can believe, and sometimes we have to wrestle with God before we can receive blessing.”

She considered this. “I feel like the concept of doubt has been showing up in my life a lot lately,” she responded. “My mom and I were talking about it the other day, and now you just mentioned it.”

I shrugged. “We all go through doubt.  Some of the greatest people of the faith are the ones who have wrestled with the hard questions. Try reading through the Psalms and see if David didn’t do some of his own wrestling with God.”

Long after the Christmas party was over that night, I continued to think about her question.  Is it a sin to wrestle with God?  I pretty much told her no, but do I act like that’s true?  I’ve done a lot of hiding the past week because I’m afraid to voice some of my frustrations.  So my Bible has sat in my backpack for a few days, sadly neglected, because I can’t seem to read it while ignoring the elephant in the room.  So Grace’s question made me do a lot of thinking.  And praying.  And wrestling.

So, Grace, if you ever get a chance to read this, here’s my answer.

Dear Grace,

It’s okay to wrestle with God.  Don’t be afraid of messing up by wrestling with Him.  Sin is a far deeper problem than just messing up, than thinking or saying or doing the wrong thing.  Sin is disconnectedness from God.  Sometimes we have such a tiny view of sin that we think it’s something we do, something that we think we can manage or fix, but we can’t.  The very second that humanity chose to turn away from God, we lost the beautiful intimacy with Him that we were meant to have.  Sin at its core is just the gap between us and God.  So sometimes I think we try to pretend that we have a relationship with God by doing everything right, but pretending can’t bridge the gap.  We don’t want to get into fights with Him because that must mean we don’t love Him, but that’s not the way real relationships work.  Real relationships don’t pretend like there aren’t problems or miscommunications; they work through them. They wrestle with them.

You see, sin is anything that keeps us away from God.  And if you wrestle with God, you’re closer to Him than you’ve ever been.  You’re making physical contact, skin on skin, looking Him right in the eye, saying that you’re not letting go until He blesses you.  When you grapple with the God of the Universe, you’re being more open and transparent and vulnerable than ever before.

But if you leave your Bible in your backpack and hide because you’re ashamed of your feelings, the gap just got that much wider.  God bridged that gap by sending Jesus to experience life the same way we do.  He understands our feelings.  And He’s big enough to handle our questions.

So I think it was okay that Jacob wrestled with God.  And I think it’s okay if you do too.

Love,

Lauren.

The Girl in the Mirror

26790_379253246924_2837817_nSometimes I look at the picture of this little girl and think about her future.  Don’t her eyes just melt your heart?  What wouldn’t you do for that little shy smile?  I watched her grow up, so I know her story.  She’s had a good life, and she’s done well for herself, but it hasn’t always been easy for her.  You know how it is:  She grows up and realizes the world isn’t quite what she thought it was.  And looking at her picture sometimes, I want to keep her in her safe little world of innocence, keep her from the pain of disillusionment.

Because I feel helpless knowing that she will one day feel the pain of a broken heart.  That she will make wrong choices that will lead down questionable paths and end in disappointment.  I cringe knowing that one day, like so many other girls, she will take a knife to that soft, perfect skin just to watch the blood trickle down.  Looking into those warm and trusting eyes, it tears me apart knowing that they will lose their sparkle one day — that they will have seen too much of the world to shine with naive expectation.

One day she will begin to question everything she ever believed in:  Santa Claus.  Prince Charming.  God.  Herself.

This little girl doesn’t know what it’s like to feel alone.  But one day, she will.  I look in her wide-eyed, innocent face and see her future, and I desperately want to shield her, to protect her, to tell her that there is an easier way.

But as I reach out my hand, I see that I am simply grasping at a mirror.  And as I look deeply into the eyes of the woman I have become, I see that there wasn’t a better way.  I took exactly the road I had to take to end up where I am, right now, standing here gazing at my reflection and looking back on the life I’ve lived.

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I had to make stupid choices to gain wisdom.  I had to be influenced and controlled before I could discover who I really was, and I had to hate myself before I knew what it meant to love myself.  I had to doubt before I could believe, I had to be broken so that I could be made whole, and I had to experience the imprisonment of shame before I could truly raise my hands to God in freedom and victory.  I had to live the life I’ve lived, every step of the way.  I always did what I felt I had to do to get by, so I really couldn’t have made any other choices.

And realizing this, I realize that, as much as I may want it to be, my job is not to keep other girls from the same struggles I went through.  I see the same look of excitement and wonder in their eyes, and I want to.  Oh God, I want to.

Others, I see the dullness and numbness beginning to replace the sparkle as they learn how broken the world really is and how ugly life can be, and I want to heal them.  Oh God, I want to.

But I can’t — it’s not my life to live.  And I’m learning that as desperately as I want to keep them from experiencing pain, I have to love them enough to let them figure it out on their own.

I know that some of them will starve themselves to find acceptance.  Some of them will cut themselves to feel again.   Some will compromise themselves for affirmation.  Some will experience loss and abandonment and depression.  And the thought of it breaks my heart.

But…

The best I can do is to equip them to live faithfully, to make the most of their lives, to find their own healing.  The best I can do is walk alongside them on their journey and share the little I know about life.  To let them make mistakes and to cry with them when they’re broken.  To pray them through as they sort out who they are and why they’re here.  To teach them enough of the Story so that they can faithfully improvise no matter what stage they’re on or what costume they’re wearing.  And to be a faithful audience to the story they write.

This is my ministry.

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