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.

IMG_1309 - Copy

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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waiting

Wait for the Lord, my anxious heart.

The future, so close and yet so distant, seems to slip from my grasp the moment I reach out for it.  I cannot search its unfathomable depths.  God alone knows.

I cannot control anything by worrying.  But the thought of waiting — for what, I do not know — some intangible sense of peace and purpose? — makes my heart beat faster in helpless panic.  Surely I must do something.  Make a decision.  RIGHT NOW.  Or at least figure out these conflicting feelings that consume my mind and wrap themselves as a chain around my heart.  I’m holding so tightly that my knuckles turn white.  I can barely breathe.  But there is nothing in my clenched fists.  Nothing but the crescent-shaped nail marks in my palms.

I look at my empty hands and tears fill my eyes.  Where can I turn for peace?  It cannot be found in the looming shadows of an undetermined future.  I feel only dread and apprehension at this sense of confusion.

The answers will come.  He has always guided me in the past.  What reason have I to doubt His faithfulness?

Stay close to His heart, little one, I chide myself.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Published in: on April 1, 2013 at 12:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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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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Destroying Strongholds

Each of us has a stronghold built around our lives.  Each of us has a defense.  Some more apparent than others, perhaps, some more difficult to detect, but they are there nonetheless.  They are there because at some level or another, we each have deep underlying insecurities, and we want to protect ourselves from the world.

Why are these insecurities there?  They may be there because you’ve been abused.  They may be there because you feel inadequate.  They may be there because you have known poverty, or loss, or any number of worldly struggles or suffering.  But at the heart of it lies one simple reason: they are there because of sin.  They are there because this world is broken, because we all fall short and are incomplete without Christ, but none of us has been able to bridge the gap so completely that we are whole this side of heaven.  Desperately seeking safety that can never be assured on earth, we try to guard ourselves.

What’s wrong with being guarded?  Strongholds are walls that we have built to keep others out.  It may not seem that way, but sometimes we do it subconsciously.  Guarding yourself comes at the price of relationships, both with God and other people; the higher your wall, the more superficial your relationships will be.  First and most importantly, strongholds keep us from God because God is supposed to be our stronghold (Psalm 27:1).  Therefore, anything else that we depend on is an idol of our own making.  When we build walls, we replace God’s protection with our own.  Our lips say that we trust God, but our actions prove otherwise.  Second, strongholds keep us from having deep relationships with other people because we only let them see what we want them to see.  When they look at us, they don’t see the beauty of our soul; they see a wall.  And who can love a wall?  When we build strongholds, we forfeit the depth of love and acceptance for the shallowness of popularity.

What are your strongholds?  Some of you may know right away.  For others, they’ve so long been a part of you, so cleverly disguised and hidden even from yourself, that it may require discernment and guidance from the Holy Spirit to seek out these strongholds and destroy them.  Prayerfully consider the following questions:

What am I most afraid to let go of?

What do I turn to when I feel uncomfortable or threatened?

What do I feel like I most need to prove?

What makes me feel the most exposed?

What do I fear will happen if I lose my protection?

Answering these questions will give you valuable insight into what your strongholds are and why they are there.  If you can understand why you do what you do, it becomes easier to work through your emotions and get rid of the strongholds that keep you from God.  If you don’t, there may come a day when they are taken from you.  God is jealous, and His love is a tough love; if anything is keeping Him from your heart, He will stop at nothing to win you back.  When His people Israel continued to chase after other things, seeking security elsewhere, God decided to put a stop to it: “Israel has forgotten their Maker and built palaces; Judah has fortified many towns.  But I will send fire on their cities that will consume their fortresses” (Hosea 8:14).  With their strongholds burned to the ground around them, Israel had nowhere else to turn but to the Lord.  When all of their sin and weakness was exposed, they had to face their utter helplessness and depend on God.

Destroying strongholds can be a scary business, not only because we feel exposed, but also because we’ve worked our defense mechanisms into the fabric of our being for so long that we feel they’ve become a part of our identity.  If we strip them away, what will be left of us?  If our stronghold defines us, who are we without it?  The beautiful part is that God doesn’t leave us there; He transforms us into something new and beautiful.  As He did for His people Israel, He will replace our facade with a true identity, the security of which can never be taken away.  He will give us a new name: “I will say to those called ‘Not My People,’ ‘You are My People'” (Hosea 2:23).  Once the stronghold is torn down, we are no longer captives within our own walls.  We are free to know and be known, to love and be loved.

We are free when we are His.

i’ll abandon my defenses, and live to love again.

For years I’ve been guarded, for years I have fought,

But that which I battled was that which I sought.

I’m always aware of the way that I stand

(For the way I present myself says who I am):

Hands on my hips, feet planted firm on the floor,

I’m prepared for the battle, but alone in the war.

With a sword of indifference and wit like a knife,

My fierce independence is my shield — is my life.

I hide behind big words when I’m speechless

And because I’m afraid of you, act like I’m fearless.

But…

If I didn’t have to prove that I’m good enough,

Smart, independent, self-sufficient and tough,

If I could be open and honest and real

And forego this facade to explain how I feel,

It would be so much easier if I could just say

In an innocent, immature, little kid way

With a strawberry blush and cheeks growing hot,

That I want you, and need you, and like you….

…a lot.

Published in: on November 26, 2012 at 7:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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Heads Held High

Leviticus 23:16 — “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.”

Something about the powerful imagery of this verse evokes a response. It stirs our emotions. It speaks to our deep longing for freedom.

When we are conquered by a more powerful entity than ourselves and are forced to surrender control to the conqueror, our pride takes a beating. Human nature dictates the necessity of retaining control over your property, and when control over yourself is relinquished, fear and shame result.

From the pride we take in our self-sufficiency, it follows that we would naturally fear any threat to our sense of self. We fear the future because we feel unprepared; we fear death because it has the final word. Fear is the natural response to a lack of control, and the natural reaction to fear is self-preservation — shielding yourself to retain control over your physical body as a last resort when protection is gone. A ducked head is an indication of insecurity; a head held high is a sign of courage and inner strength.

Submission is also a direct threat to our pride in that it forces an unwilling admission of weakness. We want to be viewed as the conquering heroes, not the conquered slaves. To be subservient to a stronger opponent is to be stripped of our dignity; when it is not within our power to restore our status, we feel shame. No one likes to lose or to be overcome; frankly, it’s embarrassing. We feel that it is disgraceful to be seen in our helpless state of surrender, so we hide our faces from the judgmental eyes of the world. A bowed head is an indication of shame; a head held high is a sign of freedom and self-respect.

All of us have experienced the fear and shame of being controlled by something stronger than ourselves; addictions would defnitely fall into that category. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin — once we give in to our desires, soon we find that we are no longer in control, but that sin has mastered us. As the consequences pile up, eventually we are hardly able to stand under the weight of fear and shame.

But the God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt is still in the business of redemption. His name is Jesus, for He has saved His people from their sins and enabled us to walk with heads held high — Unconquered. Unashamed. Unafraid.

Published in: on May 20, 2011 at 4:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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