Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Shame is A Worthless Emotion

“Shame is a worthless emotion"

I was having coffee a few weeks ago with a friend at a local diner (way too early in the morning I might add) and we were talking about all sorts of struggles that people go through in life when he said to me “Shame is a worthless emotion”.

He went on to talk about how the very emotion/feeling of shame, as he has seen it work in himself and others, only ever does 2 things to people. From his perspective shame either makes people overly dependent on "getting it right" and being (or at least appearing) perfect, sometimes through the vehicle of religion, or it makes people go the opposite way and give up trying entirely because they could never achieve being the person they want to be.

Both, he said, were unhealthy extremes.

I can safely say throughout my life I’ve seen this play out for myself. I’m far from perfect, in fact I’m a very messed up person. Shame seems like its always been right by my side, in fact, I can’t remember what it’s like to feel no shame, to feel free, confident, like I don’t have to prove myself to anyone or try to earn love.

Shame has at times caused me to gravitate to both extremes. I’ve found myself doing everything possible to “get it right” and follow the rules so that the shame would go away. I’ve also had plenty of times in my life where “getting it right” felt so impossible that I just gave up entirely and acted a fool.

When I talk about shame, I’m talking about this deep, internal feeling that I don’t measure up. Sometimes its a feeling caused by mistakes I make or times when I fail to do what is right, but for me, shame mostly feels like this dark passenger (to steal a term from “Dexter”) that is always by my side, always whispering in my ear.

“You don’t measure up as a husband"

“You fail as a friend"

“God wants nothing to do with you"

“No matter how hard you try, you will always fail"

“Your life is destined to always be messed up"

Boy, shame sure sounds an awful lot like self-pity as well.

But thats what shame does. It creates a story, a narrative in our heads that plays over and over like a broken record.

What’s the story playing on repeat for you? What are the lies that exist in your narrative?

You know, the real tricky thing about life is that it can often feel like even when we try to create a new, more truthful story about ourselves, it always seems like there’s a situation or conversation or mistake we make waiting right around the corner that feeds into the lies we tell ourselves.

I agree with my friend, shame is a worthless emotion, especially in light of how I believe God sees us.

Part of the sneaky work of shame is to make us feel alone, isolated, like we are the only ones experiencing the pain we feel. It’s just not true. One of the best things people in my life have done for me lately is to remind me that I’m not alone and my story is not unique in that I’m broken and I have dozens of lies I believe about myself.

I’m not the only one who’s ever experienced death, or painful relationships, or who's felt like they don’t measure up as a spouse, or who is constantly trying to prove their value and worth to people.

Shame tells us we’re alone and that it’s important we keep up appearances and not let anyone in.

Forget that. No one was meant to walk through this life alone.

I’m not going to start preaching to you, because I have yet to work this out fully on my own and I don’t believe me proposing that I have all the answers will do anything but add to my already deep need to prove my worth to people.

Rather, here are the perspective shifts I’m attempting in key relationships, and maybe it can give you some help or insight too.

1. God

It’s hard for me to look at myself in the mirror most days. So if I can’t even look at myself with love & confidence, I can’t imagine God would look on me with love.


That’s why God is God, because he doesn’t think like us. He sees us, he sees our whole self, our true self. I love author Brennan Manning, and one of the things he says is “God doesn’t accept us in spite of our sin, he accepts us with it because that is true acceptance.” Meaning, God doesn’t think “Well, if they could just get their crap together then I would love them”.

God sees us for who we truly are, he sees our true self even when we don’t or we try to hide it. The greatest tool of shame is to get us to hide. So it’s understandably scary to try and approach a God who sees us, but I also think it’s incredibly freeing as well.

I think God wants my heart. I think God wants to see me free of shame. I think God knows shame is a worthless emotion. I think God actually does accept me and approve of me. I think he actually loves me because I was created in his image and he sees me as such.

So, I’m done with shame and I’m all in on Gods acceptance of me. I’m all in that I don’t have to prove myself with God. I’m all in that God is both just and merciful. I’m all in that I’ve messed up but that because Jesus stands in my place he sees me as a new creation, not all my failures.

2. Spouse

I’ve been married less than two years, but I’ve already noticed a pattern in me. When I have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror, I project that onto my wife and assume she wants nothing to do with me as well (sounds pretty similar to how I treat God)

As I’m constantly reminded by my beautiful wife, she wouldn’t have said “yes” if she wasn’t truly committed to me through the good and bad, through the times when I feel like “Husband of the Year” and the times when I know for a fact I’m not.

The trick here is not to let shame do it’s work. When I hear “You don’t measure up” I need reminded that because of Christ living in me, I do measure up and am in fact worthy of my wife and can confidently stand up as a man and love her like the daughter of the living God that she is.

3. Community

Maybe you aren’t married, maybe you are. Either way, hopefully we all have people in our lives that we would consider a friend. Shame likes to tell us what others see when they look at us, and it’s always negative.

When we come to a more full understanding of our identity and value because we were created in the image of God and are beloved by him, it feels like a fog lifts and we can see our relationships with more clarity.

Comparison games disappear as we are injected with a greater sense of identity and value. I no longer have to look at what’s happening in other peoples lives as a value statement about me. I can cheer someone on when they succeed, and when I feel hurt I can remind myself to give people the benefit of the doubt instead of immediately assuming cruel intentions.

I can let people in more and learn to trust when shame disappears. I can see them as being created in God’s image and treat them how God would treat them. I can fight for the highest good of someone else because I’m no longer only concerned with whats best for me or how they view me. I can SEE people as their true self and see past the walls and barriers they may put up.

I can feel secure in my relationships, experience human intimacy, be vulnerable, and not always fight so hard to be and feel worthy or valuable or respected, because I know I already am all those things in Christ.

I challenge you to look at yourself with less and less shame, and start to attempt to see yourself as God does. One of the things I want to try and do soon is write a letter from God to myself. I heard of someone else doing that recently, and I think it would be a great way to shift perspective and try to begin to see myself as God sees me.

I can’t take credit for most of the wisdom in this post. It’s only been through God and the community of people he has put in my life that I’ve even begun to see through the fog of shame and understand what it means that I am beloved by God and created in his image.

May you realize shame is a worthless emotion. May you change the narrative in your head from lies to truth. May you see yourself how God sees you. May you know you don’t have to compare yourself to others. May you understand that you are beloved and accepted by God, whether you “get it right” or not. Because thats the gospel, thats what we have access to now through what Christ did and who He is. None of us have to feel alone ever again.

Friday, January 8, 2016


Have you ever found yourself so afraid to do something that you, in a sense, become paralyzed?

It's a weird feeling. You know action is required, but your mental & emotional state hasn't met up with the rest of your body yet.

It's a feeling, that for most of us, can be closely associated with lots of different moments in our lives.

Maybe for you it was a moment when you were trying to profess feelings for someone else and couldn't work up the nerve to ask them out or say how you felt.

Maybe it was a moment during an interview for a job you really wanted. You're asked a hard question and can't find the right answer, or at least the answer you thought they were looking for, so you stammer or make something up.

Maybe it's that moment when you have tons of work to do, but decide to take a nap instead (not that I've ever done that....).

Perhaps it was a time of danger, a car accident, witnessing a crime, etc and instead of jumping into action and handling the situation well, you just go numb, overwhelmed by adrenaline and fear.

Whatever it is, we've all had experiences where we feel afraid or overwhelmed and instead of stepping forward with confidence, we avoid, become paralyzed, and don't do anything.

In some fashion, I've experienced moments similar to the above examples (yes, even the nap one). I've found myself hampered by fear more times than I care to admit. Fear can be a good thing, there is absolutely such a thing as healthy fear (fear that actually keeps you safe in some way), but I'm referring to unhealthy fear here, fear that for me comes from a deep need to feel loved and accepted.

Literally as I type the words to this blog post that I've been wanting to write for weeks, but haven't (out of fear of sounding dumb), I find myself constantly nagged and poked by every word. Instead of focusing on the heart of what I want to express, I find myself wondering in the back of my mind how every word will affect those reading or their opinion of me.

It's unhealthy fear and it's paralyzing.

I know a lot of people who struggle with fear, anxiety, depression, etc. Perhaps you are one. I wish there was some magic cure to these internal issues many of us face, but the reality for most of us is that they stem from a complicated network of emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical, and relational experiences throughout our lives that have taught us to think and act the way we do.

It's a seemingly impossible task to undo all the baggage and hurt we have accrued that we feel have turned us into the mess we are sometimes. Yet, there is a hope. Not temporary hope, not the distractions we normally turn to when we want to numb or avoid the fear (TV, sex, food, gambling, etc) but hope that gets into the root and helps us to re-wire ourselves in a positive way.

For me, I know it's a pervasive fear of failure. I've built up a narrative throughout various experiences in my life that, unless I perform well and am mostly successful at whatever I do, I will lose all love and acceptance from God and people in my life.

So how do I respond to this potentially crippling fear? Perfection. I'll just be perfect. I won't ever make a mistake. I'll make sure the house is clean everyday, I'll be a good person to everyone, I'll be funny, charming, well-spoken, say and do all the right things so no one ever has to see my flaws and so that I never have to experience anyone seeing my flaws.

Ok. That works for a while, until I get honest with myself and have to come to grips with reality: The loneliness and fear haven't gone away, not completely. In fact, sometimes they've even gotten worse.

You see, when we build our lives on a foundation of perfection, always being great people, and attempting to avoid ever having anyone enter the messiness of our life, we actually become more lonely and afraid.

Perfection takes on many forms. Make everyone like you, be a people pleaser, accumulate stuff, post all the right things on social media.

We operate in a false self so often that we may even begin to lie to ourselves and convince ourselves that we are way better of a person than we actually are.

"Oh well, that wasn't my fault"
"I'm a pretty great person and everyone loves me, nothing at all is wrong with my life."

The costume and mask we wear to hide our true selves and avoid intimacy starts small but eventually becomes as vast and complicated a web of emotions as the web of experiences that made us feel lonely and afraid in the first place.

Basically, instead of fixing the root causes of loneliness and fear, we add to them and make it worse. All in the name of perfection, or at the least appearance of it. We all have a million things we don't like about ourselves and assume others will feel the same way and reject us.

I've lied to myself, put on a mask, operated out of fear, and tried too hard to get others to like me. All in the name of conquering my fears and loneliness.

Then I remember 1 John 4:18:

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."


That hits me at my core. I convince myself that I will only experience love if I don't make any mistakes. So I isolate, hide, put out the persona I want others to see, etc. But this verse tells me that perfect love drives out my fear. So, the question is, what is perfect love?

Perfect love is faithful to us when we screw up, perfect love trusts, hopes, perseveres. Perfect love keeps no record of wrongs, perfect love is full of grace and truth. Perfect love meets us right where we are, in all our mess, and helps us grow and move forward.

Perfect love. In a word, God.

God is faithful. God perseveres with us. God is full of grace and truth. God loves us right where we are and doesn't let us stay there. Could it be that simple?

We get tripped up because everything we've experienced in this life tells us otherwise. It tells us that people don't always stick around, that we are all selfish, that we have to look out for #1, that we have to keep it together or we lose it all.

When we experience the kind of love God has to offer, we realize we don't have to live in unhealthy fear of rejection anymore. We experience a kind of freedom as the fear and stress melt away. 

I think of what Jesus said in John 16:33:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The world can be a hard place to live in sometimes. But we can find hope and take heart because we have a savior in Jesus who isn't ignorant to our struggle, but who knows what its like to be human, who ultimately conquered sin, death, and fear.

When we experience freedom from fear through God's faithful love, when we find ourselves able to trust God, we find also how we can break the cycle of fear and loneliness in others:

Galatians 5:13

"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love."

We have the opportunity every day, in every circumstance to extend the kind of love we need from God to the people in our lives. We have the opportunity to extend love that hopes, perseveres, is faithful, trusts, and casts out fear.

When I have lucid moments, I realize my pursuit of perfection is ridiculous. Not only am I an imperfect human being (and always will be), but I'm pretty sure we can never realistically expect others to be perfect. No matter how much of a pedestal we put our fellow human beings on sometimes (which we shouldn't), a part of us should never be shocked by the brokenness and imperfection in our world. 

Maybe in a weird way, our own mess empowers us to have grace for other people when faced with theirs. Maybe thats the whole point, to not put people mentally in high places they don't belong, or even to view others as lower than us. 

Maybe the point is to walk out life together, with all it's mess, and keep pointing our fellow imperfect human beings not to us or other humans, but to the only perfect love capable of driving out the fear and loneliness for good. 

I think our lives would be infinitely more beautiful if we all put away the mask, accepted the imperfections of us and others, and let our true selves walk in the freedom of the love of God.

So to myself and all the other perfectionists out there I say:

Stop hiding in fear. 
You aren't alone.
Be relentlessly loved and accepted as you are by God. 
Develop a ruthless trust in God. 
Start relentlessly loving others because you are free to do so.
Put away the mask for good.