So far this month I’ve talked a lot about shame and what we do to try to cope and protect ourselves from it. We put up shields and armour in order to hide. What are we hiding from? I’d say it’s from being ‘seen’. When we’re in shame, we feel worthless and unworthy of connection. We don’t want to be ‘seen’ for fear someone will further increase our sense of shame. The problem is that hiding keeps us from connection and it’s in connection and experiencing empathy that we can begin to walk out from underneath shame.
Which brings us to vulnerability. Vulnerability is necessary for connection. How can I feel a connection with someone when they won’t let me ‘see’ them and/or I won’t let them ‘see’ me? It is in taking down our shields and allowing ourselves to be ‘seen’ (i.e., being vulnerable) that we can truly have connection with others. This is where empathy and wholeheartedness grow.
It’s not an easy thing, especially for anyone who has experienced trauma in their lives. Often there is so much pain around vulnerability and so many walls of protection built up, that stepping into vulnerability is difficult. But…it’s not impossible. It takes baby steps with those people whom we trust (and sometimes with the help of professionals), with those who can bear the weight of our stories. With each baby step into vulnerability and receiving empathy and understanding in return, walking into vulnerability becomes a little bit easier.
Vulnerability involves risk. There are never any guarantees how the other person will respond. And sometimes the people we most love and care about will let us down. Even with knowing this…even so…I believe vulnerability is absolutely worth it. There is no other way to get through our healing to the other side. How can we become healed and whole if we never let anyone catch a glimpse of our brokenness and pain? If we never even admit it to ourselves? Sometimes vulnerability means being vulnerable with ourselves and taking the risk to see what’s really going on inside. And then reaching out to others.
Vulnerability is not easy for me. My vulnerability shields and hiding techniques are pretty entrenched, and I’ve had to do the work of learning to stop using them. I still have a long way to go. I want with all my heart to live as the wholehearted do, to learn to be vulnerable and authentic, because I know that’s where real connection happens. It’s where I won’t feel alone.
We all put up shields and masks to protect ourselves. We’ve convinced ourselves (or others have convinced us) that this is the best way to walk through life. But I believe there is a better way, a way that will bring deeper meaning to our lives, if we’re willing to take the risk to step out and be seen. Won’t you join me?
Everyone experiences shame and there is no way we can eliminate it from our lives. As Brown puts it, “As long as we care about connection, the fear of disconnection will always be a powerful force in our lives, and the pain caused by shame will always be real.” (Daring Greatly, p.74)
The answer is shame resilience. This is “the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we have going into it.” (Daring Greatly, p.74).
The four elements of shame resilience (as listed in Daring Greatly) are:
- Recognizing Shame and Understanding its Triggers
- Practicing Critical Awareness
- Reaching Out
- Speaking Shame
It takes a certain amount of emotional intelligence to work through this process. Can we recognize when we are experiencing shame and are we able to learn what triggers it? This takes practice and a degree of curiosity. There are times when I have reacted (in shame) to something and I think to myself afterwards, “What was that about? Why did I react like that?” If I ask the questions long enough, I can begin to see patterns (in some areas of my life, at least) and learn to recognize the shame triggers. This also involves critical awareness, asking ourselves what messages we’re telling ourselves when we’re in shame and testing those messages. Are they true? Realistic? Would I talk like this to others?
Reaching Out is so very important in developing shame resilience. It is by sharing our stories with those we trust, with those who care for us, that we can experience empathy (the antidote to shame); it’s how we can experience connection and healing. Just as shame happens between people, it also heals best between people (Daring Greatly, p.75).
Speaking Shame can be very, very difficult to do, but it’s amazing what happens when you can actually do it. Shame wants to stay hidden so when I can actually say (out loud), “I feel shame” it actually cuts shame off at the knees. It loses its power over me.
I know this from personal experience. My husband and I were having a group of friends over for potluck supper one evening. In our home, we have the housecleaning duties down to a science: my husband has one area of the house, I have another area…we can get the house cleaned within an hour. But on this particular day, I had been out for the afternoon and got home late. Company was arriving in less than 45 minutes. My husband had already finished his part of the housecleaning and I was frantically trying to get my part done.
The more the clocked ticked, the more shame I felt – “why did I stay out so late? This is all my fault. I’m a terrible person. What are people going to think of me?”. But even then, I couldn’t actually say out loud, “I feel shame.” My husband sensed my growing tension and asked me, “Are you feeling shame?” Even to get the word “Yes” out of my mouth was difficult. But I took a deep breath and said, “Yes…I feel shame.” It was amazing. Just saying those words seemed to deflate the balloon of tension within me. I started feeling calmer and things didn’t feel like “the end of the world” anymore.
I wouldn’t have believed speaking shame could have that kind of effect until I experienced it myself. The problem is shame is not something we talk about in our society, so speaking it is countercultural. It’s not impossible; it just requires a different way of thinking about it.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about empathy – the antidote to shame.
Source: Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.
I’m taking the information I list in this post from Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and I’ll list source information at the bottom of this post.
Here’s a great quote from the start of her chapter on the Vulnerability Armory:
“As children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection – to be the person whom we long to be – we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen.” (p.112)
The armor Brene Brown talks about acts as a shield against vulnerability. The major shields (used by just about everyone at some point) are:
This is the experience of feeling the intense emotion of joy and as soon as we feel that, our thoughts immediately go to catastrophe. Here’s an example: my life was looking pretty good – I had a decent job, good friends, my children were healthy…and in that moment my thoughts went to “something bad is going to happen, I’ve got it too good.” I’m very good a rehearsing tragedy and less good at accepting (and enjoying) the moments of joy when they come to me.
If I can make myself ‘perfect’, then I’ll feel accepted, and I can avoid the feelings of shame, judgement, and blame. There are a few problems with this – I can’t attain perfection, it sets me up to feel more shame because I’m never ‘good enough’, and it becomes a vicious cycle of striving and self-loathing. This was (and is to a lesser extent) my modus operandi.
Numbing can come in the form of addictions and eating disorders. But…it also comes in making ourselves super busy, eating chocolate when we feel crappy, playing video games/watching TV/surfing the internet for hours, having that glass of wine to ‘take the edge off’ our day. The research shows the main drivers for numbing are shame, anxiety, and disconnection. These are very uncomfortable feelings and when we don’t have strategies for sitting in them, we numb the emotion (which means we actually numb all emotions – we can’t ‘selectively’ numb).
Some less common shields are:
- “Viking or Victim” – these people have no use for vulnerability and possess a worldview that sees all of mankind categorized either into “Victims” (those who can’t hold their own and are being taken advantage of) and “Vikings” (those who are constantly on guard against being the victim, who dominate and try to stay in control)
- “Letting it all hang out” – this is oversharing when there isn’t the level of connection in the relationship to bear that level of vulnerability (floodlighting) as well as oversharing with the intent to shock and get attention (the smash and grab)
- “Serpentining” – the immense efforts used to avoid vulnerability; it might mean “trying to control a situation, backing out of it, pretending it’s not happening, or maybe even pretending that you don’t care.” (p.165)
- “Cynicism, criticism, cool, and cruelty” – these are pretty self-explanatory and do a good job at shutting down vulnerability in the person and in others
In the Vulnerability Armory chapter in Daring Greatly Brene Brown talks about the things we can do in each category to help us take down our shields. I don’t have time or space to go into them but here’s the source information for the book:
Source: Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.
Yesterday I talked about grace. The challenge is to believe it. There’s something Jesus said: “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'” (John 6:28-29 NIV)
This never made any sense to me. How can ‘believing’ be ‘work’? And how can it be the work God would want us to do? For someone who thought she needed to DO things in order to be ‘good enough’, this was completely counter to my thinking. I had heard all sorts of other messages in church, like praying and reading your Bible and being ‘good’. Believing…that wasn’t on the list (I’m guessing belief was assumed).
But I think I’m beginning to understand what Jesus was talking about. Living the life God desires for us is so much more about what we believe than what we do. What we believe drives our actions. Living that abundant life is hindered when we don’t believe Jesus and we believe things that are not true.
What did Jesus tell us? That God had come to “be with” (i.e., have connection with) his people, with all people (Matthew 1:23). He told us to turn from our darkness (and shame) and come to the Light/God (repent) (John 8:12, Mark 1:15, Luke 1:78-79). He told us that God loves us…so much so that He was sending Jesus to make a way for us to have connection/relationship with Him again (John 3:16). Paul tells us: “But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17, NLT [emphasis mine]). He also says: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT [empahsis mine]).
Now this is tricky, because there are lots of people who think they believe. The question is: what are they believing? If what they believe means they experience fear and condemnation (or shame) on a fairly consistent basis then I would suggest they take another look at what they’re believing. There is no fear in love (1 John 4:18) and God is love (1 John 4:8) so fear and shame wouldn’t be what I expect to see from someone who believes Jesus and believes His message of grace.
Believing and accepting grace is not necessarily an easy thing. Shame blinds us to grace. When we are bound by shame, we feel unworthy to come to God, we hide, and we stay bound up in blindness and unhealthy ways of being. This is where fear and condemnation have a field day. We stay hidden and shrink from vulnerability, which makes is difficult for us to understand or experience grace. I know this was true of my life.
For me, my journey towards grace involved taking baby steps of trust with people who I felt truly accepted me. With that slow increase in trust, I was able to ‘hear’ the True things they were saying. I experienced love and belonging. My beliefs started to shift – away from the lies in my head towards the Truth of the message of grace. With each ‘shift’, it became easier to embrace grace (even if it was the tiniest part of grace). And each time I received healing and love through this process, it became that little bit easier to trust and embrace more of grace.
This is where liberation and life happens. When we are able to believe and receive God’s grace, we stop being afraid and we stop hiding. We understand our identity is secure in the love and acceptance of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We can come to Him in our brokenness and He heals us and sets us free. We can be vulnerable. And this process is grounded in what we believe. All the doing in the world (to make ourselves better) will not achieve this. It’s also a life-long process. We will all experience shame throughout our lives. Believing Jesus means while we may have bouts in the darkness, we don’t have to stay there permanently. We can live in His love and light.
For any of you who have followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that grace is a big deal to me. It’s a very big deal to me. And here’s why: for someone who grew up in an environment underscored by shame, who deep down felt was never good enough no matter how hard I tried…GRACE is the lifeline.
It’s the lifeline to experiencing connection and love. It’s the lifeline to learning to have compassion for myself (when all along I learned to hate myself – I would say terrible things to myself, things I would never say to anyone else). Grace is the lifeline to learning to be vulnerable (when all along is wasn’t ‘safe’ to be vulnerable – I learned very well how to ‘hide’, how to not let people see me because that would have been far too risky – my sense of self-worth was already being hammered…no way I would give anyone the chance to hammer it more).
Without grace I would be dead inside. I need to know, I need to hear, I need to experience over and over and over again that I AM worthy of love and belonging. Because God says so. I have His unmerited favor…that no matter what I do, no matter how broken, He loves and accepts me unconditionally. I have always had His love. I have always belonged to Him. Nothing in all creation can separate me from His love.
The messages I learned to tell myself are still in my mind, lurking under the surface. When I get struck by the warm wash of shame, they kick into full force, telling me I am the mistake, that I am stupid, that I am worthless. When I am experiencing these strong feelings in the darkness of my soul, I can look up and see the Light and it reminds me that grace is holding me and it will not let me go. Even though I feel like crap, I can tell myself that God loves and accepts me, that I am enough, that I am worthy of love and belonging. I may not feel that at the moment, but leaning into these truths helps lift me out of my hole of shame.
Because of grace and my growing ability to receive it in the midst of my brokenness, shame does not ‘knock me out’ for as long as it did before. Before I would be living in a shame storm for weeks, months, years. Now, I might be knocked out for a couple of hours, days, or if it’s really bad, a week at the most.
So I will keep talking about grace; I don’t think we talk about it nearly enough. I will make it a big deal until the day I die. It is Life to me. Or as Glennon Doyle Melton says: “Grace is the only buzz I have left and they will take it from my cold, dead hands.”
Here’s the video where she says this – it’s worth watching the whole thing.
I’ve written about watching Brene Brown’s TEDx talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”. This is the part that blew my mind:
They just believe???? Isn’t there something they DO??
And it struck me: it’s GRACE.
The wholehearted know grace: “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God”. They believe they are worthy of love and belonging because they know grace. I truly believe that.
More on this tomorrow…
While the felt experience of shame is the same for men and women (Brene Brown calls it the “warm wash of shame”), what triggers shame is different for men and women. Let’s break it down:
The number one trigger is around our appearance and body image: we’re not thin enough, young enough, beautiful enough. It doesn’t matter that I’ve given birth to three children, I should still be able to get rid of that bulge around my tummy. Why should I care? Because I’ll look “better” and right now I don’t look quite good “enough”. It’s crazy and I’m as susceptible to it as any other woman.
Coming in at a close 2nd is motherhood. And it isn’t just mothers who get hammered on this one. How many times has a single woman been asked when she’s going to get married and for the married woman, “when are you going to start having children”? So much of our identity as women is wrapped up in this. And it sucks. How many times have I compared myself to other mothers and felt I didn’t measure up? How many times have I felt like a crappy mother because of what my children did? And in the midst of those crappy feelings I’ve snapped at my children instead of offering understanding and empathy, which is what they really needed.
According to Brene Brown in Daring Greatly, there are 12 shame categories: appearance & body image, money & work, motherhood/fatherhood, family, parenting, mental & physical health, addiction, sex, aging, religion, surviving trauma, and being stereotyped or labeled. But undergirding them all for women is the expectation to be perfect and on top of that, it should be effortless. Our culture has handed us a list of conflicting, competing expectations of who / what / how we “should” be. And we can’t possibly meet all those expectations so we’re inundated with messages of shame.
For men, there is only one trigger: do not be perceived as weak. It happens in all the shame categories but the message is still the same – don’t be weak. I think this is a tragedy. It puts men in a straight-jacket and makes it extremely difficult for them to work their way out from under shame. Because most of the time, being vulnerable and showing empathy are considered “weak” in our culture. These are the very things that help people process their shame and develop resiliency to it.
I’m only scratching the surface on this topic. Brene Brown talks about it in her TED Talk: “Listening to Shame”. She also writes about it in chapter 3 of her book Daring Greatly (Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.)
Emma Watson gave a speech to the United Nations launching the “HeForShe” campaign in September 2014. In it she highlights the ways in which our gender stereotypes harm men as well as women. I believe it does a good job illustrating what I’ve been talking about in this post. It’s well worth taking the 12 minutes to watch.
There’s another comment I’ve heard as I’ve been talking about shame with others – pride is the opposite of shame. And along with that comment comes the argument that we should use shame to deal with pride in people.
In my opinion, pride is born of shame. It is shame, the feeling of not being good enough, that drives many people to pride and arrogance. According to Dictionary.com, pride is “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.” People who are proud feel the need to prove that they are better than others. They consider themselves superior to others and treat people (or certain types of people) as inferior.
To me, this reeks of shame. Why do they have to be better than everyone else? Because they don’t accept themselves. They have something to prove, whether it is to others, to the people closest to them, or to themselves. Deep down inside, they don’t feel good enough, so they need to bolster themselves to a place where they can feel a sense of worthiness but this is at the expense of others. If they truly believed they are “enough” there would be no need to try to grab that worth from other people. They would find that worth within themselves.
Unfortunately, in my experience, the people who are most proud are the ones who would say they don’t experience shame at all. I believe it is incredibly difficult for them to admit their shame because that very act begins to dismantle what they have spent so much energy propping up – they are better than others. But if they admit to feeling unworthy that would mean they aren’t actually “better”. And their whole worldview could come crashing down. There’s too much at stake to go to that place so they stoically proclaim they have no shame and any attempts to uncover that Truth are often met with a harsh response.
I wish I knew how to help these people. Dumping shame on a prideful person certainly won’t help. Chances are they will dig in their heels and feel completely justified in their arrogant behaviour due to the attempt to “shame” them. Because “they don’t experience shame”. The shame tactics will only serve to reinforce their pride.
I believe that in order to be set free from the chains of pride, a person needs to face their own internal sense of unworthiness. But how do they come to that place? My guess is coming to an understanding of grace and being able to actually receive it would certainly help in this process. But I think there are a lot of people out there who “think” they understand what grace is and yet haven’t really been able to embrace it. Because embracing it acknowledges our need for grace and thus, our own brokenness. I’m sure doses of love, gentleness, and empathy can help to break down the armour of the proud person. But I don’t have any easy answers for this one.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about shame triggers and how they are different for men and women.
Some people may argue that a little shame is good for modifying behaviour. I’ve certainly run into that attitude before. And I felt plenty of it growing up. “How could you be so stupid?!” “Don’t be such an idiot!” Here’s the thing: shame did modify my behaviour. Or more like fear modified my behaviour – the fear of being berated (i.e., the fear of feeling shame). From the outside it looked like using shame worked. But what it did to me on the inside produced self-hatred and anxiety. It wasn’t a good thing.
I think this is why significant portions of our society still believe that using shame is perfectly acceptable. On the outside, it looks like we’re getting the results we desire, but at what cost? The research is abundantly clear: “there are no data [emphasis mine] to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior.” (Daring Greatly, p. 73). As I mentioned yesterday, “shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying.” (Daring Greatly, p. 73).
Remember that there is a difference between shame and guilt according to the research. I am not advocating to not hold people accountable to their actions. But it is just that: holding them to their actions. I know that for my own children, if I address the behaviour and affirm my child’s worth as being intact and not linked to their behaviour, I have much greater success in motivating positive lasting change.
Tomorrow: I’ll be talking about shame and pride – two sides of the same coin.
Source: Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.
I’m taking a lot of what I write in this post from Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I’ll list source information at the bottom of this post.
According to Brene Brown’s research, shame is:
“…the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” (p.69, Daring Greatly) It is real, felt pain. I can attest to that. I know that sinking, gut-wrenching feeling at the pit of my stomach when I feel incredibly worthless.
Brown elaborates further:
“Shame is the fear of disconnection. We are psychologically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually hardwired for connection, love, and belonging. Connection, along with love and belonging (two expressions of connection), is why we are here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Shame is the fear of disconnection – it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. I’m not worthy or good enough for love, belonging, and connection. I’m unlovable. I don’t belong.” (p. 68, Daring Greatly)
Everyone experiences shame. I’m sure there are some of you that are thinking that you don’t “do” shame. That’s actually not true…unless you’re a sociopath, because according to the research the only people who don’t feel shame are the ones who are unable to feel any empathy. But I can understand why you might think this. Let me give you an example. Years before I learned about shame through Brene Brown’s work, I would not have admitted I had shame. Yet I grew up immersed in an environment of shame. At a subconscious level, I felt incredibly unworthy and so there was no way I would talk about this because it would mean allowing someone else to reinforce what I already felt – utterly worthless. It’s bad enough to feel worthless yourself, but to run the risk that someone else is going to say, “you’re right, you are worthless”, is just too painful.
So it kept me hiding. This is the power of shame. “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” (p. 66, Daring Greatly). We’re all afraid to talk about it and the less we talk about it, the more control it has over our lives. (p. 68, Daring Greatly). There have been people who have spoken things to me and about me that made me feel worthless and I believed those things. But because I felt so much shame, I was terrified to open myself up to someone else, for fear they would further feed my shame. But it is precisely through opening myself up to people who could speak Truth to me that I could begin to stop believing the lies and come out from under shame.
When we’re in shame, there are a couple of ways people tend to deal with it. “…in order to deal with shame, some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame…” (p. 77, Daring Greatly). I fall into the “appease and please” camp. The way I dealt with shame was to try to make everyone happy, to try to be perfect so people would accept me, so I could have the connection I desperately longed for. Although I am more aware of the motivator behind my actions, I still very often find myself trying to appease and please. It takes time to unlearn these things and I will probably be in the process of unlearning this for the rest of my life.
Before I go any further, I want to define a few things. In terms of the research, there is a difference between shame and guilt. Shame is linked to identity – it says, “I AM bad.” Guilt is not. It says, “I did something bad.” There’s an important distinction here.
“We feel guilty when we hold up something we’ve done or failed to do against our values and find they don’t match up. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but one that’s helpful… [It] motivates meaningful change. Guilt[‘s] influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive… Shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying.” (p. 72, Daring Greatly)
This makes perfect sense to me. If I am living in shame, it is who I AM. You can’t change who you are so there is no way to change the things you do that you hate. If you can’t change the things you hate about yourself, what hope is there? It is not surprising to me that shame is correlated with so much destruction.
So there you have it: an explanation of shame. Tomorrow I’ll be taking on the argument that “a little shame is good”.
So I watched Brene Brown’s TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” and it blew my mind. I might have thought before her talk that “yeah, I’ve heard about shame…no big deal…” But she started to describe what it was: the fear of disconnection. She started talking about this idea of “not being good enough”. This grabbed me because I know all about feeling “not good enough.” She said there are people out there who seem to have a deep sense of worthiness (who are these people? I’m certainly not one of them!). And she talked about how vulnerability fit into all this.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What was Brene Brown really saying? It seemed that what she was talking about was at the core of our humanity. It’s what drives our actions. As I processed her talk, I began to see how most of our unhealthy, hurtful actions to others and ourselves, all come from this place of shame, of “not enough”. Why was I yelling at my daughter for having a meltdown? Because deep down I believed I wasn’t a good enough parent and her meltdown was a reflection of my inadequacy.
For me, Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability has given me a new set of eyes to understand myself and others. I understand more than I ever did before the deep, deep feelings and beliefs of “not enough” that drive me to do things that hurt others and hurt myself. I’m not looking at the symptoms anymore; I’m looking at the actual cause. And by going there and unraveling that my whole worldview and belief system is shifting and my life is so much more “whole”. I have more peace, more love, more patience… (hmm, that looks a lot like the fruit of the Spirit). It’s a wonderful, beautiful thing.
And I have so much more compassion for others and even myself. Many times when I see or experience something hurtful, I see it as driven by shame. I know what it is to be driven by shame. It’s a horrible place to live from, so I feel pity and compassion more than anything else.
The research has given me language for what I experience. It is helping to unravel the belief system I held that told me over and over again that I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t until I dove into Brene Brown’s research that I started to understand what that belief system really was. But I can assure you, that what she’s found in the research is absolutely true. I’m so grateful she’s shared it with the rest of us. Truth, knowledge, understanding has a way of bringing incredible freedom and life if we are willing to allow ourselves to be changed.
I’ll talk about what shame actually is tomorrow.
So why do I want to talk about shame and vulnerability all the time? Because I know what it’s like to be ruled by shame. It is a terrible master. Learning about shame and what vulnerability means has brought new levels of freedom in my life. It has been transformational for me.
I grew up in a world where it seemed shame was the fuel we ran on. Of course, I didn’t realize that was what it was at the time. But feelings of never being good enough, no matter how hard I tried to be ‘perfect’, were my constant companion. Love always seemed to be offered on condition: if I behaved like a good little girl, then I would be loved; if I wasn’t ‘good’, I felt the sting of condemnation. I’m sure my parents never intended to communicate this message. But when messages of shame are passed down from generation to generation, that kind of stuff flows straight to the children.
This feeling and believing of “not good enough” resulted in a lot of fear. Constantly afraid of what people would think of me, wondering what I needed to do to feel accepted. I remember thinking to myself in high school that I could not imagine living one day without being afraid. I could not even imagine what that would be like, so ever-present was my fear.
I learned to hate myself and to hide my feelings. Actually, I learned to not feel at all. Although that’s not true: as much as I learned how to numb myself to emotion, those emotions went somewhere. They’ve been locked in a vault in my heart for decades.
I learned to become a chameleon. Just be who you think people are expecting you to be. Don’t dare be yourself…actually I had no idea who I was because “who I was” wasn’t good enough. I needed to be someone else. I believed that was the only way people would accept me. I wanted so desperately to feel accepted, to have connection, I would do anything to get even a small morsel of it.
Much of this belief system was running in the background; I wasn’t consciously aware this is what I believed but it definitely drove my actions. It wasn’t until I began learning about grace and experiencing it that I started crawling out from under my boulder of shame. Ironically, I didn’t start learning about grace when I became a Christian, or even when I was baptized. My life experience was my frame of reference for my Christian faith and because grace was foreign to my life, it was foreign to my Christian life as well.
Learning about grace has been a journey. There’s been a continuous process of unlearning the lies I believed. And as my beliefs shifted I became more open to hearing what grace actually is and I started to experience it through others who understand grace.
And then I saw Brene Brown’s TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” and it blew my mind. More about that tomorrow.
Every time I decide to post something on my blog after completely ignoring it for months, I feel a pang of shame. Has it been THIS LONG since I posted something? If I post something now, will people wonder why I’m even bothering since it seems like I’ve abandoned the whole thing? It’s a little scary jumping back in and I always find myself making excuses so people won’t think poorly of me for being so inconsistent. I get distracted and busy and life seems to vie for my time and I forget about the blog until something inspires me to write again.
So here I am, dusting off the blog (it’s very dusty in here and I hate dusting). But I feel the spark of inspiration so I’m going for it again. This time my inspiration comes from something a friend posted on her blog (allthiscrazygrace.com). There is something called “31 Days” that happens in October every year. You pick a topic and write about it every day for the entire month of October (31 days). I’ve written about shame and vulnerability on my blog before. It’s something I’m very passionate about and it’s something I’ve been chewing on and processing for over 5 years, ever since I saw Brene Brown’s TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”. Lately I’ve been feeling constipated in a sense – there are so many thoughts and ideas and connections around this topic rolling around in my head. I need to get them out…onto the page to get some cohesion to them, to help me put it all together. I’ve been meaning to do this for a couple of months and it hasn’t really happened. When I heard about “31 Days” I thought this might be just the opportunity and motivation to get me doing what I’ve been wanting to do.
So starting October 1st, I’m going to be putting down my thoughts on shame and vulnerability, every day for the month of October. I hope you’ll join me and ultimately I hope that you will be encouraged by my journey and what I’ve learned. It has been life-changing for me and I believe it can be for all of us.
See you on the 1st!
I was listening to a talk by Rachel Held Evans last week. Near the end of her talk she spoke about the difference between healing and a cure. It really struck me. Here’s a link to where she started speaking about this:
I agree with her. I think particularly in our Western society we are overly focused on “the cure”. Now, I’m not saying that the research and efforts put into finding cures for our ailments are bad. I’m talking more about the way we approach sickness in the evangelical church. We pray for healing…but sometimes for God that doesn’t mean a cure. I like how Rachel puts it: healing is “like a meandering river…it takes time”. And it’s relational. We would miss a whole lot of “relationships” if God always answered our prayers for healing with the cure. I don’t say this in any way to demean or belittle people’s suffering and their agonized pleas to be freed from their pain. I hate suffering. I hate watching people suffer.
I also recognize that God doesn’t always cure. And what does that mean? That’s where I get nervous. Because there have been times when it seemed implied that the reason the person was not cured was because they didn’t have enough faith or they had some hidden sin in their life. But what if it wasn’t that all? What if the sick person is not to blame? Maybe that’s it. We need someone to blame in order to explain the cure that didn’t come. These lines of reasoning can do serious damage to a sick person’s faith in God. He becomes a fickle slot machine that will only answer our prayers IF…
Where does that leave grace – if we have to be “good enough” to receive His cure? There is no room for grace here. And there is little room for hope. I find the perspective of healing presented in Rachel’s talk much more grace-filled. It resonates much more with my experience. My husband died suddenly at the age of 29. There were church leaders who prayed the night he died for his resurrection but I didn’t pray that prayer (as much as I wished he wasn’t dead). I had surrendered to God, to the One I had come to believe loved me no matter what, who was not punishing me by taking my husband away. I trusted Him to get me through this and believe me, it was terribly painful and lonely at times (and I wanted the pain to stop). I wanted to enter back into marriage months after my husband died – I wanted that horrible void to be filled. But I had also surrendered that to God saying I wanted a firm foundation entering into my next marriage and I was willing to wait until that foundation was set. It took a while, though not as long as for others I know (but it felt long enough for me). It took that time for God to work some healing in my heart. I can tell you my current marriage is in the beautiful place that it is because God had me wait. If He had provided the “cure” I would be in much worse shape.
So while I believe that God can and does cure people, I also believe He is just as interested in the slow, meandering process of healing, which often goes much deeper than our physical circumstances but in the long run produces much more in terms of our overall wholeness.
They did this experiment at the University of Guelph. What they found was that “These conversations weren’t just connecting people—they were changing people. What began as a pair of apprehensive strangers awkwardly lowering themselves into a ball pit in the middle of campus transformed into dozens of students forming conversation circles in and around the overflowing ball pit all afternoon, rich with fervent hand gestures, engaged body language, and vibrant facial expressions.” One of the conclusions they made was “It is only when we view our fellow students through a lens of understanding, regardless of our religious traditions, cultural heritage, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and beliefs, that we can truly see one another. When we can truly see one another, we seem to like what we see.”
I see the Ball Pit experiment as an intentional way of connecting people in meaningful ways. These people weren’t engaging in small talk, but rather in “smart talk” – speaking about things and in ways that foster connection.
It’s also about “being seen”. In her blog post this week, “Cool Ashes Can’t Burn Us”, Glennon Doyle Melton spoke to this very thing: “what strikes me is how desperately we all need to know that we are seen and heard. We don’t need our lives to be different, or easier, we just need someone to see the pain. To know what we’ve faced and overcome. To say: Yes. I see this. This is real. We don’t need a magician to take it all away – we just need a witness.” “We see ourselves in [each other]. And that means that we are not alone. We might hurt, but we are not alone.”
To me, this is one of the most awesome things about being a part of the body of Christ: we are not alone. Bearing witness is one of the most powerful things we can do for another person. Oh, that we would learn better how to “see” each other (and allow ourselves to be “seen”).
I’ve been thinking about how we are changed. I am a very different person from who I was in high school. But how did I become that different person?
I think there are a number of things and not just one thing. Life experience and choices I’ve made have certainly shaped me. The hand that’s been dealt to me. What others have said about me and the way they’ve treated me. What I’ve believed about those things. Love extended to me. My actions of love toward others. Relationships have played a huge part. No man is an island. We cannot help but be changed by and through our relationships with others.
And although I can look back and see God guiding me down a path that would lead me to this place, it’s still the choices I made along the way that got me here. If I think about life on a continuum, have I been making choices towards gratitude and contentment or choices towards bitterness and anxiety? There are many different ways you can put it: light vs. darkness, life vs. death… I think you see where I’m going.
Under-girding all of this “change” is our belief system. What we believe about the world and ourselves significantly determines our course in life. I don’t bring this up as a point of condemnation: believe the ‘right’ things or you’re doomed! (there was a time where that is exactly how I’d be feeling at this point). I’m thinking more of what Jesus said: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) and when He was asked what work God wanted people to do, He answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29).
I think there is a notion in the evangelical world that we need only pray ‘hard enough’ for God to change us and we’ll be changed. I certainly believe God wants us to be changed. But how much change can He effect if we continue to believe things that work against Him? Let me use an example:
As long as I believed God was more interested in punishing me for my sin than loving me unconditionally I wasn’t about to trust Him. I might try really hard to trust Him but subconsciously I believed He wasn’t ‘safe’ – I thought He was out to hurt me. My subconscious went the route of self-preservation and steered away from trust. When I came to accept (it’s an acceptance and a surrender) that God actually was more interested in loving me than punishing me, then I could begin learning to trust.
So how did my belief system change? I think it started with nigglings. A foreign idea would form in my mind, something different and counter to what I believed before. Perhaps someone would present a different point of view, perhaps it was something I read or heard. I would chew on that idea for awhile (I recognize this process is probably very specific to my personality type). And I would either come to the conclusion of rejecting the idea or (with trepidation) decide to ‘risk’ believing this new truth. What if I believed ‘wrong’? What would happen to me? Would I still be safe? The new truths that were the scariest for me to accept were the ones that disrupted my sense of safety. I understood the world to operate a specific way and I felt ‘safe’ in that worldview. Accepting an alteration to my worldview meant insecurity and unknown territory. Things weren’t as certain as before (although I recognize this is really an illusion). Eventually I became comfortable with the new belief and felt secure once again.
I realize this post is becoming lengthy so I’ll leave with one other comment and continue on in a day or two.
The thing I find most encouraging in this process is that I believe it is God who helps me to change my beliefs. He is gracious and compassionate and I don’t have to stress about not believing the ‘right’ things. My role is to believe that He is faithful and that He will help continue the process of believing the things that are true about Him and discarding the things which are not true. It requires my openness to new things and trusting God in the process.
I find trust to be somewhat ambiguous. It’s hard to nail down. One minute I’m feeling fine and secure, the next I’m anxious and catastrophizing. All it takes is something to change in my circumstances to knock me off balance some days.
I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I felt confident and secure all the time and that my circumstances would not have such sway over my emotions. I imagine if I just understood more of who God is and the incredible depths to which He loves me, I would have no fear. My trust would be perfected and I would lean solely on Him. Yet I’m learning to accept my ‘humanness’. I am not perfect, nor will I be in this life. And that…is…okay. Sometimes trust is believing the things that my head knows but my heart isn’t hearing (or vice versa).
I wonder if one of the reasons we live in this broken world is to learn to ease into trusting: trusting God, trusting others, trusting ourselves. It doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes our trust is broken by others, sometimes we break it ourselves. After these kinds of events the question becomes, will I risk to trust again? We must learn to accept that we are all human and that means we make mistakes, bad choices, and generally screw up (not all the time, but sometimes). So what do we do when that happens? The temptation is to close ourselves off and not trust anyone. We believe this is a way of protecting ourselves. But it doesn’t really work that way. We are wired for connection – we want to feel loved and that we belong. And the way we experience that is in relation to others. So when we close ourselves off from people we are starving a part of ourselves.
At the same time, depending on how badly we’ve been hurt, learning to trust again can be very, very hard. Who wants to put themselves in a place where they’ll be hurt again? It may take baby steps over a long period of time to come to the place of trust again. And there are other cases where the other party has consistently broken trust and the healthy choice is to walk away from the relationship (because remaining in it will only mean continued pain).
Then there are those circumstances beyond our control that wreak havoc on our ability to trust. There are many things we take for granted and when those things are shattered we end up rather gun-shy. I assumed my first husband would be with me until we were old and gray. As that didn’t happen, there are moments (especially when my husband doesn’t arrive home when I think he will) that I get a sick feeling in my stomach that he’s gotten into a car accident and died and that I’ll have to go through the ordeal of losing another husband and enduring the pain all over again. It’s a real joy crusher, I’ll tell you that.
I know there was a time in my life when I was very closed off from everyone. I wouldn’t have put it in those words, but I certainly had trust issues. I don’t think I even trusted myself for I didn’t let myself into the deep, dark recesses of my soul, much less let anyone else. I’m not in that same place now, so what changed for me? After learning how ‘not to trust others’ I started learning to trust as a result of love. It was love expressed to me that was freely given, with no strings attached. And I soaked it up like the dry, parched, thirsty sponge that I was. Looking back I recognize this was dangerous territory for me. I was so desperate for love and connection that I would have done practically anything to get it and keep it, which could have proved disastrous in the hands of a less decent person. The relationship had its faults to be sure (we were both so insecure), but I was generally confident in the other person’s love and care for me. The person? He would become my first husband.
That was a starting point and through the love of others in my life along the way, I have become much more trusting and at peace (generally) than I’ve ever been. When I look back on my journey I see that love has been the springboard for so much positive growth in my life. And love is something we experience predominantly in relation to others. Love is the glue of relationships. And when I speak of “love”, I’m not referring to the gushy feelings one might have. It’s much more solid than that. It is expressed as grace… forgiveness… choosing to look past the other persons’ faults… choosing to do the right thing even when it is the hardest thing. Love takes vulnerability… letting your guard down so the other person can let down theirs. It’s not always easy and sometimes very uncomfortable, even painful, but it is necessary for our well-being and the well-being of those we care about.
God is love. He wants us to experience it in this life. And in experiencing His divine love, we learn how to love others. But it takes trust. Do I actually believe that I am loved (and worthy of love) and that this has absolutely nothing to do with how I perform or what I produce? I know for myself there are times I do not trust that this is true. But for the times when I do ease into that trust, believing that grace is real, I experience much peace and freedom. It is so much easier for me to love others. I am more willing to be vulnerable. And that’s where connection and belonging happen and this great web of relationships we’re a part of is strengthened and blessed.
So I will continue choosing to lean into trust (especially when my negative emotions are hijacking me). And when I get hurt? Some re-adjusting may be in order and I might be tempted to close myself off, but I will choose vulnerability and the path of love. It is where I find true connection and the most fulfillment and joy.
I read an article this morning entitled “I Am A Mother of Two Children and I Cannot (And Will Not) Support Feminism” and a following response article, “To The Mother Who ‘Can’t Support Feminism’ While Raising Her Sons”. It got me thinking.
First, it saddens me that there is such divisiveness over this issue. The first article points to the extremes of feminism and uses that as the argument for why the author won’t support it. This reason doesn’t bear weight with me. I identify myself as a Christian yet there are extremes in Christianity that I do not support. That doesn’t mean I need to stop being a Christian (and I won’t).
The definition of FEMINISM is this: the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men (taken from Dictionary.com). THIS I believe in with my whole heart.
Yes, there are extremes; yes, even male bashing. Yet…yet, the conversation I hear and read on the internet lately is turning more away from “us vs. them” (i.e., women vs. men) to an inclusive movement with women AND men working alongside each other to bring about equality for all. I was encouraged by Emma Watson’s speech to the United Nations this summer as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador launching the HeForShe campaign.
I see progress through the lens of my children as well. It’s interesting that the author of the first article I linked to above has two sons and it is out of her concern for her sons that she has chosen not to support feminism. When my 18 year old son asked me this year what feminism was and I told him it was the belief that women should have equal opportunities and rights as men, he took that as a given. He was appalled when I told him that on average women still aren’t paid the same as men for the same work. And I am delighted to see my 8 year old daughter up in arms over the insinuation that she can’t do something a boy can do (of course she can do what a boy can do!).
There are many campaigns and websites to raise awareness and shed a different light on things. Like the Always #LikeAGirl campaign, like A Mighty Girl website and Facebook page (which is a resource for “smart, confident, and courageous girls”). One of the major things they are doing is combating stereotypes of what it means to be a ‘boy’ and what it means to be a ‘girl’. I love a quote by Joss Whedon (creator of one of my favorite TV series, Firefly, and director & writer of the “Avengers” movie). He was asked in an interview “So, why do you write these strong female characters?” and he responded with “Because you’re still asking me that question.” (“American Rhetoric: Joss Whedon – Equality Now Address”. American Rhetoric (May 15, 2006)
I believe gender stereotypes hurt everybody. Should my daughter be thought of as less of a girl because she likes action movies like the “Avengers” and “Captain America”? Should my son be thought of as less of a guy because he is sensitive and still gives hugs to his mom? Stereotypes put people in boxes. Stereotypes can also justify inequality. Until very recently in human history women were still considered less than a person and the property of others. Although our culture has evolved to the point of discarding these views (most people would think it ludicrous today to refer to a girl as property), our gender stereotypes serve to compartmentalize what women and men are capable of. This puts limitations on everyone. I believe it hinders the gifts that each one of us can bring to the world (particularly when those gifts don’t fall along traditional gender-determined lines).
My dream would be for respect for all people, that we would see ourselves together on this earth, not separate, not us vs. them. That we could feel safe with each other (and thereby eliminate our need to be combative towards each other). We share a common humanity in that we all breathe the same air, feel the same emotions, experience shame and empathy. We are not so different from each other. On the flip side, we are all unique and we bring our own unique gifts to the world, the gift of who we are, individually and collectively. We each have our own unique limitations and these limitations can be genetic and/or environmental. Some limitations can be overcome, others cannot. But let us not add more limitations onto our brothers and sisters. Let us encourage each other to reach for the stars in our pursuits in this life, no matter who or what gender we are.
Canada is a truly beautiful country. I had been to the West Coast before but never to the East Coast and this summer my husband and I took a trek out to the East and saw A LOT of Canada. We took the train from Saskatoon to Toronto and then rented a car and spent time in the Niagara Falls area, drove through upstate New York, spent time in Montreal, drove through Maine, hung around the Bay of Fundy, and ended up at a wonderful bed & breakfast on Prince Edward Island. For the trek back we stopped in Quebec City and then drove back to Toronto to take the train back to Saskatoon (stopping in Winnipeg to see friends for the last leg). It was a wonderful vacation and through it all, I was struck by the diverse beauty of our nation. I also realized that Canada has a lot of BUSH and I don’t know why people complain about the FLAT of the Prairies when most of them are surrounded by BUSH!.
Anyways, I was looking through the photos I’d taken on our trip because I was putting together my annual Christmas calendars. I usually just do one with photos of our family but I decided to create one of landscapes from our vacation for myself to hang in my office. Here’s some of the photos I’m using:
I love what she says at the end: “Grace is the only buzz I have left… and they will take if from my cold, dead hands.” I agree. I wouldn’t give up GRACE for anything!
I sense God the Father extending an invitation to me. An invitation to try, to risk, to step out of my comfort zone.
I think He’d like me to start writing again, on a much more consistent basis. Although I live in less fear than I used to, there is still so much that holds me back, particularly when it comes to anything with the possibility of failure. What if I start writing and then stop? What if I can’t be consistent? What if I can’t think of anything to write about? It’s all very frightening to me. I realize there are other people who see these things as an opportunity to grow. But I don’t fall into that category. Shame lurks behind that door, the door of trying something new. When it comes to risking failure, somehow my identity, my self-worth, is at stake.
When it comes down to it, I believe I am not enough. Not good enough to do it, to try. There are others much more capable, more gifted, who can do it better. Who do I think I am?
If I don’t succeed it means that I am a “failure” (not that I failed while trying something). Why is my self worth at stake? Why am I blasted with shame in this land – the land of trying, of exploration, of opportunity, of making mistakes? My rational self knows that true creativity and innovation live in that place. Yet my heart and emotions hijack me and keep me paralyzed.
When I lay it out there, put it on the examining table – making mistakes – it’s not so bad. So what if I make a mistake? Isn’t this what I say to my children all the time: “It’s okay to make a mistake. Learn from it. Try again. I won’t be mad at you.” Why can’t (why don’t) I tell myself the same things?
There is grace for making mistakes. If I wasn’t afraid to try I would have so much more freedom in my life. And I know the only way to really know if something is “safe” is to take the risk to try (and find out in the trying that it really isn’t so scary – that I actually am “enough”).
So I will accept this invitation to try…and remember the grace I have for my daughter (who doesn’t want to practice reading because its too hard and scary). I keep encouraging her that she is learning and getting better at it, that she doesn’t have to compare herself to others (and how much better they are at it). All I’m asking her to do is to try. And it’s okay if she makes a mistake.
I want to learn to have the same love and compassion for myself.
A copy of “Living Light News” showed up in my mailbox last week. It’s a Christian publication that comes around a couple of times a year. When I got to the last page and read the headline, I groaned inwardly: “No Cheque is Big Enough to Pay This Off!”. The picture under the headline is a zoom-in of a cheque with “NOT ENOUGH” written in as the ‘amount’. The article goes on to say that “we have all incurred a huge debt that no amount of money” (or good works or donations to charity) can pay off. The article ends with a prayer to God that starts off with, “Dear God, I am truly sorry for sinning against You. Please forgive me for the wrong things I have done…”
This is pretty typical in my experience of the “sinner’s prayer”. It always starts off with a focus on our sin and need for forgiveness. The focus is on how we are “bad” and because of that, God is going to punish us. This looks a lot like shaming a person into praying the sinner’s prayer to me. And in light of Brene Brown’s research on shame I would argue that this is a counterproductive approach to encouraging people towards a relationship with God. Here’s what Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012):
“…there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior. In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution. Again, it is human nature to want to feel worthy of love and belonging. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.” (p.73)
We all want to experience connection with others, to feel that we belong and that we are ‘enough’. ‘Enough’ to be accepted and loved apart from our actions. So why does evangelical Christianity think emphasizing that we are “not enough” for God is a good way to encourage people to follow Him? The motivating factor here is fear. Fear and shame lead to disconnection, not connection. And I don’t think that is God’s desire for us at all. Love is the essence of who God is (1 John 4:8) and it is His perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God loves us and wants connection with us. He doesn’t want us to hide from Him.
I believe it is our feelings of shame that keep us disconnected from God and others. Look at the story of Adam and Eve. Once they had tasted the forbidden fruit they hid because they were naked. I think it’s safe to say they were experiencing shame. I believe most, if not all, behaviors that are defined as ‘sin’ have their roots in shame.
So with that in mind, I propose there is a better, more positive way of introducing people to a relationship with God. And the foundation is love:
You are made in the image of God and He loves you. And because He loves you, He wants to experience this life with you. He longs for connection with YOU. His son, Jesus, came to earth to show us what God’s love is like. He came to break the power of shame in our lives that keeps us disconnected from God and from others. Jesus introduced us to grace. It means God already accepts you and that you are ‘enough’…right now. All He asks is that you believe it and accept it. If you’re feeling crappy about yourself, believe that you are forgiven. If you don’t think you’re ‘worthy’ of this kind of love, it’s simply not true. Your ‘worth’ is not based on your actions but on the fact that God says you are precious and beautiful to Him. He doesn’t want you to hide in shame any longer. He wants you to be free. Will you take Him up on His invitation?
Disclaimer: please understand that what I’ve written above does not mean I don’t believe what the Bible says about sin – I do believe that we are all broken (we have all sinned) and that we need to accept God’s forgiveness; I believe the consequences of sin is death…’death’ being the damage to our souls from years of living in shame and disconnection from God
I’ve been thinking about dreams and disappointments lately. How does one balance the two?
I was listening to a song by Hedley the other day, “Anything”. Here’s part of the chorus:
Everybody said boy don’t go any higher
(uh, uh, forget that) I can do anything
Never push the limit and don’t play with fire
(uh, uh, forget that) I can do anything
I think there’s been a shift in our society and I see it expressed in pop culture: “follow your dreams – you can do anything”. To a certain extent I agree with this. I believe that it’s important to follow our dreams and that too many people (including me) have been told our dreams are not worth chasing, they’re impractical, irresponsible, and so on.
However…life does not happen exactly how we plan it and sometimes those dreams are never realized. I admit that I’m jaded in this area. I grew up in an environment that told me to be responsible, to play it safe, and that my dreams were irrelevant. AND…my life has not happened how I planned it. I had many dreams I wanted to share with my husband and then he passed away. Part of the grieving process was learning to let go of some of those dreams and learning to fulfill some of them without him (like taking my boys to Legoland).
So how does one balance their dreams with their disappointments? IS there a balance? Or is there a different angle to this? I’ve been thinking about this in the context of my own life but more importantly I want to ‘wrestle this through’ for the sake of my children. I don’t want to pass on my jaded upbringing to them where their dreams are not important. At the same time I don’t want them to grow up believing life is going to go how they plan and then they’re unable to navigate the disappointments that come.
I was talking to a friend about this and she said sometimes we have to revise the plan. Our dreams are still worth pursuing but sometimes there’s a different way than we envisioned to get to those dreams. I think there’s wisdom in this. We need to learn to be flexible.
I’d also add another dimension: we cannot let our dreams define who we are. My worth is far beyond the fulfillment of my dreams. When my worth is wrapped up in my dreams and then the dreams don’t happen, it’s a disaster because unfulfilled dreams mean I am worthless. And that’s when it’s really hard to swallow disappointment. If I can keep my dreams separate from my sense of worth I can take risks and pursue my dreams and even if the dreams aren’t realized I can still be ok with it, knowing that at least I tried. I think it’s worse to avoid pursuing our dreams in order to play it safe and live with regret never knowing if my dream could have happened because I never even tried.
This is a lesson I’m learning slowly. Taking risks always seemed too scary for me because the thought of failing was paralyzing and kept me from trying. And I would feel so annoyed with those people who seemed to freely pursue their dreams spouting that “they could do anything”. I wanted to yell back, “So what happens when you can’t do anything?” These people never seemed to live in reality like the rest of us who had to deal with the disappointments of life. But maybe I was so negative because my dreams equaled my worth and it was better to avoid them than risk failing and being worthless. And yet I wanted to follow them and I was annoyed with the people who seemed able to do that where I couldn’t.
So for me, the first step was to accept that I still have worth…even if I fail. Mind you, I haven’t completely learned this yet. But I’ve learned it enough to be able to take some risks and try things I’ve never done before. To actually acknowledge that I have dreams and that they’re worth pursuing, even knowing that disappointments will come. I am realizing that I am worth pursuing my dreams.
As I said I’m still ‘wrestling this through’ so I’d love to hear what you think about all this. Feel free to leave a comment.
I’ve been looking at the parable of the prodigal son in a new way lately (Luke 15:11-32). I think it’s more a parable of the hired hand.
“I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.'” (Luke 15:18-19)
Twice the prodigal son says this. Once to himself as he is rehearsing what he will say when he returns home and once when he actually sees his father.
And this is the older brother’s response:
“…but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to.” (Luke 15:29, emphasis mine)
I think for many Christians, we have made ourselves the hired hand. We have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior but we can’t accept God’s lavish grace. We don’t deserve to be rescued. We must do something to make up for it. We OWE God.
So we make ourselves the hired hand. We slave away in service to God but many of us don’t understand that He is not demanding works from us.
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6); which Jesus quotes twice (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7).
I know I certainly have lived that way. And my ‘works’ were based on fear – fear that I would not be ‘good enough’ for God, that He would not accept me if I didn’t behave in an ‘acceptable’ way. But as I’ve let go of striving and trying to be ‘good’ and simply…accepted…grace… I can be more like the prodigal son when he returned home. He accepted the party his father threw for him. He received the Father’s free gift.
What would have happened if the prodigal son had dug in his heels and said to the Father, “Absolutely not! You can’t throw this party for me. I don’t deserve it. I’m making myself your hired hand and that’s that!” I think we subconsciously do that to God.
And the older brother, the ‘good’ one, didn’t understand either. He stayed behind and was faithful to the Father, but he didn’t see himself as the free recipient of the Father’s riches. He saw himself as a slave, as a hired hand (“…all these years I’ve slaved for you…” Luke 15:29).
And yet…”His father said to him, ‘…everything I have is yours.'” (Luke 15:31, emphasis mine)
Do we understand that everything God has is ours without having to work for it? That we can cease our striving and rest in grace? Or do we live our lives as hired hands?