Shame and Guilt and Acceptance

Once, a long time ago, a friend of mine valiantly tried to convince me that I was starving myself to death. I was having none of it. I was not quite ready to admit that my eating was beyond weird and had moved from bad habits that I acted on compulsively into a Substance Use Disorder. I was using the chemicals that my brain produced when I was in starvation mode to comfort myself and distract me from the deeper issues that were causing me great suffering. My life was out of control. Today, I can admit that I knew something was wrong; I can tell the truth about the shame I felt about my body and my starvation diet. Shame plagued me, dominating my thoughts. It berated me, insisting that I was without value unless I was super skinny, practically perfect, and pleasing to all.

Shame is the emotion that tells me that I am broken beyond repair. Shame is not guilt. Guilt is an emotional acknowledgement that I have done a particular thing wrong. It is circumstance specific. Shame is all-pervasive; shame lies and tells me that I am UNIQUELY AND TERMINALLY FLAWED. Back then? I was withdrawn, defensive and arrogant. I believed that people who ate three meals a day were weak-willed, even disgusting. This is what a Substance Use Disorder costs us. It robs us of our ability to love ourselves, God and others. I was also filled with self-loathing. It’s a Jedi mind trick to be both arrogant and filled with shame but most of us who suffer with Substance Use Disorders are masters at holding these two perspectives in one mind.

Before the underlying issues of our disease can be addressed - depression, anxiety, trauma, guilt and shame, trouble coping with real life on life’s terms, etc. - we need to acknowledge the truth about our situation. The combination of arrogance paired with self-loathing contributes to denial. It basically means having a messed up perspective on life. If we have a serious problem that is messing up our life - at some point we are going to have to collapse into the admission that something is wrong. We need help.

I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed

Has been floating forty days and nights

On the flood of my tears.

My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.

The sockets of my eyes are black holes;

Nearly blind, I squint and grope.

Psalm 6:6-7 The Message

The Sin Stigma of Substance Use Disorder

How do we make sense of the language of “sin” as it relates to addiction? If Substance Use Disorder can be compared to diabetes, where does the concept of “sin” fit in? Elbert Hubbard (not to be confused with L. Ron Hubbard) wrote, “We are punished by our sins not for them.” Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean-born psychiatrist, was known for integrating psychotherapy and the spiritual traditions in his work. He talks about sin as it relates to ignorance, difficulties, distresses and embarrassments as “a disorder of awareness and an interference with action.”

Think about the scriptures we have considered in this material thus far - recovery that heals is rooted in love, in particular - God’s love. God chases us down, not to berate us but to restore us, in love. Recovery is an opportunity to increase our capacity for honesty. Substance Use Disorder is disorienting; we lose our way; we lose the essence of who we were created to be - beloved children, made in the image of God. Do these concepts sound like God is more concerned with our “sin” or our restoration?

The “s” word - sin - can leave us feeling defensive and judged. Personally, I often feel a lot shame when I think of my behaviors as “sinful”. This shame-filled reaction stymied my recovery until I was able to understand that “sin” can be understood as “living independently of God” or “missing the mark”. Sin means losing touch with my spirituality, my true purpose for living, and my capacity to live reasonably comfortably in community with others. This is a by-product of my condition, not a condemnation of my personhood.

This is not to diminish the role of “sin” in our lives; thinking of sin in the way that the above authors suggest can actually deepen our capacity to reckon with it through the lens of compassion. It invites each of us to nonjudgmentally observe ourselves and get honest about our issues.

... whatever overpowers you, enslaves you. 2 Peter 2:19 (b) CEB

Why NOT me?

36-39 As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, “Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be. 40 Philip showed up in Azotus and continued north, preaching the Message in all the villages along that route until he arrived at Caesarea.

Acts 8:36-40 MSG

Luke is such a creative story teller! What a fantastic narrative! Chariots and men running beside them. Philip talking to angels and being swept off by the Spirit of God - high drama. But also something else quite lovely. “Why can’t I be baptized?” asks the eunuch. This is a question of such hope! Frankly, there were a ton of reasons why someone might consider eunuch unfit for time, attention or baptism.

He was not an Israelite. He was a foreigner - Ethiopian. He was castrated in a world that values a family that has many arrows in their quiver - as the old saying goes. He just wasn’t the guy that God’s chosen people would have noticed. He didn’t seem like the kind of person God would choose. Time and again, God says, “I choose all people.”

I hear stories every week from people who do not feel chosen. I witness folks who behave in ways that indicates to me that they are primed to feel rejected. Often it appears to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy for people who seem pre-wired in every situation to feel left out and alone and seem to hone in on any perceived slight as a reason to confirm their belief that they are not “good enough.” The eunuch asks a question that implies a state of mind - I do belong. I can be part of. I will get baptized! Today - what can you believe in about yourself in light of who God is and how he provides?

The Limits of Forgiveness: Part II

3 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”


Luke 17:3-4, NRSV


We're unpacking the "limits" of forgiveness. Yesterday we talked about the fact that Jesus' vision of forgiveness applies to those who stand in God's community. The second limit is this:


Repentance


The passage says, “…if there is repentance, you must forgive.” Is it true, then, that a lack of repentance does not oblige us to forgive? It's unclear to me how much to read into this because I believe the most fundamental point being made is that we remain ever open to forgive those who repent (in community). Remember this instruction is to people who are in community together. This instruction that obligates forgiveness, then, is a secondary limitation (because you are only obliged to follow this procedure in community).


But, all the same, it is certainly possible that a lack of repentance does not oblige us to forgive. Repentance itself may be a limitation of forgiveness in in community relationships.


A word of caution: It's important how we use this information. It's probably not a great idea to use these limitations as excuses or loop holes. I'm pointing out these limitations not so that we can get off the hook, but so that we can stop shaming ourselves for how difficult forgiveness can be. These limitations help us see that there is not something wrong with us when we struggle to forgive. It is so often the case that it is forgiveness itself that has limits, and not that we are "bad" at forgiving.


If we've been wronged, there may be a great deal of shame that comes with that. If we've been wronged, and we cannot "forgive" (in our culture's definition), then we're living in the shame of being a person who is wronged and the shame of being a "bad" forgiver. That just is not right.

Generosity

I have not always appreciated generosity for the gift it is.  Generosity isn’t just about sharing the last cookie or perhaps making a sacrificial financial donation to a worthy cause - I understand that kind of generosity and have myself been the grateful recipient of such generosity.


Generosity from Brown’s perspective is new to me.  Here’s what she says, “Learning how to set the boundaries that allow us to be generous in our assumptions about others.  The challenge is being honest and clear with others about what’s okay and not okay.”  p. 150 Braving the Wilderness


What does this mean?


Here’s how it works with me.  If my husband does something that irritates me, I am quick to assume the worst.  I might think - he did that to irritate me.  He doesn’t care about me.  He doesn’t understand me.  My husband is a jerk.  This is the opposite of Brene’s call to generosity.


When my husband does something to irritate me and I remember to be generous in my assumptions - I might think:  Huh.  What’s that all about?  I wonder what he was thinking and I am curious to ask him about his choice.  Is he doing okay?  Is he tired?  Does he need help?


Generous assumptions result in curiosity and inquiry, not judgment.


As I am learning to practice Brene’s kind of generosity, our conflict has decreased and my sense of love and well-being has increased.  It’s really lovely.


For the most part, my husband does not wake up in the morning and set out to drive me nuts.  He is doing the best he can and it is quite wonderful.  Living generously, I can say the same about me.  


Why not live more generously?  How can it possibly hurt?

Giving and receiving

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is actually a by-product of practicing the spiritual discipline of not judging.  I don’t know why, but I am often astonished at how quickly someone is able to help me if I ask.


Problems that seem confounding to me often have clear, often simple solutions that others can explain to me.  I hope this is also true in the reverse.


Once I learn, through trial and error and often a fair amount of failing, who can be helpful in situations that I find impossible to understand, the beautiful side-effect is a deepening cache’ of folks I can call on in my time of need.


This frees up my time for the things that I can help someone else with - time I previously wasted spinning in uncertainty and a skills deficit in areas of life where I really, truly need to ask for help in order to resolve an issue.


This doesn’t have to be major stuff.  For example, when I study and prepare for a message series, I always cram too much into a single outline for a weekend message.  I will ALWAYS have this tendency.  Twenty years in and I STILL CRAM TOO MUCH IN TO A SINGLE MESSAGE OUTLINE.  What I have learned is that Scott, our co-pastor at NSC, can read my notes in 3 minutes or less and suggest to me what he thinks is my strongest point, what is extraneous information, and where in the outline I stop one message and go on to a completely new message.  I rely on Scott to help me in my weakness.  He never has this problem, and that’s great, because I could not be helpful in solving it for him.  But he has another area of message delivery that I can sometimes provide advance feedback on and I hope he finds it as helpful as I find him in my own preparation.


This is no big deal.  The world will no crash down around us if we do not practice this exchange of feedback.  If I go way too long in a message, the checked out faces in the room will teach me to stop talking.  But this kind of mutuality is helpful.  The scripture refers to this I think when it says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  It is not suggesting a cover up.  But it is saying, I think, that when we love and trust one another, it is a natural thing to rely on one another to cover our perennial weaknesses.  This strengthens the whole of a community.  It is helpful.


If Scott were to judge my over-preparedness, then I could not ask him to help me and in fact, he wouldn’t be very helpful even if I asked.  His judgment would negate his capacity to help.  


Is judgment getting in the way of love in your life?

Integrity

Integrity requires that we choose to live courageously by our core values over the comfort of taking the easy way out when faced with a tough decision that calls our values into question.  Recently someone offered me a high profile speaking engagement that may have helped our local community spread the word about our ministry.  They also required that I sign a release form that gave them ownership of the content I would present.  I chose not to speak.  


In past years, I might have been distracted by the perceived opportunity to share with our larger community all the wonderful things that I believe Northstar Community participates in out of my unbridled enthusiasm for our mission.  I wouldn’t have thought about the implications of willingly signing over my creative and proprietary rights in the process.


Today, I realize that this was not a respectful request when the speaker (me) was not being paid or even acknowledged for their work.  This is not an integrity move, and it took more courage than it should have for me to respectfully decline the offer.


Many carrots will be dangled in front of our faces that will tempt us to make decisions that are not consistent with our core values.  One way I am learning to distinguish a real carrot from fake fruit is giving myself time to make decisions.  All decisions.  Even small decisions.  Pausing to prepare, think about the implications of my choices, notice and acknowledge times when I want to avoid acting with courage - this time is necessary for me to live with integrity.


It’s not easy.  What shortcuts have you been tempted to take?  How have you allowed an “opportunity” to blind you to the cost of pursuing it?

Decency

In Brene’ Brown’s model of “B.R.A.V.I.N.G” - the first three things - boundaries, reliability, and accountability are fairly obvious and oft talked about concepts.  But  V is for “VAULT” really caught my attention.


The skill set she puts in this category goes like this:  “Learning how to keep confidences, to recognize what’s ours to share and what’s not.  The challenge is to stop using gossip, common enemy intimacy, and oversharing as a way to hotwire connection.” (p. 150 Braving the Wilderness)


These concepts are all ways Brene says we use fake connections to imitate true belonging.  When we gossip it feels all connected...until we imagine others gossiping about us.  Oversharing feels like intimacy until we realize that we shared with someone who was not safe and the sharing backfires.  Common enemy intimacy is when we experience a connective zing based on connecting with others based on who and what we are against.  This intimacy is particularly pernicious because it often joins us to people we with whom we share no common core values.  


This is why my Republican friends are rightfully upset because their Democrat friends are now labelling them a rascist because they voted for President Trump in the election.  My Democrat friends are devastated that their Republican friends say, “Hey, there is no way I could vote for crooked Hillary.”    The name calling and the connection each political party feels when they gather together and bash the other is an example of common enemy bonding.  Each is making assumptions that the other side believes are false.  But here’s the real problem.  We are making enemies out of people who are not enemies.  This is a problem.  


Folks, beware this kind of bonding.  It’s indecent.

Accountability

I am currently stalking the news articles coming out of Chicago and the Bill Hybels disaster.  Hybels, Senior Pastor for decades at Willow Creek Church - a wildly popular mega-church that was begun by Hybels in the suburbs of Chicago - ultimately ended his career under the cloud of sexual misconduct.


But first, everyone went to great pains to dodge accountability for these accusations.  The women were ignored, intimidated and eventually publicly maligned in an attempt to hold onto the image of this man who many had revered.


Eventually, the house of cards came tumbling down and now the entire board and the two newly appointed Senior Pastors have resigned as a first step in trying to make amends for their own blindness.  Much is left to be done before anyone can say what will come of this tragic fall of one man and the system that was so invested in his reputation that they failed to require him to be reputable.  


Taking responsibility is just plain hard.  But it is part of respectability.


This is not the first powerful Christian leader ultimately wrecked by his own hand nor will be be the last.  But it is a cautionary tale and we should listen.  Power, whether it is power in business, church, or at home, is a very potent and potentially toxic poison.


It is not good for any of us to feel like we are above the standards of decent human behavior.  


Don’t know what human decent behavior looks like?  That’s ok, many of us have to learn these practices as adults.  But learn we must lest we continue to perpetuate relationships where power rules and the peace that passes all understanding is nowhere to be found

Reliability

I am most vulnerable to resentment and a host of other self-defeating attitudes when I disappoint myself in some way.  I do care about what others think of me and often rely on a team of trusted friends and loved ones to help me decide how to think, feel and behave.  Whether I follow advice or strike out on my own independent decision making, I have learned that being reliable is a thing that I need to practice.


Reliability is not has hard as it sounds.  When paired with decent self-care, I have figured out that I can be reasonably reliable.  At its core, reliable means that when I say “YES!” I follow through and do it.  When I say “NO!” I do the appropriate actions that fit with my no.


I am currently reading and rereading an excellent book called Dopesick by Beth Macy.  In it, Macy unpacks the current opioid crisis from both a historic and personal perspective.  The stories are heartbreaking and achingly familiar.  Toward the end of the book, yet another of the young women who she had followed through her opioid addiction succumbs to the lifestyle and is found dead in a dumpster.  She wrote of the extended family’s tragic response - continuing to bicker, judge and blame one another for either “enabling” or following “tough love” principles.


She implied, I think, that this was just more missing the point.  


It make me think about being reliable.  I find in my own recovery work that it is a skill that is desperately needed.  This is a tough affliction, and more than anything, I suspect families need to learn everything they can, get clear about their core values in loving their afflicted one, and reliably apply these principles.


Recently I participated in a funeral service for a woman who I did not know but loved.  I had come to love her by knowing her parents as they faithfully attended our Family Education Program (that educates family about the disease of substance use disorder and offers support and encouragement for families as they make difficult decisions).  These folks were RELIABLE in their measured, healthy, loving response to their daughter, even though she herself resisted treatment.  At her death, this mom and dad grieved and were sorrowful but they exhibited little to no regret, recrimination or blame.  I find this remarkable and extremely unusual.


I suspect their own reliability gave them the gift of  no regret, recrimination or feelings of blame to work through.  Their compassion for both self and others was beautiful.  They had done their best; they had been reliable; they had lived with boundaries.


Tomorrow, we will talk about the third of 7 skills that strengthen us and reduce the likelihood that we will wallow in resentment.

Respectable Living

In yesterday’s blog, I told a story about a time when I set, held and respected the boundary of self-respect.  I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time.  I thought I was  mad and not going to take the belittling and insulting behavior of another anymore.


Resentment is the feeling we get when we think life is unfair; shame is the feeling we have when we believe that we are broken, wrong and of no worth.  People do not MAKE us feel resentment or shame.  


Which means, I believe, that the number of times we wrestle with both might just be related to how we treat ourselves than how others treat us.  Feel resentful, envious, jealous and maybe a pinch unworthy?


What better way to take a different path than to behave respectably.  Do good.  Be kind.  Work hard.  Learn from mistakes.  Live our life not constantly looking around and asking how others are evaluating our life.


This is the best boundary work we can ever do.  Boundary work, it turns out, is one of 7 skills Brene’ Brown says we need to strengthen our capacity for courage.


It isn’t about asking others to treat us as we hope to be treated.  We decide to live in such a way as to be satisfied and unashamed of the life we are making.  How others evaluate that?  That’s their problem.


As an adult looking back on that dinner table debacle, my family’s socio-economic status was barely different than the frat boy’s situation.  At that point in time I had an intact family and he had a family dealing with grief and loss and a new move to a new city and who knows what else.


His accusations were unfounded, but if I had been insecure, freaked out, emotional and neurotic, I might have believed every stinking word he said.  Not because it was true, but because I lacked boundaries.


A strong back is the result of knowing who we are, deciding to live congruently with the values we profess to believe, and sometimes be willing to stand alone when our boundaries are under attack.  It took decades before I developed a more consistently practiced strong back, but it is kind of neat to look back and realize that way back then I had one small spark of dignity within me.  To that young girl I say, “Way to go!"

Self-assurance

One of my most shaming moments, in my whole entire library of shaming interactions, happened over a Thanksgiving meal during my Senior year of high school.  I had this boyfriend, and he had a family that was extremely different than mine.  His mother had passed away, his father traveled a ton for work, his older brother was off at UVA, and he had a younger sister who was a junior at our high school.  I was often outraged by the lack of adult supervision he and his sister had when his dad traveled.  I felt sorry for the whole lot of them, even the oldest brother who seemed like such a frat boy and pain in the neck.  I in no way felt inferior to these suffering people, so it came as quite a shock to find out that they viewed me as beneath them.  


Here’s what happened.  The older brother was rip roaring drunk by the time dinner started.  We were barely through the gourmet appetizers when he began teasing me.  The teasing quickly devolved into taunting.  He called me names.  He disparaged the neighborhood I lived in.  He suggested I was a social climber.  And just let me tell you, when I was in high school, I owned “social” and this guy I was dating?  He was new to the school and did NOT.  Just to be clear.


The father in this family of sufferers said not one word.  My boyfriend said not one word.  I realized I had no one to defend me and from somewhere deep inside me I realized that I may literally live on the other side of the railroad tracks, but I was better than this.


I stood up.


I walked to the kitchen and called my mom and said, “Come get me.”


I returned to the dining room and said something along these lines, “Let me tell you guys something.  In my house, this guy here,” I pointed to my boyfriend, “is treated with respect.  And just so you understand this point, no one really likes him that much.  And guests in our house?  They are treated with respect.  You do not deserve to have a guest at your table.”  And I walked out with what I hope was regal and righteous indignation.


Hold the clapping.  I ended up dating that boy with the bad family for three more years.  I should have called it quits that very day.  


But I had a moment when I belonged to myself and it was good.  I felt no resentment for my treatment afterwards, just continued sadness and not too much admiration for the family that would behave like that.  When you do the next right thing, there is less room for resentment or other hard feelings to fester.  Unfortunately, I did not use my good sense to break up with the boy or the family.  You win some; you lose some.  But here is something I am trying to remember every day:  if I do not belong to myself, respect myself by being respectable, and stand up for myself when others treat me with disdain - I need to first and foremost give myself a kick in the pants.  It is awful when people treat us as unworthy or less than but it is worse when we treat ourselves that way.  We, above all others, can choose to live in a way that confirms for us that we deserve to be treated well and require that as a condition of relationship.

Shame and Belonging

Sure, when the discussion at work devolved into a discussion of personality, my kid could have gotten distracted with feelings of inadequacy, shame or most likely resentment when told by the vendor that “I have never connected with you interpersonally.”  But this is counter to radical sacred belonging.  My kid had to dig deep and decide what was at stake.  Was their value at stake?  No.  Was this vendor’s livelihood at stake?  Yes.  Far better, one could even make a case that it is far more sacred, to not get distracted with petty insecurities to the detriment of helping another person keep their job.  In this way, whether or not these two ever “connect interpersonally”, my child has lived out of BEING by valuing compassion for another and considering the vendor’s need (she needed to know that her job was at risk due to poor performance AND learn what she could do to save her position) over any light and momentary freak out about interpersonal connection.  


In my case, I had to accept that my belonging in my family from my father’s perspective was contingent upon me denying my own conclusions about where I was most needed during a family crisis in deference of his preference.  This violates the core meaning of belonging.  What would happen if I chased after the approval of my dad at the expense of my own conscience?  I would then violate my own value of being a woman with a strong back and a soft heart.  This I cannot do.  And if I had - then that would have been on me.  


Listen up, this is very important:  I have on many, many, many occasions violated my own sense of right in a vain attempt to chase after the acceptance of others.  Oh the stories I could tell about my abandonment of core values in order to win over another person.  Hot shame courses through me as I think of times when I abdicated my own sense of goodness, rightness or fair play in order to feel the approval of another. I acknowledge the constant pull in both small and large ways to chase this high of perceived acceptance.  There are no guarantees that I can remain self-aware enough to consistently maintain a strong back and tender front approach to life.  


But here’s the thing.  It does not deliver.  It’s a sham.  Better that we lose belonging in some situations shooting for authentic expressions of who we BE then falling into the pit of shame when we realize that even our best efforts to chameleon ourselves into the good graces of others doesn’t produce true belonging.  In my opinion. ( But you should listen because I have a ton of experience with losing for all the wrong reasons!)


Maybe tomorrow we will talk about what I learned during one of my most shaming interactions EVER

Success, desire, and shame

Continuing on from yesterday...click here to get caught up.

 

I would hazard a guess that most of us reading this recognize life is about much more than doing well financially and gaining prestige.  Yet, I would also hazard a guess that each of us lives with some anxiety about how well we do financially in relation to our peers and fear we do not receive the recognition we deserve.  Cognitively, we understand our culture's definition of success does not lead us where we want to go.  It leads only to an endless cycle of competition and anxiety.  No matter how well you do, there is always someone out there who is better at your "thing," who has more wealth, who has more prestige.  We recognize, intellectually, that the only ends of this pursuit are disappointment, shame, regret, and such things.

 

Emotionally, I'm not so sure.  The "heart space" does not easily conform to what we "know" because our deepest desires, too heavily ingrained to be swayed by thoughts alone, push us towards wealth and prestige in spite of our mental reminders to choose a more nuanced or noble goal.  When we live in tension between what we "know" and what we "desire" then we're stuck with the resulting shame of believing we aren't living how we should be. 

 

And so, we have lingering questions. 

 

What vision of success fosters hope, joy, and meaning, rather than anxiety and competition?

 

How might we internalize such a vision so we do not live in a perpetual state of shame over the fact that we do not desire what we should desire?

Pointing out other people's problems can be costly

In our community we work hard to be students in the field of addiction and recovery.  Our community was founded on the big dream that families suffering from addiction, abuse, trauma and mental health issues needed a safe place to explore spirituality that suits their unique needs.  We felt there were many wonderful worshiping communities that supported the perspective that “Every day with Jesus is better than the day before.”  We wanted to be a place where it would be ok to say, “My life sucks; I want to know what God has to say about that.” Recently we were presented with the idea that calling another person an “addict” or “alcoholic” is shaming.  We offered families new language and suggested they try on this phrase, “My loved one suffers from a substance use disorder.”  My Lord, you would have thought we had suggested that the Pope wasn’t Catholic. Change is hard.  People pushed back.  Folks in recovery said, “Hey, I’m not ashamed; I identify with the label addict/alcoholic, whatever my ism is.  Why pretty it up?”  Family members said, “Hey, it took me ten years to acknowledge his/her addiction, are you suggesting that I pretend they AREN’T ADDICTED?”  Plenty of frustration and attitude came with the feedback - until I offered further explanation.  So the next time I pitched this idea, I said all the usual blah blah blah of new language and shame reduction, and then I said this:  “Hey, it’s like this.  If I ask my husband:  do I look fat in this outfit?  And he responds yes - that’s on me.  I own the fact that he responded to my feedback request.  BUT IF HE SAYS WITHOUT MY SOLICITING INPUT, ‘Babe, your backside is the size of Texas.’  Life at the McBean house is going to get very chilly.”

 

Everyone went, “Oh.” And from that day forward, there was no pushback.

 

Here’s the principle:  we are a community that practices reciprocity.  We are usually a fairly safe place to tell the truth.  I introduced a new concept but didn’t explain it clearly.  They taught me that I needed to improve my communication.  We kept working together and ultimately they showed me how I could illustrate a pretty big recovery point:  There are things we can (and arguably should) say about ourselves but are not as ok with having said about us. 

 

Reciprocity is a way to learn how to help us all grow up without a side order of growing resentful.  Do you have skills that make reciprocity possible?  What skills might those be? 

Stay tuned...

Shame is a Spiritual Antagonist

I don’t know how to keep shame from creeping into a room. Heck, I don’t even know how to keep shame from eating away at my heart.  But because I personally have struggled with shame so much I have learned a few techniques that help me manage it, even as I work and wait for healing.  Shame is going to make merry anytime we are trying to improve our conscious contact with God or become more decently human or love others or treat ourselves and others with respect.  Shame is a condition many of us need to heal from AND learn to manage as we recover. 

 

The aforementioned church staff was simply a family system of sorts that was experiencing a team shame attack.  Before we could take meaningful action we had some work to do. 

 

As I sat, listened and learned from their family fight, I identified the group at the precontemplation stage of change.  There was no meaningful contemplation happening; they were ill-equipped in their whipped up stage to determine a direction and they certainly were NOT ready to proceed with action steps.  In precontemplation, they were reacting to the crisis.  These guys and gals were saying, thinking, feeling and proposing action steps that were more related to how they individually and collectively handled stress than anything more substantive and meaningful - like following their core values!  This stuff happens to me all the time, so I could feel their pain.

 

I saw a glimmer of opportunity.  Perhaps I could provide some much-needed calm.  Of course, me being me, this would require divine intervention.  But isn’t this where our hope always lies?  In recovery, aren’t we always called to admit our powerlessness and unmanageable parts, come to believe that a power greater than us can restore us to sanity, and turn our will over to God’s care and control?  Under duress, these were not the primary thoughts of the group.  Maybe I could remind them that we had a God who was ready to help us.

 

So we looked at 1 Corinthians, and then I asked them a question:  what do you see here?  At first, all they saw was what their shame wanted them to see - sexual immorality was super bad and it got people banished.   Look, this is true.  But it is an incomplete version of the truth and does not get us to the heart of the issue.  When we read a passage like this we're being dumped into the end of a story, and we miss the process.  When we miss the process we overlook some important dynamics that lie beneath the story itself.  

 

We have lots of contemplating to do before we just jump on the banishment bandwagon.  Because the truth is, God has many tools dangling from his belt.  Banishment is not the only option.  Plus, it wasn’t the thing I was hoping they would notice. 

 

To be continued….

Shame and Spiritual Abuse

Last week I had a consulting gig at a church that had a recovery ministry blow up in grand fashion.  Lack of leadership accountability, no small doses of codependency and maybe, perhaps, possibly a tiny bit of grandiose thinking and arrogance on the part of the church team that swooped in to clean up the debacle was stymying the work of restoration.  And I haven’t even gotten to the part of what actually went down within the recovery ministry that caused the crash and burn!

 

As I sat around the table listening to the various perspectives represented - the church staff, the recovery ministry team, the church’s human resources department and its legal team, man, I just wanted a good cup of coffee and some headphones.  It was brutal.  Mostly the conversation focused on the religious beliefs of the congregation that they felt the recovery ministry leadership had disrespected.  They were mad.  While all this conversation swirled, the lead pastor, sitting on my left played on his ipad.  I was a bit envious and wished I too could pull up my solitaire game.  Sometimes it is hard to stay present for suffering.

 

As the contention gathered steam I felt like I had acquired an invisibility cloak and was stuck in the middle of a family drama.  Folks forgot that they were their to share their story with my team; they were too busy picking each other off with their verbal long rifles.  I opened up my bible and reminded myself of another time when a church had to deal with sexual immorality…

 

Everyone has heard that there is sexual immorality among you.  This is a type of immorality that isn’t even heard of among the Gentiles - a man is having sex with his father’s wife!  And you’re proud of yourselves instead of being so upset that the one who did this thing is expelled from your community.  1 Corinthians 5:1-2

 

Let’s talk banishment.  To be continued….

God, you are killing me!

In Alice Fryling’s book, Mirror for the Soul, she writes about Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland.  I’m not sure I knew there was a sequel.  In the Looking Glass House, books can only be read when reflected a mirror because the words are written backwards. Fryling’s book is on the enneagram and she uses that analogy as a way to talk about her fondness for that particular tool for self-discovery and her perception of its value. 

 

I would say that the scriptures have done the same thing for me (and the enneagram too for that matter).  More accurately, are doing the same thing for me.  God’s word provides a grand epic panoramic story that often serves as a backdrop for our own mite-sized narratives. Oftentimes I experience it as a Looking Glass House mirror.  It puts “me” in context; it takes my backward self and turns me around. 

 

I was ashamed of the way I didn’t handle the abusive situation when the older woman spoke so rudely to the slightly less older volunteer.  I felt like I didn’t stand up for someone who had stood up for my children.  She had been an able teacher and for one child in particular, a valuable mentor.  And when she was publicly humiliated I did nothing but hold her gaze and lamely attempt to communicate my silent rage.  This doesn’t fit well with that panoramic vision for life I’ve been reading about for decades.  Of the three of us, I was the greatest offender.

 

Where to go from here?  Back to the drawing board.  I cannot forget the things that are behind me, as Paul suggests in the scripture below, but I also know that needless rumination isn’t healthy either.  Maybe, just maybe, I can learn from my mistake(s).

 

Learning from this past experience has been an actionable item on my “to do” list for exactly one year.  When I arrive at my polling precinct and immediately am confronted with another scene, there’s only one sensible thing to do.  Pray – “God, you are killing me here.  Seriously?”

 

Join me as we go back to the beginning of this grand epic tale and see what God might have me do on election day in light of all we know about who God is and what he is up to.

 

Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me.

~ Philippians 3:13 CEB