Archive for the ‘shame’ Tag

Sitting Still Is Hard Work   2 comments

I’ve been missing here for a month, not from depression or busyness or low energy as in the past, but from fence sitting.

doggie on fence

Not by choice.  I’m too weak to jump out of the yard and do anything useful–I’ve glanced at projects countless times, even started some, only to realize they would drain my soul.  in the other direction, the emotional gravity dragging me back down hasn’t found a grip as long as I’ve kept my shaky equilibrium.  I’m in a holding pattern on a narrow platform, and I sense that it is my task to wait and gather strength.

donkey airedThis is not easy for me.  My internal voices are always shouting for me to get busy, and ignoring them has always led me into a place of shame.  They drove me into more and more Christian service until it broke me. When I discovered the potholes this pounded into my soul, I thought I had turned onto the road to recovery, but the voices just switched goals, whipping me towards personal development, “figure out NOW what is holding you back and FIX it!”  I feel ashamed for not healing faster.  Patience with myself is rarely an item in stock.

I have lived all my life on the principle that rest must be earned.  After all, God worked six days and rested on the seventh.  I thought the Sabbath was simply a concession to our weaknesses: “Okay, you’ve worked hard enough, so now you get to rest.”   In fact, there was no command to work six days… that was simply a necessity for survival and advancement.  The duty, the order, the commandment  (one of the Big Ten), was not to stay busy, but to stop busy.  The Sabbath is not a reward for working all week.  The reward for working all week is the material benefits we reap.  The Sabbath was certainly a blessing, but it was a command, not a reward.  It had its own justification and importance quite independent of the other six.

The Fourth Commandment was also not a prohibition (“thou shalt not work”) but a prescription: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it Holy.”  It offered positive power and creative purpose for our lives, the one day to focus care on our spirits instead of our bodies (for food, shelter, etc.).  If anything, it was not the work week that justified the Sabbath, but the Sabbath that justified and gave meaning to the work week.  I was raised on the “Protestant Work Ethic,” but what I really need is a strong dose of the “Protestant Rest Ethic.”  The first has often pulled me from faith in God to dependence on myself, but the second forces me back to faith… and though it is shaky and insecure, it is a faith I am committed to.weak faith

Posted October 27, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , , ,

From Garbage to Glory [God’s Love Letter]   8 comments

                           

Matthew 1:5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab.

Garbage CollectorIn America, our job defines us.  It is the first, most important identifier when we’re introduced, “Good to meet you.  So what do you do?”  Sometimes it’s even tacked on like a surname: Joe the Plumber or Bob the Accountant.  With one word we label, categorize, and define someone from the moment we meet them.  Just imagine if your meaning as a person was distilled into the name Karen the Harlot.  You are suddenly no longer a person, but a commodity, and the worst sort of commodity, associated with all that is unclean, cheap, and dark.  When someone hears “prostitute,” they do not think of giggling children, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and butterfly kisses.  Rahab was part of a cursed race of uncircumcised philistines and she was known as Rahab the Harlot.  Then God came.

In the gospels, Jesus was a trash-magnet.  The discards of society were drawn to him like the starving to a feast of love.  They found in him the acceptance and respect and embrace they never knew.  Like father, like son they say, and the God of Israel was the Father of all widows and orphans, the poor and lost.  He saw in Rahab what no one else saw, and said of her “I want her in the royal line as mother to my Son.”  The beauty in all of us  originates always with God, and it is our faith, not our goodness, that opens the door to his glory.  Those least able to “make a name for themselves” are the ones most welcoming of grace.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom heaven.”

RECYCLED RAGS

RECYCLED RAGS

2,000 years after her first appearance,  we find Rahab again.  Her past has not been air-brushed away–she is still “Rahab the Harlot”–because grace does not re-write our past; it transforms that twisted frame into an instrument of glory.  She is now immortalized in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith as a model for us all to follow.  God embraces a pagan prostitute simply because she opened her arms to him by faith.  God does not ask us to patch together the shredded pieces that make up our lives, but asks us to trust him with those tattered remnants.  He makes all things beautiful, all things placed in his hands.

This 3 minute video is a remarkable parable of grace

Posted December 10, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

Tagged with , , , ,

Under the Shadow [God’s Love Letter #8]   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:4 Ram fathered Amminadab and Amminadab fathered Nahshon

Wouldn’t it be great to be Billy Graham’s brother?  I’m not so sure.  How would you be introduced at parties?  Whose exploits would your children talk about around the dinner table?  In public, whose reputation would you be most concerned to protect?  CNN, Time, NBC would all contact you… with only questions about Billy.  Imagine your whole life and personhood defined by someone else.

Amminadab knew that feeling.  His name appears nine times before the gospel of Matthew, in four separate books of the Bible, and we know nothing about him.  But we know about his son Nahshon.  Even in the middle of a genealogical listing, the registrar pauses to trumpet Nahshon: “Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab was the father of Nahshon, the leader of the people of Judah.”  The only reason Amminadab’s name crops up at all is to note his relationship to Nahshon… except for his first appearance, when he is footnoted as the father-in-law of Aaron, the high priest of Israel.

We all live in someone else’s shadow that is cast by the spotlight on their better performance in cooking or speaking, patience or punctuality.  As I do life with others, it is naturally hard to feel good about myself, hard to avoid competing with Jennifer’s achievements, hard to resist comparing Jason’s friendliness to my own.  But when our culture also constantly rates us against our fellow, noting how we fall short, it becomes nearly impossible.  I can either sign up for this game where I must be a winner (in everything) to feel adequate, or I can opt out and be labeled a loser.  That is, I can constantly chase after the adequacy that is just beyond my grasp or I can give up in despair and accept my own worthlessness… or I can stumble into grace.

When you consider Amminadab, Nahshon, Aaron and Moses in the light of their descendant at the culmination of Matthew’s genealogy, they all rank shoulder to shoulder.  We all stand equally shadowed by Jesus’ glory.  But here the simile breaks down, for Jesus does not diminish us by his greatness, but transforms us by it.  We stand not in his shadow, but in his glory, and this comes not as the borrowed, vicarious glory of a famous relative, but in his fulfilling in us all he designed us to be.  Jesus being all he is makes me all I am and can be.  May we be such life-givers to one another.

Posted July 22, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

Tagged with , , ,

“You’re Weird”   7 comments

Kimberly and I have started reading a book on “Sabbath” each Sunday morning.  It suddenly occurred to me today that we are called to follow not only God’s example of rest, but his example of spending 6 days in creativity, like him expressing who we are to the world (for our gifts are simply an outflow of the unique creation each of us is).  If we could discover and have the courage to be our true selves before the world, offering it what we have rather than what we do not have, the world would be marvelous.  If we could only value each one for who she truly is and what her being means to my life and the life of the world as a whole.  If we could only live in a spirit of curiosity and receptivity for (and therefore blessing from) the uniqueness of each.

D.I.Y FACELIFT

Instead, we live out of who we are not, pushed into acting in ways for which we were not created, living a lie.  We hide our shame with pretenses and cover-ups, unable to encourage others to be themselves (and delighting in it) because of the fear out of which we live.  We find the uniqueness of others to be threatening, confusing, irritating, dividing, and so we push for them to conform to our ways of thinking and doing and being.  It is unsafe for any of us to be himself, since being rejected for our essence is the ultimate disgrace.  Sadly such shame disables and distorts God’s own creation as he designed each to be, with both our limitations and our abilities.  May we all learn to welcome and relish the beauty of differences.

 

Posted June 24, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , , ,

Disapproval   Leave a comment

Kimberly and I were visiting her relatives in Arkansas for a week, and some days after that, my laptop died.  It is much easier for me to pick up my laptop as I sit on the sofa and begin to compose, but now I must come into our office and sit at a desk to compose, and it takes away the spontaneity and ease (and requires coordination with my wife).  So I’ve been missing.  Kimberly read to me this morning from a book written by the father of a boy with disabilities.  He quoted a poem by Wendell Berry that I appreciated and so will share here:

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty; you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them,
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin his evening flight from the hilltop.

Posted June 5, 2012 by janathangrace in Poems, Reading

Tagged with , , ,

God’s Love Letters #5   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:2 Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers. 

Finally brothers!  Until now this family, chosen to be a great nation, barely survived with one child of promise per generation.  The world must wait until Abraham’s great-grandchildren before the redemptive family tree grows more than one branch.  I know that feeling well—-waiting.  When God’s promises to redeem my situation seem long overdue, I begin to doubt God’s love.  Why is he taking so long to respond?  Doesn’t he care?  For instance, why is God taking so long to fix my depression?

Peter throws out an intriguing idea, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you.”   God is not distracted, uncaring, or negligent about my needs.  It is not we who are waiting for God to act, but God who is waiting for us to be ready, who watches our progress with sympathy, not disappointment.  His patience is not a bridled impatience, but genuine good will.  He knows it takes time.  He is okay with it taking time.  In fact he plans for it to take time.  He is patient.  In my urgency to reach the resolution, I want to hurry the process, but God’s focus is on the journey, his grace is at work in the process itself.  Too often I miss his grace for today in my anxiety for the bigger deliverance that is farther down the road.  My impatience is really towards myself rather than God.  I blame myself for not growing faster, for bungling his stream-lined plans for me.  But should we suppose that if Abram had had greater faith and faithfulness, he would have had a dozen sons at 39 instead of one at 99?  Why have I always thought that God was in a rush?

I think I have long been under the impression that God’s attributes are somehow in competition with each other.  In this instance, his righteousness is at odds with his sympathy.  He wants to hurry me into holiness, but he is being “patient” with me, which basically means he is holding himself back from chiding or nagging or otherwise showing his frustration at my slow growth.  He is impatient, but hiding it.  I guess that is how I have always pictured his so-called patience, and why I am so prone to agree with “God’s” condemnation of me.  I need a new God, a good God, a God who is truly patient, not just pretending to be patient.

Posted April 14, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

Tagged with , , ,

My Problem with Shoulds   Leave a comment

The law is good, as Paul says, and it has several beneficial uses.  One use is to teach us what God is like, and provide insight on how we might be like him.  Of course, all of Scripture (not just the commands) is designed to help us in this way whether history, teaching, prophecy, or the like.  For those who want to be intimate with God and be shaped into his beautiful likeness, it doesn’t really matter whether a biblical teaching is grammatically in the command form.  The only question is whether it will help me grow personally and relationally.

The word “should” has close links with law, and it carries several connotations.  First, it suggests an evaluative role.  It is telling us what would be a good or better course of action.   This may have no moral connotations, such as: “You should  try Ben and Jerry’s New York Fudge Chunk.”  Second, and closely connected to the first, is an implication of pressure to act in a certain way.  We could place it on a continuum to demonstrate this: Can—–Should—-Must.  Again, this need not be concerned with morality: “You must try this app!”  The third connotation of should, like the word law, is one of potential personal judgment.  Even if this regards simply a choice of wrenches, the person who fails to do what he should is faulted.  Something is wrong with him.  He is defective or weak or stupid or belligerant.  Finally, because it is poised to judge, should appeals to a particular motivation.  It is not a positive motivation (as the first two connotations might be); it does not attract by the beauty or benefit or health of the choice.  It rather motivates by the fear and shame of being bad, unacceptable, dis-graced.

I do not want to live my life being motivated by fear and shame.  I want to be motivated by God’s love for me and my echo of love for him and others, in other words, grace.  Sometimes the should of law is necessary to shape external behavior to curb the harm a person may do to herself or others, but as long as the individual is acting from fear or shame, it is only her behavior which is affected.  Her heart is not growing in grace.  It may even be shrinking.  I think the primary judgment role of law and should is to help us recognize our real inadequacies and faults, not in order to shape our behavior but to awaken us to the gospel.  Some folks think grace has no power to motivate, but I have found it incredibly powerful… that must wait for another post.

Posted April 5, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , ,

Can Grace Go Too Far?   13 comments

Given a couple of negative responses to my recent posts, I apparently need to explain what I mean by grace.  I think there are some common interpretations of grace that can really take us down the wrong path.  One of the most common misunderstandings of grace is to equate it with freedom of action while equating law with restriction of action.  freedom and restriction of action are about method and context, while grace and law are about motivation and direction.  Grace does not play the high notes or the low notes on this freedom/restriction continuum, but plays the whole keyboard.  That is to say, it confines or releases as directed by love.

EVERY NOTE IS A GRACE NOTE

Law motivates by fear, shame, and guilt.  These are very legitimate motivations, because they point out how screwed up we really are, but if we try to remedy our fear and guilt by making better choices, we are doomed by our imperfections.  The fear and shame are not intended to drive us to work harder at being good, but to awaken us to our need of the grace of God (forgiveness, love, acceptance, strength, hope, blessing, in short, the gospel).

THE FACE OF THE LAW

Here is where confusion and misgivings easily catch us.  We know that fear and shame are powerful motivators, they have profoundly molded our behavior and the behavior of others towards us.  If you remove law, what will keep me in check?  We think fear and guilt make us good, when they really only change our actions, not our hearts.  Still, if  this motivation is removed, what will inspire us to go in the right direction.  If there is therefore now no condemnation, won’t I just act like a spoiled brat, won’t others “take advantage” of grace?  No.  It is impossible to “take advantage” of grace.  If you try, if you decide to fulfill every “forbidden pleasure,” it will leave you more empty, lost, broken, and even farther from the blessings of grace–not because grace resists you, for it always has open arms, but because you resist grace, which is the way of true peace, fulfillment, joy, love.  The only way to take advantage, full advantage, of God’s grace is to throw yourself whole-heartedly into his embrace.

Let me quote a reply I gave a questioning friend: In my mind “doing as I please” is a serious misunderstanding of grace, and is profoundly different from doing what my soul needs. The differentiation in my mind is not that the first matches my desires and feelings and the second matches my duty, but that the first matches superficial desires and feelings often at odds with my deeper feelings (e.g. choosing sex as a replacement for love), while the second is discovering my true feelings and true needs and seeking to meet those.  At this point in my understanding of God’s grace, I believe that my soul’s truest needs are never in conflict with God’s will, and if they appear to be, I misunderstand one or the other.

SAFE HANDS

Posted April 3, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , , , ,

Addicted to Effort   1 comment

The strange path to freedom.

I have many coping mechanisms to protect me from the prickly world, a combination of defenses unique to myself.  I was a compliant child, a trait sometimes mistakenly referred to as “good” or “obedient,” so I responded to my insecurites by trying to make the grade (measured by my approval ratings).   This was my basis for self-worth: scoring a 10 on my performance.  When I was judged as inadequate, my deeply ingrained, almost instinctive reaction was to rachet up the effort.  I proved my value as a person by doing more, better, faster, by never repeating failures or mistakes, by meeting or exceeding every expectation that appeared worthy.

CHASING SUCCESS

Perhaps the hardest coping mechanisms to overcome are those which are inescapably tied to the necessities of living.  Every addiction has its unique power of control.  Bulimics, unlike alcoholics, literally cannot live without the substance to which they are addicted, and that significantly complicates their deliverance.  In the same way, I cannot live without doing.  I cannot abandon all tasks in order to break free from my addiction to effort–I am forced to keep succeeding at a job, at finances, at relationships, and all the other tasks essential to life.  They say success breeds success, but in my case, success breeds bondage (and unfortunately so does failure). 

For me, at a subconscious level, every task accomplished inevitably feeds my sense of worth and every task unfinished feeds my shame.  I don’t knowingly tell myself, “See what I have done. I am a good person after all.”  The telltale sign of this malady may only be a sense of satisfaction, which is natural enough, but the reason for my satisfaction is largely a sense of worth based on my work. 

In short: I have an addiction to effort as a means to gain worth, I cannot live without doing, but each time I do something and feel better as a person, I subconsciously strengthen my addiction.

Let me give an example.  I have said something that has hurt my colleague Mike.  I am afraid of what he now thinks of me, especially because his evaluation of me feeds my doubts of my own worth.  Since love is the best motivation, I tell myself to reach out to him in love and concern for his well-being. These are my conscious thoughts, but underneath, my very value as a person depends on his renewed approval of me.  My fear escalates as I ask for a minute of his time.  Why fear?  Because my worth is at stake.  If he is reconciled by my apology, my fear turns to pleasure.  “See,” I tell myself, “love works!” when in fact I have just succeeded in strengthening a false basis for my worth as a person–I am worthy because of what I do, in this case reconciliation. 

The motivation for what I do is the key.  I can act out of a place of grace or a place of should and shame, though that makes it sound dichotomous when really my motives are always mixed to some degree.  If I complete a chore more out of fear than of grace, I strengthen my doubt in God’s love.  If I act more from grace, I strengthen my faith in God’s love.  But if I am pressured by ‘should,’ how can I respond out of grace?  For me at least, operating out of a sense of should is really responding from a doubt of God’s acceptance, from a sense that his love depends on my behavior, from a fear of being unworthy.  I find that if I do not first challenge the should, face it down, call out its lies of conditional love, then I feed my doubt and insecurity with each task I complete.  I feel better, but am worse for it.

Back to Mike.  If he is unwelcoming, I become defensive–I try to “explain” more clearly, I express my hurt at his response, I point out his matching faults.  Unlike my successful attempt, my failure to win him over suddenly reveals my real motivation.  It was not love, but insecurity. Insecurity will always be present, but if it predominates as my motivation, it will harm me and my relationships.  It may feel better to both of us  if it “works,” but it is a sugar high that eventually leads to diabetes.  I am most aware of my insecurities when my coping mechanism fails, when my “right” actions for self-redemption flounder. If at first I don’t go to Mike, but sit with my insecurity long enough to find saving grace, to believe my worth has no basis in what I do, then I can go to Mike in a way that leads to wholeness for us both.

In certain situations, this time of processing is effective, but often, the longer I delay acting, the more anxious I become.  I am constantly being pressured by a “should,” and this crowds out the emotional space I need to find grace.  In the past I often had to go ahead and complete the task (and so remove the pressure), and then try to deal with the shame-based motivation.   My grasp of grace was not firm enough to escape self-condemnation if I failed to act, but at least being aware of my true motivations was a fundamental step to addressing them.  

To be continued…

Posted March 26, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

Tagged with , , , , ,

When Shame is the Measure of Spirituality   2 comments

This was my written prayer over not missing, but just delaying my morning visit with God.  Welcome to a world where grace is in short supply. (Notice the date, this was well before I awakened to full grace.)

07/07/97

Lord, forgive me for failing to spend time with you this morning.  I was caught up once again in doing other things, working on the day’s tasks instead of spending time with you.  Lord my heart is so prone to wander and so quick to forget and turn aside.  Oh, God make me sensitive to hear your voice.  To crush the voice of my flesh crying out so loudly all day and all night. Let me learn to die to that voice.  To live only to you.  To take my pleasure only in giving you pleasure.  To cast out all darkness, however pretty, from my heart like it is the entrance of Satan into my heart, for it is.  Who can tell where the end of evil is once it enters the heart–for even after repentance and forgiveness it continues its evil work in me and in others, sending out wave after wave of evil from that one initial act.  What fools we are to think we can measure our own sins.  If we added all the evil up which comes from one sin alone, we would find it the mother of countless and terrible demons roaming the earth to devour all good.

We confess a sin quickly, spoken and forgotten.  We said an unkind word to a brother.  Out of discouragement from that word, he fails to be grateful to his wife’s special meal.  She responds by withdrawing into silence and her daughter feels rejected.  Because she is in her mood, she forgets to make lunch for her son.  At the first growth of sin it has multiplied into two lives.  The daughter goes to school, and her attitude affects 5 girls.  The son doesn’t have a lunch, and gets angry as a result, and because of a quarrel, loses a friend who turns against Christianity as a result.  All through his life he affects hundreds of people with his hatred of Christianity.  That sin we confessed and forget that night grows into a terrible monster.  Evil, like energy, never dies, but rather grows and breeds.

Posted October 8, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with ,