“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” Brene Brown Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
There are eight of us women, sitting together in a circle of comfortable chairs, sharing our hearts with each other. The topic, however, is anything but comfortable. We are talking about our shame.
We are remembering how, as children, our moms or dads made statements or comments to us that were shaming. How our friends and fellow students put us down and we felt “less than”. How even the shame carried by our parents was unknowingly placed on our own shoulders and became our burden.
Shame is subtle and sometimes difficult to name, much less to remove. This is our hope as we sit together for these upcoming weeks. To make at least a start at ferreting out this most painful of emotions. We are looking for the beginnings of freedom from shame.
The author of the WDA RYH Conquering Shame Workbook, Lee Tolar, has this to say about shame:
“In my 25 years of leading RYH groups I have found that shame is much more common than most of us think. There will always be some people who have an obvious struggle with shame exhibited by “a poor self image”. However, many of us mask our shame behind perfectionism, defensiveness, a false self, emotional numbness or low-level depression. Thus our shame is not so easily recognizable to ourselves or other people.”
“Shame originated with Adam and Eve. After the fall, they felt guilty about having committed a sin and shameful of whom they now were (sinners). They came up with the original defense mechanism: hiding from God. This desire to hide our shortcomings has been passed down to us with our sin nature.
“25 years of leading RYH groups has helped me to see how extensive the problem of shame is in other people but it has also helped me to see and understand my own shame. As I have recognized my own shame, I have been able, with God’s help, to release a lot of it, become less defensive, face and deal with my shortcomings, and to appreciate who He made me to be.”
WDA’s Conquering Shame Workbook helps people recognize what caused their shame, what their particular symptoms of shame are, and most importantly how to release and recover from these toxic beliefs and emotions. It is based on Biblical principles. My favorite chapter deals with recognizing each person’s strengths.
A recent participant in a Conquering Shame Group had this to say about her experience:
“I want to express my gratitude to you and to those who have contributed in writing the manual for the ” RYH Conquering Shame group”! I have been dealing with shame issues since I was a young child. This group was able to clarify what shame is all about, and I clearly understand how damaging living this way is. Shame affects every part of your being and it greatly affects your relationship with God. I believe the group dynamics and interaction, really enhanced the discussions.”
“The biggest breakthrough for me, was telling/hearing our shame stories!”
“Being able to verbalize what has been inside of me, in that dark place and bringing it out into the open (the light) with “safe” people was so healing. Actually, it was the first time I had been able to tell a group this story. After hearing and telling my own story, I felt a great release in my spirit. It’s freedom from the bondage of shame! I have a changed mind-set about my shame- yes, that stuff did happen to me and it’s very sad, BUT that’s not who I am. The lies that I have believed about myself for so long have lost their powerful hold on me. Restoration is a process that takes time, and in my case many, many years. Little by little, the Lord has nudged my spirit to take another step in the healing process. God always knows what I need and at just the right time. One day, I will have total restoration when the Lord returns for, “HIS CHURCH” and that will be a glorious day!”
As our group concluded the 17 weeks together, dealing with our shame issues, we all felt lighter. I think most of us suffer from shame to one degree or another. Sometimes we feel shame but don’t even recognize it for what it is. We just have this nagging feeling that something is wrong with us but we don’t know what or why. Sometimes just being able to name shame is a powerful, freeing experience. It is definitely the start of conquering shame.
Our hope is that as the RYH ministry grows, more people will be able to benefit from participating in a Conquering Shame group. I certainly learned a lot about myself and gained some freedom while experiencing it.
Do you have areas in your life that have caused you shame? Maybe this article while be an incentive to start addressing those areas and begin to heal from them.
Scientists marvel at the inter-connected nature of all living organisms. Though many stubbornly refuse to recognize the fingerprints of God in creation, they still speak in awe of the complex design of things they observe and refer to the delicate balance of nature. Because we are complex beings, understanding spiritual growth demands that we understand many components of our lives. To attain spiritual maturity the believer must grow in at least two dimensions of the Christian life— equipping and restoring. The equipping dimension prepares the believer to serve others on behalf of Jesus, in effect, to carry on His work, while the restoring dimension addresses a person’s emotional and relational health.
Historically, the church has focused primarily on the equipping dimension of the believer’s life and has not always recognized the need to minister to the whole person. This limited perspective of the church’s calling is a tragic misunderstanding that has hindered not only the growth of individual believers but also the ability of the church to impact the world for Christ. From our experience, we have concluded that healthy spiritual growth is most likely to occur when both dimensions (equipping and restoring) are addressed.
The Equipping Dimension Involves Growing In The Following Areas
Growth in knowledge of God, His ways, and His will
Knowledge of God, including His character, His ways, and His will is essential to spiritual growth. The Apostle Paul’s understanding of this principle led him to pray for the believers in Colossae as follows: “We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10)
Paul’s prayer for these believers provides insight into the dynamics of spiritual growth. The more we grow in spiritual wisdom, the more we will live pleasing to God, doing the good things He desires us to do. This action leads to a greater knowledge of God and more spiritual wisdom. And so the circle of growth continues.
The knowledge of God that Paul writes about is interactive and experiential, not just an accumulation of information. An example will help make this point. A person can study the sport of scuba diving, can watch others scuba dive, and can even speak intelligently about scuba diving, but until he actually puts on the equipment and dives into the water, he is not a scuba diver. Similarly, many people who know much about what the Bible teaches, have not embraced the teachings of Scripture as truth in their hearts and put it into action. They may know about God, but they do not know God.
In addition, to grow spiritually, a believer needs to interact with other believers in a local church body. Paul in I Corinthians 12 makes it clear that believers, as members of the Body of Christ, are inter-dependent on each other. They are to express this inter-dependence by showing love for each other, learning from each other and praying for one another. This interaction with other believers can significantly impact the spiritual growth as the young believer is encouraged and provided with real-life models of the Christian life.
Another area that influences spiritual growth is the specific content of a believer’s learning. The early focus of learning needs to be centered on such subjects as God’s character, who Jesus is, and how to walk with Jesus daily. These topics are necessary for a healthy relationship with God and a strong foundation for further growth. As we grasp a basic knowledge of who God is, we learn how to please Him, and follow His leading. We gain this knowledge through daily interaction with God in the circumstances of life.
Growth in ministry skills and abilities (Mark 10:45)
As mentioned above, the point of acquiring knowledge is so that it can be put into action. One of the ways we act on our knowledge of God is to minister to others or, as Paul puts it, “bearing fruit in every good work.” (Colossians 1:10) In the early phases of the Christian’s walk, his focus needs to be meeting the practical needs of others (e.g. arranging transportation, cooking meals, etc.). We see this principle in the way Jesus taught His followers how to minister. When His disciples were new believers, Jesus gave them practical responsibilities such as dispensing food, providing transportation, controlling the crowds, and bringing their friends to learn about Him.
As believers grow spiritually, God often increases their ministry abilities and opportunities. This pattern is clearly seen in how Jesus trained His disciples. Although He began with giving them simple acts of service to perform, He gradually increased their responsibilities. He sent them out on their own to minister and gave them positions of leadership within the larger band of followers.
Growth in faith and trust in Christ (Proverbs 3:5-6)
A further area of equipping is growth in our willingness and ability to exercise faith and trust in Christ. Growth in faith means growing in strength of conviction and quickness to obey. Simply put, it means putting into action what we believe to be true. In fact, the putting into action is the proof that we truly do believe something to be so.
The point of acquiring knowledge is so that it can be put into action.
Some years ago, there was a tightrope walker who performed unbelievable feats high above the ground. A promoter offered him a substantial sum of money to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. The event drew large crowds of people, eager to see the daring (or folly) of this artist. When the moment came, the performer calmly walked above the rushing waters, to the wild cheers of the crowd. Then he walked across blindfolded. The cheers grew even louder. It appeared that the show was over, but the artist had one act left to perform. He had a wheelbarrow raised to the rope and, asked the crowd if they believed he could walk the wheelbarrow across the falls. The crowd responded enthusiastically. Then he asked for a volunteer to get into the wheelbarrow, and the crowd fell silent. All had said they believed, but none was willing to act on that belief. As Christians, we demonstrate our faith by a ready willingness to “get into the wheelbarrow.”
Growth in trust means applying our faith in more and more areas. It is one thing to recognize Christ as our only way of salvation and place our trust in Him as Savior. It is quite another to begin to trust Him in all areas of our lives. After all, we have grown up learning to be independent and to trust in ourselves—our knowledge, our abilities, and so on. However, as the writer of Proverbs reminds us, we need to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Admittedly, this is hard to do. But it is an important part of the maturing process. God, in His wisdom and providence, continues to bring circumstances into our lives that give us opportunities to trust Him and expand our faith. As we encounter these circumstances, God provides the resources to deal with them, as we take a risk and trust Him.
It seems that God sometimes gets us into tough situations just so we can learn to trust Him. The Bible certainly provides enough examples, whether it be Abraham standing over Isaac on the altar, the Israelites huddled on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptians in fierce pursuit, Daniel and his friends in the fiery furnace, Jesus’ disciples fighting a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, or any number of other events. One of the most important things that every Christian must learn is that God can be trusted, regardless of circumstances that would make it appear otherwise.
To really know God in this personal, real way, a believer must interact daily with Him and His Word and put the Truth into action.
The Restoring Dimension Involves Developing Emotional And Relational Health
As was mentioned earlier, it is critical that we also give attention to the restoring dimension of a believer’s life as well as the equipping dimension. Spiritual growth will not occur in many areas unless there is maturity in the restorative areas discussed below.
We need to develop emotional health.
Developing emotional health begins with learning to think correctly because emotions are a natural response to our thinking about, or interpretation of, the things that happen around us or to us. Thinking correctly involves both what we think (content) and how we think (process). Incorrect thinking is often based on an incorrect or inadequate view of ourselves, of others, or of God. These viewpoints or perspectives are largely formed in childhood and are influenced by the people and events closest to us. It is critical that we learn to counter falsehood with truth.
Consider the following example: A student receives a “B” on a test instead of the expected “A” and feels worthless. The “worthless” feeling is the content of his thinking. He arrived at this content, or conclusion, by the following thought process (beliefs that led to the student’s conclusion). First, “I must always be perfect in order to be valuable.” Second, “I made a mistake, and therefore I am not perfect.” Third, “Therefore, I am not valuable. I am worthless.” Both the content and the process need to be corrected. The key is to be able to identify where one’s thinking goes wrong or, to put it another way, to identify which proposition is not true. In the example above, the second phrase is true (he did make mistakes; he is not perfect), while the first and third are not. The student’s thought process starts on a false premise and inevitably ends with a false conclusion.
Along with learning to develop right thinking, we need to develop certain emotional skills if we are to achieve emotional health. These skills include learning to process emotions in the present and learning to process emotions that have been buried.
…emotions are a natural response to our thinking about, or interpretations of, the things that happen around us or to us.
We learn to process emotions in the present by being able to identify how we feel and express those feelings, even if they are unpleasant. It is often helpful to talk about your emotions with a trusted friend. Use words that describe how you feel. Say, “I feel . . . angry, sad, anxious, confused, embarrassed, secure, happy, relieved, daring.” Be as specific as you can and don’t use a “weaker” or “safer” word when a “stronger” one is appropriate. If someone has offended you, you may need to talk about your emotions in a controlled way with that person. Once you have processed your emotions, you need to release those that are negative. This release may mean choosing to forgive, if someone has offended or wronged you.
We need to develop relational health.
Developing emotional health rightly precedes a discussion of developing relational health, because relational health is impossible for a person who has not achieved at least some measure of personal emotional health. In order to be able to relate to another person in a mature, healthy way, you must first understand and be able to manage your own emotions. Or, to put it another way, until you are comfortable in your own skin, you are unlikely to feel comfortable around other people or unlikely to make them feel comfortable around you.
Skills necessary for relational health include the following:
Developing intimacy. Intimacy is the ability to connect with another person at a deep level. This involves sharing thoughts and feelings about yourself.
Setting boundaries. Boundaries are limits, or markers, that define a person as separate from others and help define what is unique about that person. Boundaries define what a person is, what he chooses, what he feels, what he likes, what he wants, and so on. A person needs to set his own boundaries and not allow others to set them for him.
Developing good communication skills. These skills include speaking clearly, listening carefully, and giving constructive feedback.
It is critical to a person’s spiritual growth that he develops both the equipping and restorative (emotional and relational) dimensions of his life. Spiritual growth is a life- long process. The important thing is to stay on the path and continue the journey. The good news is that these various dimensions of our being have a positive relation- ship to one another. As we grow in our knowledge of God, in service and in faith and trust, it will help us to grow emotionally and relationally. And as we grow emotionally and relationally, it will help us to grow in our relationship with God and service to Him. It is important to remember this truth⎯”He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6)
Read Psalm 73. List the emotions described by the Psalmist. Describe how the Psalmist dealt with his emotions in this Psalm.
Read Matthew 12:9-15. How is Jesus’ ability to set boundaries tested in this situation?
Read John 2:1-11. How do you think this situation impacted the growth of the disciples?
Think of a situation in your life that is impacting your spiritual growth. Write down evidences of growth that are occurring because of this situation.
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Meet Sarah— Sarah went through emotional trauma every time her husband left home to go to work. She felt like he was leaving her permanently, even though he had always come home. They had been married for 10 years yet she wrestled with these feelings each time he left home without her.
As I talked with her about her childhood, she told me that she was a quiet, shy child who mainly had been raised in rural areas. However, when she was about to enter junior high school, her father took a job in a big city. Because she was from the country, kids at school made fun of her, and she had a hard time fitting in. This was very traumatic, and she would go home crying every day. Her parents didn’t know what to do. They tried talking to her and coaching her. Eventually they told her that she must be doing something wrong or the other kids would like her. They took her to a counselor, and again, she got the message that there was something wrong with her. Nothing changed. In fact, the situation at school got worse.
Her parents finally decided to send her to boarding school in order to give her a new start. Off she went to try to fit in someplace else. But it didn’t work. Once again she felt like she didn’t fit in. Although she made a few friends, she still felt like the “odd person out.” But this time she had no family to rely on. Because her family did not have a lot of resources, Sarah could not see or talk with them very often. Even on holidays she often could not afford to go home and had to stay with a friend. Essentially, Sarah was on her own to take care of herself, cut off from her family. She felt like they had abandoned her.
Now, many years after college and marriage, she still felt abandoned every time her husband left for work. These feelings also affected her relationship with God. She felt that He was distant and unavailable, much like her parents. These experiences led to a whole set of emotional problems that Sarah needed to find some way to deal with.
Sarah is not unique. Everyone experiences emotional pain and problems to some degree. Becoming a Christian does not automatically cause those problems to go away. In fact, they typically get worse if they are not attended to.
There are many ways a Christian’s spiritual growth can be affected by unresolved emotional problems. Some Christians are unable to grow spiritually at all. Others are only able to grow to a certain point and then growth stops. There are some who grow to a point and then begin to regress. Still others grow, but their growth is slowed by their emotional problems. Emotionally based problems do not go away and, in fact, tend to gradually get worse until the person begins to deal with them. Commonly people in their teens and twenties have strong enough coping mechanisms to survive, but their lives and families begin to fall apart in their thirties and forties because of unresolved emotional issues.
Emotional problems tend to be confusing to both the person who is suffering from them and to those in the church that are trying to help. Historically, the church has often not known how to deal with these emotional problems and has focused on the present symptoms instead of the root causes of the problems. The root cause of many emotional problems is found in childhood when a child experiences pain and does not know how to deal with it. The pain remains unresolved and sets off a chain reaction of problems.
Unresolved pain in childhood leads to some predictable problems in a child’s life.
When emotional pain builds up in a child’s life and he has no way to deal with it, the pain becomes increasingly overwhelming. The child will adapt to survive. He has no choice. He must do something with the pain. Proverbs 15:13 states, “heartache crushes the spirit.” This is why the Scriptures admonish parents not to exasperate or embitter their children (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21).
Children are tender and vulnerable, and we need to take great care in how we relate to them. Parents need to provide a safe environment where their children can talk about their feelings.
If a child is not able to process his emotions, there will be several negative results in his life. One result is that he may develop adaptations in order to survive. An adaptation a child often uses is addictions. An addiction is anything external that we focus on to avoid what is going on inside. An addiction distracts us from our pain by giving us another focus. Distracting addictions are things such as work, sports, reading, television or video games. Some addictions are mood altering. We use them to try to feel better: sex, food, drugs, spending or anything that gives us an adrenaline rush. Lastly, there are addictions that numb us like alcohol or sleep. Many people are poly-addicted and use whichever addiction is convenient at the time.
Another survival adaptation a child may use is to develop unhealthy defense mechanisms. When a child gets hurt on a regular basis, he often develops defense mechanisms to try to avoid getting hurt again. Typical defense mechanisms are denial, people-pleasing, isolating, conflict avoidance, etc.
What happens to the hurtful emotions that a child has but is not able to process? Do they go away? The answer is no. The child suppresses these negative emotions, another result of unresolved pain. When emotions are suppressed, they get stored in the child’s body in the form of stress. As internal stress builds up through childhood and continues to increase as an adult, it may cause problems such as physical illnesses, emotional explosions, depression, etc.
When hurtful things happen to a child and there is no one to help him make sense out of it, he will usually develop wrong thinking, again a result of unresolved pain. He may think that all people are unsafe, that the world is more dangerous than it is or that there is something wrong with him. He may develop those thoughts even further telling himself, “No one loves me”; “No one will protect me”; “I never do anything right”; “I cannot stop this.”
One common belief that children tend to develop, when enough bad things happen to them, is that there is something wrong with them. When they make a mistake, they feel like they are a mistake. They think they are broken and cannot be fixed. Once a child develops this way of thinking, it is very hard to rectify. The development of this is a shame-based identity, also a result of unresolved pain.
Sarah suffered to some degree from of all these problems. She, like any child, had to adapt to survive the pain that was building up in her life. Once she got to boarding school, she didn’t feel as if she had anyone to talk to about her life. Her earlier attempts to talk to her parents and a counselor ended with them accusing her of being the problem. So she just buried the pain on the inside and tried to manage it. She tried to stay busy. If she ever stopped, the powerful feelings she felt were uncomfortable and frightening. Her thinking about people and herself became quite distorted. She felt that there must be something wrong with her and that no one would want to be around someone like her. This led to fewer efforts to make friends and more isolation. Sarah’s life seemed to slowly become worse and worse.
Unresolved pain in childhood leads to additional problems in an adult’s life.
When children have been injured in their childhood, they carry the unhealthy behaviors, internal stress and wrong thinking into their adult life, which causes more pain. Their injuries keep them immature and lead to unhealthy behavior and thinking. We see this in Sarah’s life. The problems in her childhood led to further and deeper problems as an adult. Her life will continue to spin out of control until she begins to address these problems.
There are several typical types of problems that adults will develop when there are problems from childhood. They will often have relational problems. Damage from childhood hinders a person’s ability to relate to others in a healthy manner. For example, if there were abusive relationships in a person’s past, he may unwittingly seek out similar relationships as an adult, because these kinds of relationships feel normal. A person may also become over-controlling because he is afraid of being hurt by others or very passive because he feels powerless to change anything in his life. He may be afraid to get too close to people because he is afraid of being found to be lacking in some way and being rejected.
It is also common for a Christian with these types of problems to have a poor relationship with God as well. All relationships are affected including our relationship with God. For example, emotional issues may lead to a distorted view of God or negative feelings toward Him. Children often project onto God the feelings they have toward their parents. If they felt their parents were distant, they may feel like God is distant. If their parents were extremely critical, they may feel that God is only going to condemn them. They may be unable to feel like God loves them. This should not be very surprising since parents have a God-like presence in a child’s early life.
Another common problem in adulthood is poor decision-making. Because of a person’s distorted thinking about life and addictions, he often makes unwise decisions that are detrimental to his life. Because of a low self-image, he may think he cannot be successful in college or any other kind of school. He may be afraid to try anything challenging, even though he may be more than capable of doing it. He may make poor decisions about finances, relationships, jobs, and many other important areas of life.
Often the pain increases when a person becomes an adult, so the addictions also tend to worsen. Adults have more dangerous addictions available to them; and therefore, some addictions may become life threatening.
As stress increases both inwardly and outwardly, people often become clinically depressed because the ongoing stress depletes the brain of the chemicals it needs to function correctly. This clinical depression is different from depression caused by a known loss such as the loss of a job, death of a spouse, divorce, etc. In a clinical depression, the person usually doesn’t know why he is depressed, and usually, medication and counseling are needed to eliminate the depression.
Although Sarah had become a Christian, she suffered from many of these problems as an adult. She was having relational problems with both God and others, making poor decisions, suffering from addictions and depression. She was addicted to food. She ate to soothe herself, to try to fill the emptiness after her husband left for work. But it didn’t work. Instead, she gained weight, which made both her and her husband unhappy.
Sarah also tried to distract herself from the pain by keeping herself constantly busy while her husband was away. But as time passed she became increasingly depressed and isolated. Her workaholism declined and she spent more and more time in bed. She couldn’t concentrate and lost motivation to do anything. Everything became drudgery. As her problems escalated Sarah felt increasingly out-of-control. Her problems were not going to go away without some help. When she was in her thirties, she finally became desperate enough to seek help.
These types of problems tend to get worse and often become overwhelming when the person enters his 30’s and 40’s. But the tendency is to see the adult behaviors as the problem when they are really only symptoms of the root problems that began in childhood. In order to begin to heal and to make healthy changes, the person needs to deal with the root problems. It is important to understand how emotional problems develop so that we can focus on the root problems (suppressed emotions, false belief systems, unhealthy defense mechanisms, addictions) that began in childhood and not just the symptoms we see in adult life.
Emotionally based problems are major stumbling blocks in many people’s lives, and they must be addressed for a person to reach the kind of spiritual maturity that God has called us to. Traditional approaches to spiritual growth have proved ineffective in bringing about emotional healing. In the next Pocket Principle (“Healing from Emotional Problems“) we will discuss what approaches do lead to emotional healing.
Application Suggestions: Meditate on Ephesians 4:17-23. What are some of the solutions to these root problems that God suggests in this passage?
• Think about the adult symptoms discussed in this lesson. Write down any evidences of these problems that you see in your life.
• Think about how these problems may be connected to root problems in your childhood. If thinking about these problems causes you distress, talk with a trusted friend about it.
Understanding Emotional Issues: Root Causes of Emotional Problems (in childhood) Addictions—An addiction is an external focus that enables a person to avoid the pain inside. A child can be addicted to anything: drugs, TV, computer games, sports, food, etc. Addictions can alter a mood (make a person feel better), dull pain or distract from the pain.
Unhealthy coping (defense) mechanisms—A child develops defense mechanisms to protect himself from getting hurt again. Typical defense mechanisms include: denial, people pleasing, isolation, conflict avoidance, etc.
Suppressed negative emotions—If a child is unable to process negative emotions and thereby resolve them, the emotions are stored inside in the form of stress. This internal stress may cause problems such as physical illness, emotional explosions, depression, etc. Some signs of suppression are lack of emotion, super-sensitivity, over-reaction, etc.
False belief system—As a child tries to make sense of things happening to him, he usually draws wrong conclusions about himself and the world such as “No one loves me”; “No one will protect me”; “I never do anything right”; “I cannot stop this.”
Shame-based identity (a common false belief)—If enough bad things happen to a child, without resolution or explanation, he begins to believe that there is something wrong with him. He believes that he is “broken and cannot be fixed”; he didn’t just make a mistake, he is a mistake.
Adult Symptoms of Emotional Problems
Relational problems—Damage from childhood hinders a person’s ability to relate to others in a healthy manner. For example, if there were abusive relationships in a person’s past, he may unwittingly seek out similar relationships as an adult because these kinds of relationships feel normal.
Poor relationship with God—Just as relationships with others can be affected, a person’s relationship with God can also be affected. For example, emotional issues may lead to a distorted view of God or negative feelings toward Him. As a result, a person may stop growing spiritually or even regress.
Poor decisions—Because of a person’s distorted thinking about life, he often makes unwise decisions that are detrimental to his life: financially, relationally, professionally, etc.
More serious addictions—Emotions that began in childhood usually intensify in adulthood as the pain worsens. In addition to possible childhood addictions, a person may be addicted to work, spending, shopping, sex, ministry, drugs, alcohol, etc. Some addictions may actually become life threatening.
Depression—As problems intensify, stress increases sometimes causing a chemical imbalance in the brain leading to a clinical depression. (This is not the same as a depression caused by a known loss such as the death of a spouse, loss of a job, divorce, etc.)
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Hope is sometimes hard to hold onto in this life. It isn’t always an easy process. There have been seasons where I have tried to write out my feelings in a song but have been at a loss for lyrics. The situation I was in was so complex that it was hard to express in words. At those times I have found that the music itself was a better medium for my heart than lyrics. I think that my creativity is sometimes directly tied to hope.
So, if my ability to create is so connected to hope, what is my hope tied to? I’m realizing that my ability to look at the world with hope is directly related to how I view my relationship with God and His purposes for my life. Many in my circles talk about “preaching the gospel to yourself.”
That might seem a strange place to begin when creating art (for me, music and lyrics). But the truth found in the “gospel” can provide clarity and perspective.
Understanding that God has chosen to pursue me in love is the beginning of hope. For when I was “dead” spiritually, He loved me. In Jesus’ death He has freed me from the penalty of sin and given me freedom in Jesus’ resurrection. Not only that, but as a Father He has adopted me as a son, and now I am no longer a slave to sin. This is the gospel message I have learned to preach to my heart.
A lack of hope in my life leads to self doubt, pessimism, and powerlessness. In the moment I forget the gospel, these issues begin to surface. It is actually the gospel that is the cure for these Hope killers!
The cure for Self Doubt
When I doubt if I have anything to offer and words on a blog like this seem to be lame, I remember that I am no longer a slave to sin but a “son” of God. I am loved dearly because Jesus was willing to die for my selfish heart. I no longer have to doubt my worth because it is no longer defined in what I think of me. What matters is what God thinks of me!
The cure for Pessimism
When I begin to think that nothing matters, nothing will ever work out, I’m going no where, the gospel message brings me back to another truth, God saved me for a purpose! He has brought me out of darkness to light. He has revealed that I was re-created to serve and love Him. I have been re-created and am being renewed to be part of something bigger than me, that He is in charge of! I no longer have to worry and be a pessimist. God is in control.
The Cure for Powerlessness
Instead of feeling powerless, the gospel changes the way I pursue my work and calling. For where I might have looked for strength in my ability and self will, I remember that once I was powerless. I had power in my self but not the kind of power that comes from God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in me.
When I wonder what this looks like, I begin to think of the disciples hiding out after Jesus had died. They were pessimistic, they were powerless and had plenty of self-doubt. But Jesus appears in front of them having first risen from the dead and shown Himself to two women at the tomb. Soon the Holy Spirit would come and fill them with power to do His will. They would preach and see 1000s of people turn in faith to the true Messiah, Jesus.
For the first time they have Hope and it came in the good news that Jesus has overcome and now has given them purpose and a calling. What they would do as followers of Christ would have eternal impact.
So what does this mean for my creative work? The gospel gives me perspective that changes the way I look at everything! Hope doesn’t come from my experiences, but rather hope comes from understanding what Jesus has done for me and what Jesus is calling me to be for Him.
When I remind myself of the truths of the gospel, I have real hope. I have a storehouse of resources for communicating about my life, the world, my relationship with God and others and taking these ideas and creating music and lyrics.
So how do you deal with a lack of Hope in your life? How does it hinder your creativity? How might understanding the gospel help you have true Hope?
Because children interpret events with their emotions, it is important to protect your child’s heart. Many of the people I work with have been wounded by parents who have not been protective of this treasure. Some of their parents have been wounded themselves and have done the best they could. However, their own woundedness has driven them to make decisions that are harmful to their children. The following story was written by a 26 year old that I work with and is being shared with permission. It describes the events of a day that turned her life upside down. (All names have been changed.)
“That day. I will never forget it. It’s etched in my mind, clear as yesterday. It’s like a slow motion scene playing against the backdrop of melancholy violins. My world changed forever. The foundation broke beneath my feet into a million pieces. I was sinking, but there was no one to pull me out. I can see that little girl on that fateful day in my mind’s eye. She stands still, frozen as the unimaginable scene unfolds before her eyes; it seems unreal, like she is watching some twisted movie.
“This can’t really be happening,” I thought to myself. I had just returned from playing video games and eating chips and salsa with my brothers. My big brother, Charles, whom I loved and admired so much, had just given Richard and me the time of our lives at El Azteca. I remember on that sunny Saturday afternoon how happy I was to feel so loved as I played packman with my brothers at the local Mexican Restaurant. In that blissful moment, I had no idea that Charles was shielding us from the hell that was unleashing at home. I had no idea that in a matter of hours, minutes, life as I knew it would change forever.
When we pulled up to the house, immediately, I knew something was going on. My dad’s car sat in the driveway with clothes piled high in the back seat. The car door was open. The front door of the house was open. My dad walked out of the house, still in his work clothes from the day before…only the front of his white collared dress shirt was unbuttoned, exposing his undershirt. He carried a box in his hands. He didn’t look at us. He walked towards his car, and then I saw his back. His shirt was torn. He had scratch marks, and he was bleeding. Confused, I stood there, not knowing how to make sense of what I was witnessing.
Charles put his hands on mine and Richard’s shoulders like protective wings. The fight must have drug out longer than he had expected. He must have brought us back too early, and now he was trying to figure out what to do. He led us inside, perhaps hoping that the worst was over. I was confused when I walked in by what I saw- objects overturned, broken glass, wax, presumably from a lit candle that had been thrown, plastered in dripping runs on the wall. WHAT WAS HAPPENING!? I didn’t understand. I heard my mom yelling. I can’t remember what she said, but I knew it wasn’t good. Every time my dad made his way up to the stairs to get another load, more screaming…I think I heard “GET OUT!”
I don’t remember how long this went on…time didn’t exist in that moment. But, I do remember, that whenever my dad would come down the stairs, he would offer Richard and me this sad look…of regret? We stood still, absorbing this surreal reality. Once the car was packed, my dad made his way over to Richard and I as we stood in the dining room. He was lost for words, trying to explain to us what was happening with pain in his eyes. My mother made her way over. She was furious, high on adrenalin, and impatient with my dad’s stammering. She butted in and, with vengeance in her tone, blurted out, “Your father slept with another woman last night in a hotel!” Time froze.
I immediately looked at Richard who is two years younger than I. He stared in shock. Although, at his age, he could not comprehend the full extent of what my mother was saying. However, at 11, I could. “You have something blue on your lip,” I commented to Richard about the residual stains of the blue gumball he had chewed at the Mexican restaurant. “I don’t care,” he said, not breaking eye-contact with my parents. The details of what happened after this world shattering news are a blur to me. At some point, it was explained to me that my dad was leaving to live somewhere else. I ran to grab a recent art project I had made at school, and I gave it to my dad to remember me by. It was a box cut-out of a magical, beautiful world of flowers, rolling hills, and a majestic sunset, like the sunset I had watched with my parents set over the Gulf of Mexico just a few short months earlier on our first beach vacation. That time seemed like a different life now. My whole world was turned upside down in a matter of moments. I didn’t know if I would ever see my dad again.”
This young person’s self image has been wounded by the events of her life. The power of the Holy Spirit is enabling her to heal and recover. **We appreciate so much the prayers and support you give staff and to all the people with whom we work. Nancy currently is meeting with about 15 people on a regular basis, all of whom have been wounded by people who loved them. Our prayer is not only that their hearts will be restored but that all parents with young children will learn how to protect their children’s hearts.
**Please consider making a regular part of your prayer life, praying for the individuals who participate in our Restoring Your Heart Groups but the individuals many of our staff and restorative staff meet with regularly.