Shame

Target Audience: Evangelical Christians

Shame1The most destructive force that has ever visited my life is shame. Normally, I try to edit my posts to make sure they are somewhat grammatically correct and coherent. This post, though, I am writing with very little editing because it is an issue that is very personal and important to me.

In October last year I began a course at my church, The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario, called Healing Care. I have been through a number of courses over the years in churches. Most of them have been forgotten long ago. Looking back, that is perhaps a good thing. I have been through 12 Step programs and self-help groups, one-on-one counselling for years for various issues. So, when a man from my church contacted me about this course, my first reaction was that I was too weird, too messed up, and I just didn’t think I would fit in. It actually began last summer when I was homeless for almost two months. I grew up in a middle class home and I never thought I would be homeless. So, when this man from my church contacted me about this Healing Care course, I was more than skeptical. In fact, I quit twice before the course even began, but he encouraged me not to quit, so I decided to go.

I entered the course with the expectation that if I ever shared my issues that the other people in the course would tell the leaders they weren’t comfortable with me and I would be asked to leave, so I decided that I would do everything I could to avoid sharing these issues. I won’t share them here, not because of shame, but because I have come to a place that I do not need to share everything about my life in order to be open and honest. Weeks passed and I successfully managed to avoid sharing what was going on in my life. Finally, I decided it was time to either go all in or leave, so I shared my story. Much to my amazement, the support in the group was overwhelming. In the final weeks in the course I learned that everyone else in that course also had the same sense of apprehension — and shame about the issues in their lives. The issues were different, but the shame and the guilt were common to us all.

I have been a Christian for over 40 years and for most of those years have lived in shame for one thing or another. The baggage that I carry is really not a lot different than the baggage anyone else carries. My sins were all forgiven by Jesus and He loves me just like He loves everyone else. The people who reinforced the shame in my life most consistently over the years wasn’t my family, or my friends, or the people with whom I went to school. The people who reinforced the shame were other evangelical Christians. It has been my experience that conservative evangelical Christians tend to be more judgmental. Each time I was judged I sunk deeper into shame. Like the graphic above, shame brought only darkness into my life. It drew me further away from God and created an image in my mind of a helpless individual looking up at a huge axe that was perilously held by a thread. I believed that God was a vengeful, angry being just waiting for me to commit one sin too many. At that moment, the axe of His judgment would come down and snuff out my life. Is it any wonder that I had difficulty seeing and experiencing the love of God. For more than 40 years the only thing that had resonated with me in conservative evangelical churches was the judgment of God. I lived in perpetual shame. Not only did this prevent any deep intimate relationship with God, I could not love others as Jesus loves me because I didn’t truly believe that God loved me. Oh, I believed it on an intellectual level, but there was this emptiness in my heart. I have told people over the years that I have long viewed myself as someone looking through a window at people sitting at a table. The people at the table were “normal” evangelical Christians participating in the life God wants for them. I am in the building, but I never felt like I had a seat at the table.

Through the gentle guidance of the leaders in Healing Care, and lots of Scripture, I began to redefine myself, not as an abominable sinner just waiting for God to judge me, but as someone God cherishes, loves, and adores. I began to identify the lies that I had been told about myself by others, again mostly by other evangelical Christians, and lies that I had told myself and believed about myself. Reinforced by Scripture and group interaction and support, I began my journey away from a shame-based relationship with God to one of accepting His forgiveness and seeking to live the life He has for me.

So what do I believe about shame now? It has no place in my life. It is a destructive force that separates me from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness. In so many ways I have come believe that shame is worse the the sin for which I feel shame. The Holy Spirit convicts me when I do something wrong. If I live in shame or allow shame to have a foothold in my life, I give an opening to Satan to separate me from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness, which is given freely. 

The Healing Care course which I took was 16 weeks, but it was merely the start of a life-long journey away from shame, guilt, remorse, and judgment that separates me from experiencing God’s love. I can never be separated from His love, but I can be separated from experiencing His love. In my life, shame has been the thing that most often separated me from experiencing the life God wants for me.

2017: A New Year

goodbye-2016Target Audience: Evangelical Christians

Today marks the beginning of a new year. I will not bore you with New Year’s resolutions because like so many others, I make grand plans only to see them fizzle within weeks or months of making them. I think there is something rather egotistical about New Year’s resolutions anyway. 

While a quick postmortem of 2016 is appropriate, rehashing the highs and lows of last year really serves little benefit to anyone. Last year was probably no better or worse than anyone else’s 2016, except for Hillary Clinton. I think many would agree she had a much worse ride last year than many of us. Yes, she hit some highs too, but the crushing defeat she suffered in the presidential election will undoubtedly take some time from which to recover.

Unlike Hillary, my greatest moment of tumult occurred in the summer when I found myself homeless for the first time in my life, and I sincerely hope, the last. I was never on the street, although sleeping in my truck for a week gave me a rude awakening that any delusions of becoming a sixty-something hippie were just that: delusions. I landed in a motel, renting weekly for a month and a half before moving into my current digs with a friend of mine in Oakville. While the cost of living in Oakville is considerably higher than what I had prior to my flight from a previous stable, but unsuitable place of residence. I had been living in a renovated three bedroom bungalow in Etobicoke with six other people and a pit bull.

By the end of the year I was a member of a Healing Care group at my church. Now I have had a number of experiences with various kinds of healing in churches and approach all of them with a fairly well-earned skepticism. Too many are little more than amateur psychobabble groups that attempt to “fix” what is visual and obvious without dealing with the more painful issues that require much more work and dedication. The drive-thru healing groups which I have encountered in the past caused me to balk at this one. The material for this group, though, is based upon the experiences of a minister named Terry Wardle. I know very little about him, but from reading his book Draw Close to the Fire, he experienced a breakdown in his life. The book is about his journey from the pit of darkness and despair, to seeking God in the darkness of the pit, to realizing that until the Holy Spirit heals the deeper wounds in life, it is impossible to experience the fullness of the Christian experience. Unlike the drive-thru healing groups I have encountered in the past, this is a journey. The course is 16 weeks, but from the first session, the leaders made it clear that this is a much longer journey. At best, the material will help recalibrate my thinking and concepts of God and myself. Once that work has begun, I can then proceed to deal with the deep wounds, some as far back as childhood, others as recent as today or last week, with the help of the Holy Spirit. This is not magical “poof” healing. I doubt I will see any flashing lights or feel flames of fire burning away the chaff of abuse and hurt from long ago. There will be no bright light that blinds me from the abuses of the past. I doubt I will forget any of the pain I have suffered, but the Holy Spirit will, in His own time, heal me and help me to enjoy the intimate relationship with God He desires to have with me.

Moving forward into 2017, I do have some goals. These are not resolutions, but just things that I need to do in order to keep breathing into 2018.

Nothing is more critical than my weight. Last week, after my annual Christmas binge, although this year wasn’t as bad as some previous years, I tipped the scales at 370 pounds (168kg). I am 5’10” (178cm) for those in metric countries. Obviously, I am about 200 pounds (91kg) overweight. Personally, I like the sound of losing 91kg more than 200 pounds. At my present weight, I am unable to walk but very short distances and find standing to be extremely painful. Exercise is almost out of the question until I drop some weight. I have set up a spreadsheet on Google to track my food intake. I have been to Weight Watchers at least 8 times, and Overeaters Anonymous at least twice. I have tried a high protein, low carb diet, which worked for as long as I could handle it, but once the boredom of eating the same things over and over again became too great, I binged on chocolate cake and never could get back on track. I know how to lose weight. It isn’t rocket science, but it is a discipline that most people who are overweight find difficult, if not impossible to stick to for long periods of time. I seem to be able to drop 50 pounds almost by thinking about it, but once I begin to feel good, I become careless and start eating things that pack the weight on.

So 2017 has started. I am hoping that I can make significant changes to my life, not just my weight, but spiritually as well. I am hoping that by the end of 2017, I will be healthier and happier than I am today.

Happy New Year!