Previously I shared how we all feel shame, and thus we tend to hide by keeping other people at arms length. Many people don’t even realize how they are holding back from living fully because of the unconscious shame that lives under the surface.
Today I’ll give some real answers as to how to live and love fully. Grace and vulnerability, enabled by the Gospel, pave the way for a new version of being in the world. They fuel inner peace, creativity, and the ability to fulfill the purpose for which we were created!
The Gospel Neutralizes Shame’s Power
God knows our shame. He knows our hiding wasn’t limited to the Garden of Eden, but that we continue to cover ourselves today, from the seeing eyes of those around us, and from His presence.
But the cross changes everything. Christ shouldered our brokenness on the cross. In His redemptive work He bore not only our guilt, but any legitimate reason we had to feel shame. His resurrection ushered in a new state of being, a new humanity. In Christ, we are new creatures. His death and resurrection are applied to us in a very real sense, in that we have died to slavery to sin. And, in Him, we have risen from the dead, to a life of bond service to righteousness. Jesus’ life models a new humanity that we as His church live into.
As a 22-year-old deep in the pit of an eating disorder, there was an epiphany that transformed my relationship to myself and to the world. For the first time, I grasped the concept of Grace.
I saw in a new way how God lavishes His grace, or unearned love, upon us. He spoke an identity over us, that in His Son Jesus, we are now pure and clean and lovely.
In Christ, we are not defined by what we do, but who we are. We are His. We are not human doings but rather human beings.
As a 22-year-old, I realized there was a grace over me that none of my failures could erode. This grace was the one thing that could outrun my shame. Grace had welcomed me into the family of God. Here I truly belonged. In fact, my belonging was a greater truth than whether or not I felt accepted by other people. God Himself had declared me acceptable, objectively acceptable. My acceptability was no longer based on human capriciousness or whether I made it into the popular crowd.
I held onto this concept of being “objectively acceptable” everywhere I went. It was like my shield against core beliefs of inadequacy that continued to harass me. I literally repeated this in my mind as I walked into social situations that used to terrify me.
Of course, even though my head knew it, it took a while for my heart to catch up. Sometimes our brain gets something years before our heart.
But something else started happening simultaneously as I spoke my new identity over myself. Bit by bit, I began to lower my guard and let other people past my walls. It ceased to be necessary to hold everyone at arms length. I began sharing with other people some of the hurts and legalism I had experienced in the Christian church. And I found that I was received with compassion rather than judgment.
Brene Brown writes, “It appears that believing that we’re ‘enough’ is the way out of the armor – it gives us permission to take off the mask” (Daring Greatly, p. 116).
Only when we bask in the healing sunlight of grace can we find courage to stop hiding. Grace gently invites us out into the open.
Hand in hand with grace is the concept of Sabbath. At Sinai, God instituted a day of rest for the Israelites that was to foreshadow the true rest from our works when Jesus appeared many generations later. Jesus’ work on the cross enabled a deeper, truer rest of the soul than merely abstaining from work one day a week. This is the rest of knowing that God’s work is finished.
Sabbath can be a day of the week to remember that we are not defined by our to-do lists. Productivity doesn’t define our worth.
But Sabbath is more than a day a week. It is a mindset of rest. Sabbath is being productive in the world, not so that we will be enough or have enough, but because already are enough and have enough. Sabbath is rest 7 days a week.
This is what Sabbath is all about. We have the opportunity to declare over our lives that our salvation is not in all our labor. Our adequacy does not look like trophies earned or checkmarks on our to-do list. Our adequacy flows from acknowledging our creature-ness, and the restful trust we must then fall into.
Knowing Our Limits and Letting God be God
One of the outcomes of vulnerability is we must acknowledge our own limits. We cannot be like God, omniscient, omnipotent, never having a bad hair day. Acknowledging our finitude threatens our pride and isolation. Yet what a gift to recognize that we are human, mere reflections of a perfect glory. And we need not be more.
Creativity and Risk Taking
Brene Brown says, “Shame breeds fear. It crushes our tolerance for vulnerability, thereby killing engagement, innovation, creativity, productivity, and trust.” (Daring Greatly, p. 188)
What would it be like to live without the fear of rejection? A grace-filled culture frees us up to dream, and take risks! Failure is no longer a statement of our worth. Instead, failure becomes merely a learning experience, a stepping-stone to growth!
As Brene Brown says, the person who is living into grace in the context of a loving community gets to say, “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
Vulnerability in Community
In his book Hiding From Love, Dr. John Townsend suggests, “Perhaps the number one root of emotional disorders is that some part of the self is isolated from relationship” (p. 5). Indeed, the aspects of the self that have been unconsciously cast off in childhood must find their proper expression once again in order for the human to be whole.
Many Christians feel condemnation when they do not read their Bible or pray regularly. Other Christians struggle with sexual sin such as pornography or extra-marital sex. In legalistic environments, shame is rampant, and these sins or shortcomings make individuals want to run and hide. But what is hidden from love cannot heal.
On the other hand, in a community environment bathed in grace, both sins and mental health struggles lose some of their scariness and shame. Our brothers and sisters start to hold our struggles with gentleness, care, and holy curiosity.
Let’s talk about what it means to live this grace-filled life as new creatures in Christ. This, to me, is what emotional health is all about.
Just like fertile soil, sunlight, and regular rainfall provide an ideal context for the budding plant to thrive, relationship is the perfect environment for healing. Something deep within us begins to open up to an empathic, listening ear. As Brene Brown points out, ”Empathy is a hostile environment for shame.” Within the sunlight of empathy, shame loses its power.
But what would really allow us to open up, one to another? After all, most of us have also experienced the dark side of exposing our true hearts. We have experienced the sting of shame when another person responds to our disclosure with disgust. And worse, they may abandon us or publicly humiliate us. Sadly, this is particularly true in churches.
Yet opening up about our weaknesses and failures is the surest way to bring healing. Dr. Townsend says, ”The message of the Bible, though, is that our sanctification includes having these imperfect parts exposed to relationship.” (Hiding From Love, p. 97)
Transparency combined with empathy and truth also has the ability to cut off sin in its tracks. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” While sin abounds in darkness and hiding, it is light and empathy that it cannot abide. Brene Brown says, “Shame cannot survive being spoken”. And as shame loses its power, healing occurs.
Here in holy communion with the saints, we rest. We learn what it means to be rather than know, and to be rather than do. We show up to brothers and sisters who are themselves flawed and broken, and need our love and guidance as much as we need theirs.
God has placed in our hearts a desire to belong to something, a group or community or family. Though some are introverts and some are extroverts, we all are relational beings. The yearning to belong is basic, like the hunger for food and thirst for water.
Fitting in is a substitute for belonging. When, in our shame and sense of unworthiness, we try to change ourselves, like chameleons, to please others, we forfeit the opportunity for true belonging.
Grace-Filled, Vulnerable Communication
Now Let’s talk about some of the earmarks of grace-filled, vulnerable communication!
These can be characteristics of a family, a workplace, a small group, or a church. When practiced in our relationships, these communication principles create a culture that is warm and open and feels a little bit like the Kingdom of God. So let’s get into 4 actionable principles of grace-filled, vulnerable communication.
1. Grace-filled, vulnerable people, know that emotions matter!
Grace-filled people know that our feelings are not our god! Feelings can be idolized as a sort of moral compass, a north star, a guiding force. This is a huge mistake and not what we are talking about here. The problem is that because of this huge error, many Christians have written off the role of feelings altogether. That is also a huge mistake!
But vulnerable people filled with grace understand that emotions are tools God has given us that, metaphorically speaking, take the temperature of what’s going on inside of us, sort of like a soul thermometer.
As we learn to respect our emotions for what they tell us about the state of our soul, we learn to reconnect with our bodies and the signals our bodies give us. In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pete Scazzero says, “God speaks to us through a knot in the stomach, muscle tension, trembling and shaking, the release of adrenaline into our bloodstream, headaches, and a suddenly elevated heart rate. God may be screaming at us through our physical body while we look for (and prefer) a more ‘spiritual’ signal. The reality is that often our bodies know our feelings before our minds” (p. 71).
2. Grace-filled, vulnerable people ask questions, and then they really listen!
In a culture built on the gospel, the heart is more important than behavior or outward appearance.
Now, we all know this. Right? But when we feel identified in some way with a person who is struggling, whether that’s because they are part of our family, our church, our dear friend, etc., sometimes we feel a need to control their behavior, we want them to look good, to preserve our own reputation. Anybody noticed that? But that is not real love. Love cares about the heart. Love wants to really know the other person. Love celebrates the beauty in the other while walking alongside them in their struggles. Love puts the other’s needs above our own. Love wants the other person’s good, whether they look good on the surface or not.
3. Grace-filled, vulnerable people pay attention to the layers of the heart.
In our close relationships, we have to dig through what we call the “layers of the heart”. I think this is a really helpful conceptualization both to care for others and to understand a little better what it is we do in therapy. This is a tool I gained from Jaslyn Dixon, who is a therapist on staff at Reality Church in Los Angeles. So think about these layers in terms of starting shallow and going deeper and deeper. They are:
- actions (What has been said or done)
- feelings (Happy, sad, angry, confused, afraid, ashamed…what are they feeling? What are we feeling?)
- interpretation of experiences (This one refers to the overarching subjective meaning the person has made of their experiences throughout their lives.)
- beliefs (These are fundamental ways of seeing the world. We may not even be fully aware of them yet.)
When we patiently work through these layers, we are getting to the core issues rather than slapping on Scripture like a bandaid.
Ultimately as we ask questions and listen, we are hearing the deep need of the heart. As we’re listening, part of our job is to listen for our brother’s or sister’s longing. If they’re talking about a problem in their lives, what is it that they’re longing for? This longing is often something that may not be explicitly spoken! Are they lonely? Perhaps they long for presence. Are they feeling overwhelmed? Perhaps they long for peace and to know they’re enough just the way they are. Do they feel persecuted or are they experiencing some injustice? Perhaps they need an advocate, someone bigger and stronger who has the ability to enforce ultimate justice.
Then we must affirm this longing, this deep need of the heart, for the good thing it is! As humans created in the image of God, we are filled with needs and longings that are good and reflect our Creator. As we hear the deepest longings of our brother’s or sister’s heart, that is an opportunity to gently point them towards Jesus.
The problem is that often our order of attachments is off. We are attached to something else more so than God.
It should be noted here that as we’re having these heart to heart conversations, it’s easy to stay in your head. But the layers of the heart are NOT merely cognitive, they are not merely intellectual! Many of us Christians know all the “right” biblical answers. What we don’t realize is that those truths have only reached an intellectual level. Even though our head gets it, our heart still doesn’t.
Leaning into emotions is the best way to engage the heart. We must embrace tears, not avoid them, rush to offer a tissue, or change the subject. Once the heart is online, it can receive God’s grace and love in a life-altering way.
4. Grace-filled, vulnerable people use “I Statements” and avoid blaming language.
When pouring out your heart, the quickest way to get the other person to become defensive and cold to you is by making them sound like the bad guy. I mean, how do you feel when someone starts telling you everything you did wrong, and painting you to be a horrible person?
“I statements” include 1) how I feel, and 2) the specific action you took that triggered that feeling.
“I statements” mean you take responsibility for your own feelings, and avoid assuming you know the other person’s motives or intention. Rule of thumb: always assume the best of the other. (None of us can ever fully know or judge each other’s motives!)
Here are some examples of “I statements”:
- I felt unimportant to you when you came home 2 hours later than you said you would.
- I felt left out when you didn’t invite me to your bridal shower.
- I feel overwhelmed and alone when you leave me with the kids all afternoon on Sundays while you watch the game.
Now, if any of what you have heard today strikes a chord or piques your curiosity, I would encourage you to consider taking a next step.
The first way you can do that is to consider doing some personal work with a therapist. What I have presented today is information that I believe is powerful and life-changing, but there is no transformation comparable with doing deep work with a therapist.
In addition to this deep therapeutic work, keep practicing the rhythms that celebrate Gospel and usher in life. For example, journaling, participating in vulnerable community in your local church, and studying the Word of God are all ways to allow Grace to penetrate down to the core of our being.
The Gorgeous Life is about all the facets of female life in Christ Jesus. You’ll find tips to cultivate glowing health, be more present and alive in your relationships, develop inner and outer beauty, and laser-focus your sense of purpose in the world.
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