Many times I tell my clients that it’s not the things that actually happen to us that upset us; it’s what we tell ourselves about those events. I often use the following diagram developed by Dr. Albert Ellis to help folks get a visual of what is happening in their thought life.
“A” stands for the actual event, what really happened. Let’s say you hear about a party or some other event and you are not invited. “B” is your belief, what you tell yourself. You might think, “Everyone is invited except me. There is something wrong with me. No one cares about me.” “C” is the consequence of those thoughts. You can imagine how that way of thinking would make you feel: depressed, unloved, and ashamed. Here is how that looks in diagram form:
“A” Actual event = uninvited > “B” Belief = I am unlovable > “C” Consequence = depression
You can use this diagram with almost any event and feeling. My favorite to use is a common event, that I confess, happens to me sometimes:
“A” = Someone pulls in front of me in traffic. > “B” = “That jerk just cut me off!” > “C” = anger
I am letting my thoughts control my feelings. The result is a bad mood that might last even after I get out of traffic. I have learned to push the rewind button and ask myself what the truth is in the situation.
“A” = Someone pulls in front of me in traffic. > “B” = “He is just trying to get somewhere, same as me. He is not doing it to me. I am not even on his radar.” > “C” = I have forgotten about it by the time I get to the next stoplight. Feeling calm.
This is an example of the cognitive therapy that I do with clients. I help them see their situation in a different perspective. There is a wonderful book that I highly recommend called, Telling Yourself the Truth. Your wrong thinking may be making you unhappy. Give the A>B>C method a try.
We had an interesting assignment in our small group at church. In preparation for Easter, we have been studying the chapters in the book of John that lead up to the crucifixion and resurrection, the final days of Jesus here on earth. In these chapters, Jesus is telling his disciples the important things He wants them to remember after He is gone. Our teacher challenged us with this thought: If you knew you had only one week to live, what would be five things you would want to say to your loved ones? That question intrigued me.
I remember the feeling I had when we dropped each of our three daughters off at college. Had I done enough? Did I teach them everything they would need to know? Those eighteen years that seemed to last so long now seemed to be much too brief. As someone has said, the days are long but the years are short. And if I knew I was going to die next week, I am sure I would have those same feelings again. The years went by so quickly, where did the time go? Did I do all I needed to do as a mother and a grandmother? So here are my five things. Only five? I might need more.
For my family,
Here are the most important things I want you to know, the things I want you to remember after I am gone:
I love you so much, but I could never love you as much as Jesus loves you. My favorite job on earth was being a wife, a mom and a JuJu, and I loved every minute of time I got to spend with you, every phone call, and text. I will not always be here with you. I know you understand that intellectually, but you won’t really KNOW it until after I am gone. You will miss me, but you will always carry a bit of me in your hearts. Just know that I will be waiting for you in Heaven. I am so grateful that each of you has trusted the Lord for your salvation and that we will spend eternity together. Until then, it is my desire that you love each other and keep the family close. Family is important.
This life is not about your happiness, although I hope you are happy. It is about your holiness, and I wish that for you above all else. You will have good times and bad, mountains and valleys. All of your trials have been custom designed for you by God to make you more like Jesus. Like a sculptor who is creating a beautiful work of art, God is constantly chipping away at all of those pieces that need to go, everything that doesn’t look like Christ.
While there is much in this world to enjoy, it is not your home. Remember that you carry a heavenly passport and one day you will get to live there permanently. In the meantime, you are on mission, an ambassador for Christ. You will face scorn, ridicule, and maybe even persecution for your beliefs. The world will call you ignorant, narrow-minded, and rigid. They will tell you that the Bible is outdated and no longer relevant. Don’t believe them. Remember who you are and whose you are. Try to memorize as much scripture as possible because a day may come when you no longer have access to the Bible. And remember, you may be the only Bible some people ever see.
Find a Bible teaching church and join it. Get into a small group and become a part of a faith community. Find your ministry. Get into a Bible study and look for good para-church organizations to join.
To those of you who are still unmarried, make sure you marry a Believer, someone with a biblical worldview. Craft a mission statement for your marriage and spend your time doing things that have eternal value. Decide early that you will go to church on Sundays, and you will never again have that Sunday morning debate. Are we going to church today? It will just become what you do. Learn to tithe early. Pray and read the Bible together. Cultivate friendships with other Christians. Do good in the world and be kind to others.
Whew! That’s a lot, but certainly not exhaustive. I could have included things like keep your little part of the world tidy, be a good citizen and vote, plant trees, and back up your hard drive. But then, you already know those things. Above all, go back to number one. I love you so much!
For others of you who may happen to read this, I would love your comments. What did I leave out? I look forward to reading your answers.
If you have ever traveled with me you know that I am not a light packer. I like to be prepared for every possible occasion, so this might mean five pairs of shoes, multiple outfits per day and lots of makeup and hair products. Making decisions about what to pack overwhelms me, so I end up packing way more than I need. Or use. I have just never mastered the travel system of three black pieces and a few accessories. One time I got to Rome and discovered that my luggage was lost. No change of clothes for three days! I’m not going to let that happen again, so I bought a new carry-on that can hold enough for a couple of days.
I’ve always called myself a “more is more” kind of girl. I like stuff and I have a lot of it. Now I am trying to let go of some of my things and it’s a struggle. A few years ago, when I was enthralled with Downton Abbey, I began collecting china teacups. I was excited to find some of the patterns that I saw on the show, but now I wish I never started. Those pretty teacups are taking up valuable real estate in my china cabinet. And I never use them.
By now you may be wondering where I am going with all of this. I don’t know about you, but I have found it hard to tear myself away from the drama in Ukraine that is playing out before our eyes. I almost feel guilty for going about my daily routine when there is so much suffering on the other side of the world. I watch the people, cold and hungry, sometimes walking for miles, while carrying babies and dragging a suitcase. One suitcase! What do they put in that one single suitcase?
I ask myself what I would pack in that situation. What things would be the most essential? I would probably pack a change of clothes, something sensible and warm. I would not be concerned about having just the right outfit; warm and dry would do. What else? I would probably include essential paperwork and documentation and cash, if I had any. Medications would be more important than mascara. Since my electronic gadgets have become so important to me I would pack a cell phone charger and pray for cell service and Internet. I would really like to take my laptop, but that might need to be left behind. And a Bible. I saw one man on television whose home was destroyed and he was crying over his lost Bible. I get it. I would hate to go through a war without a Bible.
A war (even watching one from afar) causes one to re-examine one’s priorities. What are the things that matter? These people in Ukraine are going to lose every earthly possession. It looks like there will be nothing left even if they are able to return. They will lose their houses and all the contents, things they may have spent a lifetime acquiring. Their cars have been blown up as well a their businesses and schools. And those things are not trivial. I think about family photos and mementos and little trinkets that children have made. Some people must leave their pets. And many are leaving behind precious loved ones, men of fighting age and those who are too old or ill to make the treacherous journey.
So what are my essential things? My family and friends, my two dogs, and some form of Bible. My thing that is most precious to me is the one thing that can never be taken away, even if I lose my life: my relationship with Jesus. That is the most practical thing I can ever pack. It never gets old, worn out, or depleted. It doesn’t take up any space, it is suitable for every eventuality, and it can never be lost or stolen. And if I don’t have a Bible? I would hate that, but I have spent years hiding God’s word in my heart. As I watched that man who was grieving over his lost Bible, my thought was, “Now it is your turn to be a living Bible to those around you.”
May America never experience what we are watching on television. And may God bless all those impacted by this terrible war.
“ For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39.
In my previous blog I wrote about Cooper Kupp, the LA Rams wider receiver who went from being a zero-star college recruit to Super Bowl 56 MVP. But there is more to the story of this remarkable man. In 2019 the Rams lost Super Bowl 53 to the New England Patriots. The score was an embarrassing 13-3. Kupp had to watch helplessly from the sidelines due to a torn ACL, but he was just as devastated as his teammates as they walked off the field in defeat. But then something happened
Kupp says as he was walking off the field toward the tunnel something caused him to turn around. In that moment God gave him a vision: the Rams would come back somehow and win a Super Bowl, and Kupp would walk off the field as the MVP. He kept this vision mostly to himself, revealing it only with his wife, because obviously this was not the type of thing you could go around sharing. People would think you were nuts! Or a braggart. But when he talks about it today he gets choked up, giving all the glory to God. He says he saw it as clear as day. And when this postseason began, Kupp says he began to play differently. He believed. “It was written already and I just got to play free, knowing that I got to play from victory, not for victory.”
I got to play from victory. I have been thinking about that statement for days. What would it be like if we lived our lives from victory and why don’t we? Because if we are Christians, if we really believe what God has revealed to us in His word, then we know that Jesus has already won, and we get to share in His victory. What if we didn’t worry about all the millions of things we humans worry about, and just did our best, knowing that we are assured of victory?
Now just because God gave Kupp a vision of winning didn’t mean it was going to be a piece of cake. There would be setbacks, busted plays, tackles, sacks, and plays that didn’t work. The opponents would score some points. And there would be some hard hits with bruised and sore bodies the next day. And that is just like life. Even if you are a Christian, even if you believe and trust God and His word, you are going to take some hits. You may lose ground, get bad calls, and have to endure trash talk. We are not immune to the sufferings of this life, and we will all experience difficulties and loss. But playing from victory means we are able to live with the end in view no matter what hardships life gives us.
It may look hopeless sometimes; the Rams were behind with only six minutes left to play. I recently had a birthday, and all my birthdays are now big ones now. My friend Kay likes to remind me that we are in our fourth quarter. But if there is anything this football season has taught me, it is how much can be accomplished with only a few seconds left on the clock. Heck, I might even go into overtime. As Believers we do not have to be anxious or depressed about our current circumstances because we can see that scoreboard and know that ultimately we will win. And Cooper Kupp would be the first to acknowledge who the real MVP is. Jesus Christ left it all on the field for us.
Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. 1 Peter 3:18 NLT
An article about Cooper Kupp caught my attention. In case you didn’t watch the Super Bowl, Kupp is the wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams who was awarded MVP after the game. Now I’m not a big NFL fan, but I am a huge college football fan, so what really impressed me was learning that Kupp was a 0 star recruit coming out of high school. Zero! We college fans love our big-time recruits. We want those four and five stars. But for Kupp, it looked like his football days would end after high school, in spite of the fact that both his father and grandfather played in the NFL. He didn’t have a single college offer until three weeks after his senior season, when finally, he received offers from Eastern Washington and Idaho State. Not exactly blue blood programs.
So how did someone with slim-to-no prospects become a Super Bowl MVP? I don’t think he believed the lie that he was a zero. He knew he was more than what the recruiters said he was. His self-worth didn’t come from Rivals or ESPN. He knew he could play football in spite of what others said. His head coach at Eastern Washington was impressed from the start. Kupp was the hardest worker on the field and he proved that he was worth so much more than 0 stars. He won all kinds of awards in college including consensus All American and the coveted Walter Payton award. After college he was drafted by the Rams who were excited to land him. Rams coach Sean McVay said he was one of the most pro-ready receivers he had ever evaluated. Kupp has won numerous awards as a pro and has set all kinds of records. Not bad for a kid nobody wanted.
There is a message in Kupp’s story for all of us. We need to stop believing the lies and start believing the truth about our value. We are worth so much more than our bank account, what kind of car we drive, or where we live. The numbers on the bathroom scales or what we shoot on the golf course are only numbers, metrics. They are not a measure of our value as humans. We are worth so much more than the number of “likes” on our social media page or how many followers we have. We are not the failures we have had in the past or even the successes we will have in the future.
We need to cut out the negative self-talk. Some of us need to stop listening to the voice of a punitive parent (or spouse, coach, or boss, or ex-spouse) in our head. We are not the grade on our math exam, our GPA, or what the mean girls in the fifth grade said about us. We are grown-ups now, and we can know the truth about our value.
Here is the truth: we are worth what God says we are worth. And God doesn’t have any zeroes. Go to the Bible and read God’s love letter to you. He tells us how much He loves and cares for us, that He is always with us, watching over and protecting us. The same God who feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies, cares for and provides for us. Because he loves us! He takes great delight in us and rejoices over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17). I often suggest to my clients that they meditate on Psalm 139, especially verses 13-16. And if you only needed one truth about your worth, here it is: God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for your sins so that you could be in relationship with Him. He wants to have dinner with you! (Rev. 3:20).
Cooper Kupp knows these truths. Even with all the awards and accolades, Kupp says his greatest joy comes from knowing Christ and living out his God-given purpose in life. He knows he is not a zero.
This is a repost from 2017, but I think it is timely this holiday weekend when so many are dealing with grief and the empty chair. Sending you all blessings and wishes for a happy Thanksgiving.
Have you ever wondered why we were created with the ability to cry? I am privileged to sit alongside my clients as they shed many tears. People are usually embarrassed and tell me they are sorry for crying, but I tell them they never have to apologize for shedding tears. In my own life, I have gone through a seasons of tears. There were days when I wondered how I could produce so much water! Finally I decided to do a little research on crying and what the Bible has to say about it.
According to scientists, there are three types of tears and they all differ in their function and chemical makeup. All tears are salt water and they drain through our nasal cavity, which is why so many of us have to blow our noses after a good cry. Basal tears are the tears that we have in our eyes all the time. They keep our eyes from drying out. We produce about 5 – 10 ounces of basal tears every day. Basal tears are about 98% water.
Reflexive tears are those that protect the eye from irritants, such as smoke, onions, or dust. The sensory nerves in your cornea send a message to your brainstem that in turn sends hormones to the glands in the eyes that produce tears. These tears contain a bio-chemical called lysozyme, an antibacterial protection for the eyes.
The third type is emotional tears. Most scientists believe that only humans are capable of producing this type of tear. God created us with this unique ability among all His creatures. I think it is interesting that Jesus (God in human form) also wept (John 11:35; Luke 19:41). These emotional tears are the ones I am most curious about, and it turns out that they have special health benefits. Dr. William Frey, a biochemist at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis, has done extensive research on tears. He discovered that emotional tears contain stress hormones that are excreted from the body through crying. Dr. Frey’s research suggests that when we are under stress, even good stress, our bodies produce stress hormones which are necessary for a fight-or-flight response. However, over prolonged periods of time, these hormones can be dangerous to our health. Dr. Frey proposes that tears are the body’s mechanism for releasing these built up toxins. Crying is beneficial to your health, and research shows that stifling emotional tears can elevate the risk of heart disease and hypertension. Psychologists believe that those who are experiencing grief do better through talking and crying, rather than holding it all in. Sometimes having a good cry is the healthiest thing you can do.
The Bible has a great deal to say about crying. In fact, there are almost 700 references to crying and tears in Scripture. One thing stands out loud and clear: God sees our tears. David says in Psalm 56:8: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Tear bottles were used in ancient (and in some more modern) times during mourning. They were used to collect the tears of the bereaved and often buried along with the deceased as a sign of respect.
God collects our tears. He knows when we are grieving, hurt, sad, frustrated, and angry. He even knows when we cry tears of joy. He sees every tear that falls. And He records all these tears in His book of remembrance (Malachi 3:16). God keeps a database of all our sorrows. And He promises to wipe away all our tears when we get to Heaven (Revelation 21:4), where death, sorrow, crying, and pain will be gone forever.
We take comfort in these things. We are so fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), that even our tears have a purpose here on earth. But when we get to Heaven there will be no need for tears. God Himself will tenderly wipe them away.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:4 (NIV).
In my last post I wrote about the spectacular fall I had at OU during a football game. It was one of my more attractive moments! Since then I have been getting some physical therapy for balance, and part of the therapy involves proprioception, that I also mentioned in my last talk. Briefly, our bodies have specialized nerve endings in our joints and muscles that send messages to the brain about the position and movement of our body parts. For example, close your eyes and extend your arm out to the side so that it is parallel to the floor. Now, with eyes still closed, bend your elbow 90 degrees toward the ceiling. You were able to do that without looking because your proprioceptors were able to tell your brain the position of your arm. Your brain was then able to move your arm properly without the benefit of sight.
Part of my balance therapy requires standing on a squishy foam board and performing movements with my feet, head, and arms with my eyes closed. These movements challenge all of my lazy balance systems at the same time. This is more difficult than you might think. Apparently balance is a “use it or lose it” mechanism. And one of the best ways to strengthen it is to confuse it by making it unstable and then removing eyesight. I can tell you…I don’t like it! I want to be on firm ground with my eyes open.
As I was performing these movements yesterday I was thinking about how much life is like that. We want to be on firm footing and to be able to see where we are going. We want to know what is ahead and figure out how we are going to handle it. When life removes our familiar supports, when things are unsteady and the future is uncertain, we don’t like it. At least I don’t. And this is where walking by faith comes into play.
Walking by faith means we trust God’s promises even when we can’t see where we are going. It means we trust in the goodness and purposes of God even though we may be going through severe and frightening trials. The Bible encourages us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We keep our eyes fixed on the eternal things that we cannot see now, and not on the temporary things that we can see (2 Cor. 4:18). We have hope, not hope as a wish, but hope as a secure anchor that we can trust when we are going through stormy seas.
Here is my true confession: I hate trials and I would rather not have to walk by faith. I want to be able to look ahead and see good things…many more years with my husband, happy lives for my children and grandchildren, a good report in My Chart, a lower number on my bathroom scales and a higher number in my bank account. But I often say, with all the moving parts in our large family, if everyone is at a good place…don’t breathe. Because life can change in a moment. Trials happen, and those trials require faith. And walking by faith through those trials develops my trust muscles.
This much I know: God is a good God…all the time. Even when things don’t look good, I know I can trust my good God. His purposes toward us are always for good, not only for my good, but also for His bigger plans down the road that I cannot see right now. And not only is He good, he is a way maker, and a promise keeper. He makes a path for me, and goes before me and behind me. He is my anchor.
Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters— a pathway no one knew was there!Psalm 77:19 NLT
So it’s been a month now and that has given me time to see the humor in what was a really embarrassing moment. It was OU’s opening football game, and after missing all last year due to COVID, Jerry and I were excited to be back in Norman, and super excited for some football. Jerry had gone to his seat ahead of me, as the game was about to start, while I stayed behind to chat with our grandson. So by the time I got to our row, the stadium was filling up. The Sooners have tried to squeeze as many people as possible into Memorial Stadium, so the rows are VERY narrow. I was making my way to my seat, trying not to step on the feet of the people who were already sitting, or knock over anyone’s drink or popcorn, when I felt the rubber sole of my shoe stick. And that’s when I went down. It wasn’t just a fall. As Jerry says, it was a 10! I went over the bench in front of me, grabbing the shoulder of a man innocently sitting minding his own business (and wearing a back brace!), and finally landed on my two artificial knees! OUCH! It was like landing on ground glass! I know it only took a couple of seconds but it felt like slow motion. Oh the thoughts that were running through my brain! People gathered around me saying, “Don’t get up.” Well don’t worry, at this point I’m hoping the ground will open and swallow me! I managed to get up with a “Ta Da!” in a “stuck my landing” pose, but oh man, was I mortified!
It was this event that finally pushed me into scheduling a visit with my orthopedist, Dr. Keith Stanley. I have been having some posture issues, as well as balance and walking problems. There are days when I feel like I need to re-learn how to walk. After taking x-rays (there are problems), he sat down to talk, and that is when he used the dreaded A word. Aging. My spine is degenerating, my balance is not as good as it once was, and my reaction time is slower. But here is the surprising part: my proprioceptors are wearing out.
I knew what Dr. Stanley was referencing because I studied proprioceptors in grad school, but for those of you who may not be familiar with the term, proprioceptors are the sensory receptors that help the body detect its own position in space. For example, without proprioception you would be unable to touch your nose with your eyes closed, or to balance on one leg. Proprioception provides feedback to the brain to enable you to detect whether you are walking on a hard or a soft surface. It also allows our bodies to perform simultaneous actions without having to stop and think about each one separately, such as running down a football field, scanning for receivers, and throwing a pass.
That was a bit of an “aha” moment for me, because I could recognize that yes, my proprioception is off. And that is the last time I will use that word, but allow me to introduce another word that may be unfamiliar. God in His wisdom created us with a righting reflex, also known as the labyrinthine righting reflex. This reflex corrects the orientation of the body when it is taken out of its normal upright position. When I lost my balance and fell, the labyrinthine righting reflex helped me return to an upright position and regain equilibrium. Humans are not alone in needing righting. Airplanes and sailing vessels have what is known as a righting moment to help restore them to the correct attitude when they have listed or rotated off course.
I wrote about this in my book, Season, and here is an excerpt.
I wonder how many of those righting moments in life have gone unheeded. Those times where we have listed in the wrong direction and have not paid attention to our own righting instincts. We have gotten off course and can’t seem to find our direction. We have missed our true north.
By looking back at your own unique life story and examining the critical events, you discover how the pieces fit together to define who you are and explain how you got to this point. Often we see that some of our worst mistakes, our biggest regrets were actually righting reflexes to point us to our true north. No one likes pain, but if we listen, pain is trying to tell us something. If you put your hand on a hot stove, pain sensors send a message to your brain that causes you move your hand so you won’t burn your skin. Similarly, painful life events are sending us a message that we need to move, to change course, to do something different. We need to be righted. Some of us learn quickly and can right ourselves with only a little discomfort. Others of us need a great deal of pain before we finally wake up and decide to take action. Sadly, some of us stay stuck in pain because we don’t know what to do or don’t think we have any power to change the situation.
I believe our broken roads get us to the place we were destined to be, if we pay attention to the road signs along the way, the righting moments. And by the way, God also gave us the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us, and to whisper in our ear when we get off track. No matter how badly we mess things up, Jesus can use the most broken and damaged pieces of our lives and turn it into something beautiful. He can turn trash into a treasure.
I love the song by Rascal Flatts, “Bless the Broken Road.”
Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29: 11-13 (NIV).
I’m not sure I like my current season. I am calling it The Season of Letting Go. My friends, those in my age cohort, understand. After spending a lifetime of acquiring—family, friends, hobbies, possessions, you name it—we are now having to let go.
This reality has been hitting me hard this month as we have been spending time with our grands before they return to school. Numbers 1,2,and 3 are already out of college and are now adulting, the older two now married with families of their own. We have been having off-to-college breakfasts with 4,5, and 6 during the last weeks. It’s always hard to say goodbye, even when we are simultaneously excited for their new journeys.
I suppose this letting go thing was driven home most sharply when we said goodbye to our Hannah before she left for Nashville last week. This wasn’t the customary off-to-college goodbye. Yes, she is heading back to Belmont, and I am so happy about that. But she is actually moving to Nashville. I truly believe that Nashville is her place, that she belongs there and will find her true north there. But it is 600 miles away! I can tell you I actually have a physical pain in my chest. But I have to let her go.
I have been incredibly blessed to have kept all my chicks close to the nest. All of our children live near us, and all but one of our nine grands has attended the elementary school that is a couple of blocks from our house. This year for the first time in about 25 years, we will not have a grandchild at that school. The youngest is heading to middle school. They are all flying away, creating lives of their own. And even though I know that is how it should be, it is still hard to let go.
The letting go started some time ago. We Baby Boomers began to lose eyesight, hearing, waistlines, and hair. Now we are letting go of our houses, downsizing into smaller abodes. And those moves require letting go of our carefully collected stuff. We really no longer need the punch bowl and matching cups because now it is our daughters who are hosting the showers, not us. (And by the way, they don’t want our punch bowls!) Most of us have let go of careers, and I have seen how this has been particularly hard on men. There are so many “lasts.” And the thing is, we might not recognize a last when it is occurring. A last trip to the beach, a last pet, a last car, and most of all, a last time to see a loved one.
I have watched some of my friends let go of life as they knew it to become caregivers to a failing spouse. More and more, my friends are being widowed. And all too frequently we are hearing about the death of a high school classmate.
Even though I don’t like it, I think all of this letting go is necessary. We must let go of the people and things that keep us tied to earth, because one day we will be leaving. When God is trying to make a point to me, He often comes at me from different angles. I often say He is a multi-media God. So I wasn’t surprised that we sang I Surrender All yesterday in church. I surrender all. Do I? Everything? I might as well because it all belongs to him anyway. Even the children and grands.
We have a friend, a member of our extended family, who is dying. I have been thinking of all the things he is losing…even the small things. He will never again go outdoors, or have dinner with family. No one had to ask him if he wants to let go of his car. It’s a moot point. But oh, what he will gain when he sees Jesus! Who needs a car when you can have wings?
This is my reminder, what I will gain. As the old hymn says, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” Those children and grandchildren have never been truly mine, only on loan from God. And the stuff? I won’t need it. I will leave this world the same way I came into it, naked and empty-handed. And the same God who has given me abundantly everything I have needed in this life will give me everything I need in the next. Who knows? There may even be a heavenly punch bowl in my future!
Out of all the problems and conditions I see in my practice, I believe shame is the worst and the most difficult to heal. Shame is different from guilt, although both feelings are unpleasant. Guilt can actually lead to good, helping us to change direction and turn from the behavior that caused the guilty feeling in the first place. But shame is about who I am as a person. Guilt is about something I did; shame is about who I am. Guilt says, “I did something bad,” while shame says, “I am bad.” I think of shame as a toxic tar baby that keeps us stuck in self-defeating behaviors. Researcher and author Brené Brown states that shame is an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
There is a field of study that looks at the neurobiology of shame and gives us insight into its origins. From birth we are hard-wired to interact with and depend on our caregivers. We start learning immediately which behaviors will elicit care and comfort from them. We seem to know that without a family or a tribe, we will not survive. When we are shamed we experience a fear of being rejected that behavioral scientists call survival terror. To defend against this terror, we develop an inner critic, usually in the voice of the critical parent(s), that keeps us in line, and from experiencing more rejection. This inner voice keeps us behaving in ways that the parent wants, so that we will not get more shame. By adulthood, that inner voice has become our own, and we take it and run with it.
Dr. Richard Schwartz, the founder of Internal Family Systems therapy, explains that we carry around multiple parts of our self. There is the internal critic that tells us how bad we are, and the young part of our self that believes this voice. Usually there is a third part that will do anything to get away from feeling shame, often engaging in behaviors that bring about more shame. For example a person who is experiencing what Brown calls a “shame storm,” might get drunk or engage in risky sex to try to get away from the feeling of shame. Of course that only serves to perpetuate the cycle of shame.
The Bible has much to say about being freed from shame. It tells in Psalms that God does not want us to live in shame and describes Him as “the One who holds my head high.” In the book of Romans we are told that when we come to Christ we are no longer under condemnation. God accepts us unconditionally into His family.
If you have been living with toxic shame, there is good news. You can learn to silence that inner critic and see yourself in a different light. Thanks to neuroplasticity, your brain can learn new ways of thinking and behaving. A therapist, a pastor, or a good support group can come alongside you in a journey of self-exploration. You can be set free!