Tuesday, October 16, 2018

in honor of the babies we never got to hold


“Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month was first declared by President Ronald Reagan on October 25, 1988. On that day he said:
‘When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.  This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world.  It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes. Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.’”

Four and a half years ago, I joined the 25% of women who have experienced a miscarriage. “Experienced” is the word they use when you read statistics, but it sounds like such a cold, medical term for losing a person, a life that began and ended within your very own body.

My miscarriage occurred along with another medical complication that led from one emergency to another for several months. No one seemed to be sure what to do with me because of my HCG hormone level—the one that should have dropped when the pregnancy ended—and its stubborn refusal to fall to zero. For months, I had to have my blood drawn weekly to track the HCG level. I remember checking in at the hospital for this simple blood test. The woman who checked me in asked what I was there for. When I tried to explain without going into all of the confusing details that had been my life for the past weeks and months, she looked at me, pen poised in the air, unsure of what to write down. 

“So are you pregnant?”

I didn’t even know how to respond, trapped in the hell of being pregnant-but-not-pregnant. My grief had been shoved aside by my mounting anxiety after an emergency surgery, problems with anesthesia, injections of a chemo drug that made me sick and drastically slowed my recovery from surgery, blood test after blood test, and my doctor’s maddening lack of confidence coupled with the concern that was written all over her face every time she spoke to me.

When my physical problems resolved at last and my body slowly began to normalize, the grief finally hit with the subtlety of a semi-truck. I hated the bitterness I felt when I saw other friends’ bellies swelling with the growth of healthy babies due to be born close to when mine should have been. I could hardly stand to be in the company of women who complained about the typical discomforts of a healthy pregnancy. I was ashamed of my bitterness and anger, but I couldn’t find a place to put them. I had become extremely anxious after the medical scares that had caused me to be overly in tune with and concerned about my body. I sought counseling but was annoyed with the way the therapists spoke to me and overwhelmed by the thought of trying to find a new one. I began to have frequent, unexplained crying spells and was shocked and ashamed when I was diagnosed with depression, along with the anxiety I had known was present.

Eventually, I found a therapist who was helpful. After much time had passed and my desire for another child eclipsed my fear, the Lord was gracious to bless us with a baby girl. She came to us just shy of a year after her brother should have been born. A small part of me felt guilty for my happiness as we rejoiced in this baby’s new life. 

“Am I so easily forgotten?” I imagined my son whispering.

Last spring, four years after my miscarriage, a friend gave me last-minute information about a women’s retreat called “The Power of Story.” I was just finishing up the first draft of my first book, so it seemed providential. We were instructed to bring an item with us that would help us tell about something significant to our personal life story.

From the moment I read the instructions, I knew what I was supposed to bring. I had just been writing about the story of my miscarriage, so it was fresh on my mind. The only tangible item I had from the baby I had lost was a onesie that I had made when I found out I was pregnant. I had intended to use it as a pregnancy announcement. It was a red onesie with the Dr. Seuss character “Thing 2” on it to match the “Thing 1” shirt I had made for my firstborn. After the miscarriage, I didn’t want to see it and be reminded of my loss, but I also couldn’t seem to part with it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I had shoved it away in a dark corner of my closet. 

It seemed like such a dark and heavy thing to bring with me to talk to a room full of strangers at a women’s retreat, but I could think of nothing else. I kept putting it off, hoping I would come up with another idea. 

Minutes before I needed to leave for the retreat, I gave in, mostly because I had no other ideas. I got the onesie out of my closet, when suddenly, it hit me. This onesie was not complete on its own. It didn’t belong by itself, and loss wasn’t the defining characteristic  of my motherhood. Though I had lost the baby, I was still his mother.

I’m the mother of THREE babies! I thought, I suppose for the first time ever. 

I ran around the house and through the garage like a mad woman, frantically pulling out old bins of baby clothes until I found two more onesies: one that had been my firstborn’s when she was a baby, and one that had been my second daughter’s. 

I took all three outfits together to that room full of strangers and told them about how God had transformed me through each of my three children. For the first time, I understood where my son’s onesie belonged. His memory, his onesie, belonged right between his siblings. The grief that I had shoved aside, mentally and even physically into a dark corner of my closet, seemed to come out for some fresh air. My sadness and bitterness had felt shameful before and I had sent them into hiding. Now, it felt like fragmented pieces of myself were integrating as I allowed myself to place his life into our family. Everything felt whole and right.

This month is complicated for me, as it is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and also the month my second daughter was born. Isn’t that the way it usually goes, though? Joy and grief, pain and comfort, integration arising out of the fragmented pieces of brokenness, beauty for ashes. I’m still sad when I think of him… sad and grateful. He changed me and made me more whole, but I wish it had not been at the expense of his life. 

My feelings about it are still complex and jumbled at times, but I believe that God, the Creator of life, creates every life on purpose and is glorified in the creating. Today, I honor the son I never got to see but who affected me and shaped me profoundly as a mother. I honor his life and each life that was over after it had just begun. To you who are grieving, whether it is the loss of a pregnancy or a different loss, every one of your tears is precious to Jesus. May He bind up your broken heart, comfort you as you mourn, provide for you as you grieve, bestow on you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy in stead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. You, precious ones, are oaks of righteousness. You are a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

—Isaiah 61:3

Friday, October 12, 2018

#momand


Yesterday at Target, I heard the unmistakable cry of a newborn. You know the one--tiny, insistent, and louder to the mother than to anyone else in the surrounding area. I saw the mom pushing a cart back and forth to calm the baby, who was in an infant carrier in the cart. I was instantly transported back in time to stressful trips to the store with a newborn in tow. You never know when they’ll be hungry, despite the fact that you’ve just fed them, bodily fluids are likely to explode out of somewhere and make a mess on you and/or the baby, and it’s not always clear why they are fussing, but going to Target usually seems to set them off. Maybe it’s all the red? Who knows. 

Later, in the parking lot, I saw another mom at the cart return. She was baby wearing while trying to lift a toddler into a shopping cart, but the logistics were not working out. I saw her smiling, laughing at the impossibility of the situation, and I thought of times when I have laughed to keep myself from crying. 

Moms are amazing, and we often have no one telling us what a great job we’re doing. We give ourselves away and then piece ourselves back together again. I would love to elevate the untold stories of regular, every-day moms.

This is where you come in! Are you a mom and a business owner? Are you a cancer survivor or do you suffer from mental illness? Do you foster? Do you homeschool your children? Are you a teacher, doctor, therapist, pastor, or real estate agent? Are you pursuing a college or post-graduate degree? Do you care for a medically fragile or terminally ill child? Do you parent a child with disabilities? Are you pursuing a dream? Have you published a book or started a nonprofit? Do you work outside the home? Do you volunteer for an organization you're passionate about? Anything goes! 


I am looking for moms to interview briefly for a new blog series called #momand If you would like to nominate yourself or someone else to be interviewed, choose one of the following ways to get in touch with me:

Blog: Comment on this post with the name and e-mail address of the person you are nominating (it can be yourself) and finish the sentence: “[person’s name] is a mom and …” For example: “Lindsay O'Connor is a mom and is in the process of writing a book.” I will send an e-mail to see if the person you nominated is interested in being interviewed.

Instagram: Find the #momand post on my Instagram account @shamelessbibliophile  Tag the person you are nominating and finish the sentence: “[person’s name] is a mom and …” For example: “@shamelessbibliophile is a mom and is in the process of writing a book.” OR send me a direct message on Instagram. I’ll send a message to whomever you tag to see if she is interested in being interviewed. 

Facebook: Find the #momand post on my Facebook page, Rooted in Love. Comment on the post and tag the person you are nominating. Finish the sentence: “[person’s name] is a mom and …” For example: “@rootedinlove is a mom and is in the process of writing a book.” OR send a direct message through my Facebook page. 

Thanks for your help! I can’t wait to share your stories!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

what to do with the pain of a nation


On the heels of the “me too” movement, the media coverage of the senate hearing for Brett Kavanaugh has brought forth an outpouring of women and men sharing stories of horrific abuse and mistreatment. As much as I wanted to support those who mustered up the courage to share, I found myself wanting desperately to look away. I didn’t know how to engage, what to say, how to show support. My words seemed small. It all felt like too much, and really, it is. It is too much. 

Then, a friend I hadn’t seen in many years shared his heart-breaking story and the devastating impact the abuse has had on him. My need to look away was replaced with deep sadness for someone I knew all those years ago. The protective forcefield I had constructed around my heart shattered, and I found within myself the capacity to be present to the pain of so many others who have shared similar stories. A flood of grief and lament poured from my heart when the story of one person cracked a dam I had been relying on to keep me safe—safe from pain, safe from fear, safe from heartbreak.

Yesterday I read the story of when Jesus fed the crowd of 4,000 in the wilderness. He had been  teaching them for three days when He called his disciples to Himself and said, 

“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”
-Mark 8:2-3 (ESV)

Any help we can give from a pure heart begins with compassion. Jesus noticed a problem and had compassion on the people. He called attention to the problem and the disciples responded, 

“How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
-Mark 8:4

Often when the Holy Spirit calls our attention to someone’s pain, our first instinct is to feel sad and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. We may feel compassion, but we can become paralyzed by our insufficiency. In their question, the disciples pointed out the obvious fact that they were in a “desolate place,” nowhere near access to the abundance of food that would be necessary to feed so many people. I love Jesus’ response in Mark 8:5:

“How many loaves do you have?”

While the disciples focused on the impossibility of feeding a crowd of hungry people, Jesus redirected their attention. To their “We don’t have enough,” Jesus seemed to respond with, “But what DO you have?” I think He responds to us the same way. When I read my friend’s story of abuse, though it is clearly a problem beyond my capability to solve, Jesus shifted my attention to “But what DO you have?” All I had was grief, and that did not seem like enough.

The disciples told Jesus that they had seven loaves of bread, which Jesus took, blessed, and broke, and the miracle of the multiplication of the bread happened in His hands. The less we have to work with, the greater the miracle He can do when we hand it over to Him. After giving bread to the people, verse 7 says that they had a “few small fish,” which He also blessed and instructed to be set before the people. When He first asked what the disciples had, perhaps the fish seemed too insignificant to even mention. As we begin to see Him work with what little we give Him, which connects us more closely to Him, He can open our eyes to other resources we didn’t even consider because they seemed so small in comparison to the problem. The people ate and were filled, and an abundance of food was leftover. Jesus could have made the food appear out of thin air, but He chose to take what the disciples had and multiply it. He desires to partner with us, allowing us to contribute our "not enough" to fulfill needs that only He is great enough to meet. We get to be in on the joy of noticing a problem, having compassion, and doing our part to share in His work in satisfying needs.

In our own nation, multitudes of people are in great pain, and recent events in the media have highlighted just one of many overwhelming ways people are hurting. I don’t know that anything I said or did made a difference to my friend in his time of need, but I do know that in the hands of Jesus, my capacity to give to others was multiplied. I cried out to the Lord on my friend’s behalf, prayed with my husband, tried unsuccessfully to get his phone number, sent him a message the only way I knew how, and followed along to see that someone who lived near him was able to help. I still don’t know how to help, but I gave what I had. I had lament, technology to get a message to him, and most importantly, the ability to cry out to a God I believe is good and just and compassionate and able to save.

After this happened, I circled back to some other friends whose pain I had been holding at a distance, and I gave them what I had: lament, prayers, words of affirmation, and gratitude for their courage in sharing their stories. Sometimes we need to give money or talent or resources or time or a hot meal or a vote in an election or a visit to a hospital. We need discernment and healthy boundaries to know what we have and what is ours to give, but let’s not downplay the gift of lament. I know from firsthand experience that sometimes when I am hurting in a way that no one can fix, the most needed gift is the validation of a friend who makes space for my grief. And who knows. Maybe if I stay connected to God, He will remind me of “a few small fish” lying around somewhere that He can use, too.


The next time you are overwhelmed and heartbroken for someone who is hurting, whether it is one person or a whole nation full of broken people, tell God about it. You might be surprised by your own answer when He whispers back, “What do you have?” Your not-enough might just pave the way for a miracle as He takes your offering, multiplies it in His mighty hands, and lavishes His abundance on His children.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

why I keep talking about race

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. …If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 
-James 2:1, 8-9

Over the past couple years, I have returned repeatedly to a portion in James that warns believers against showing favoritism. I have read it over and over, and for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why the Lord kept bringing me back to it. “Favoritism” and “partiality,” as it is called in some translations, are not words that we use very often. I didn’t feel the immediate sting of conviction that I do with some other verses. 

Then something happened. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I began to notice something that had been happening. I saw the news fill with stories of police brutality against innocent black Americans. In Dallas, just down the road from me, a protest against police brutality ended with the murder of five police officers. Last summer in Charlottesville, Virginia, in response to the removal of a Confederate statue, a horrific display of white nationalism at a protest became violent, culminating in the murder of a 32 year old counter-protestor. 

In the midst of these devastating incidents, I watched my Facebook feed become a contentious platform for people’s anger and defensiveness. My mostly-white community of Facebook friends remained silent or defended the accused police officers and responded to “Black Lives Matter” with indignant exclamations of “All lives matter!” The outpouring of support for the Dallas police department as they grieved the loss of five officers suddenly became polarizing. As we had blue ribbons from our neighborhood association tied around the trees in our front yard in a show of support for the Dallas police department, I suddenly found myself wondering how the blue ribbons made people of color feel. Where were the ribbons around our trees after the unjust killings of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Edwards, and so many others? If we show our support for the police but not the victims of police brutality, what message are we sending to our brothers and sisters of color?

Shortly after the Charlottesville protest, a friend shared a Facebook post encouraging white people to elevate the voices of people of color (POC) instead of just adding our (white people’s) own opinions to the noise. The post included a list of people of color who post about issues of racial justice, and she suggested that we (white people) start following them. I had never heard any of the names before but began to follow each one. As I read posts and articles written by POC who graciously educate white people about what it’s like to be a person of color living in America, everything shifted for me. I watched them engage in uncomfortable discussions with white people who denied that racism is a problem or that we (white people) all benefit from a system that upholds white superiority. I began reading books and listening to podcasts by POC who shared painful experiences. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I began to wake up to the reality that my experience as a white American is vastly different than that of black and brown Americans.

So began my ongoing journey of awakening to the problem of systematic racism in our country. Undoubtedly, one of the most uncomfortable parts of the journey has been acknowledging the ways I benefit from a system that upholds white people as more valuable than POC. Because this message is in the very air we breathe in American culture, it can be subtle and hard to see without assistance. Even more difficult, I have begun to confront some of my own biases and prejudices that I would rather have left unacknowledged. 

Favoritism? What favoritism? I used to ask myself when I read James 2. I pretty much love people, right? 

Now I read it and think of the times I have made incorrect assumptions about someone based on her skin color. I think of my shelves full of books written by white authors, my Facebook feed full of white friends, my neighborhood full off white people, and all the people of authority in my life, the overwhelming majority of whom have been white. I think about how white my world has been from the time I was born, and suddenly, I know I need this admonishment to beware of favoritism. 

Inevitably, this has led to a broader exploration of the experiences of other marginalized groups of people. I am learning that I can listen to people who have different perspectives and even different values than I do while still honoring the gift of their vulnerability in sharing their stories. I can set aside my judgment--and all the ways I have rationalized why my view is right and theirs is wrong--long enough to listen to their pain. 

In one conversation with a sister of color who shared the ways she has been hurt by racism, she asked how I had become interested in learning about racial reconciliation. As I shared my journey with her, she was intrigued by why I would engage with matters of racial justice as a white person who benefits from the system. 

The deeper I delve into this work, the more I realize that like all sins, the sin of favoritism in all its forms—racism, sexism, classism, and so on—harms us all. The denial of the biblical truth that all people are created in God’s image prevents us all from experiencing the richness of life that Christ died to give us. I am honored and grateful for the brothers and sisters of color who have entered into this work willingly, patiently, and with so much grace. God has used their willingness to engage in this messy work to slowly remove the blinders from my eyes in my ongoing process of awakening. Instead of bitterness, they choose hope. Instead of holding on to anger, they choose to educate the very ones who have hurt them. 

As I am learning to submit intentionally to the leadership of people of color, my worldview is expanding and my view of God has exploded into something greater than I ever could have imagined. I find His image in all of these new friends and co-laborers in the work of racial reconciliation, and the stunning beauty of it takes my breath away. 

While visiting my sister's multiethnic church recently, I stood in the midst of a congregation of people with every skin color imaginable, and we all praised God together. In my mind's eye, I saw myself entering a place with a huge banquet table filled with people of all races and ethnicities, with Jesus in the middle. I was overwhelmed by the beauty and richness of the scene before me and the feeling you get when you know you are being offered something infinitely greater than what you deserve. He looked at me with love and affection radiating from his eyes and said, "Welcome to the table." 



Sunday, August 26, 2018

when Jesus passes you by


Have you ever had the feeling that Jesus is passing you by as He is on His way to perform a miracle for someone else? Have you ever seen someone receive the answer to the very prayer that you have prayed for a painfully long time? What a confusing, difficult, and painful experience this can be for those who know and love Jesus!

After I had a miscarriage, I was ashamed to admit the ugly but plain truth that it was painful for me to see others enjoying healthy pregnancies and healthy newborns. A friend’s complaints about the normal discomforts of pregnancy highlighted a root of bitterness in me. I would love to have a pregnancy to complain about, I thought. I felt a deeper sadness with the approach of what should have been the due date for my baby, and other babies born close to that time were a reminder of what I was missing.

In Acts chapter 3, we are introduced to a man who has been paralyzed for over 40 years— since the day he was born. Every day, his friends would bring him to the gate of the temple to beg for money because he was unable to work for a living. Because he was over 40 years old at this point in the narrative, we can surmise that he was a contemporary of Jesus. Surely Jesus passed by the paralyzed man more than once while the man sat begging at the temple gate. It seems likely that the man would have heard of and perhaps even witnessed Jesus healing others who were blind, lame, and deaf. I wonder whether he ever spoke to Jesus or asked for healing.

When we are in the midst of painful circumstances, our pain is sometimes exacerbated when we see others receiving and even taking for granted the thing that we are seeking so desperately—a healthy body, a joyful marriage, a successful and fulfilling career, a healthy child, healing from mental illness…the list goes on and on. 

Sometimes when we have been hurt deeply or our prayers have gone unanswered for a long time, we stop asking God for a miracle because the possibility of disappointment is too painful. Depending on our unique circumstances and personalities, we find ways to cope and learn to live our lives with something missing, broken, or unfulfilled. The paralyzed man in Acts 3 was unable to work for an income, so he learned to cope with his disability by begging for money. He sat there day after day, completely dependent upon the generosity of others, possibly even watching Jesus pass by multiple times throughout his life. How unseen he must have felt! With each baby shower invitation and each pregnancy complaint spoken to me during my time of grief, I felt unseen. Doesn’t anyone care or notice that I’m hurting?

Perhaps the man continued to hope for healing until the death of Jesus. When Jesus no longer came (physically) to the temple, maybe the man resigned himself to a life of begging, if he had not done so already. After more than 40 years of being paralyzed, he carried on with his routine of asking for money when Peter and John approached the temple. Verse 4 says that Peter and John “looked intently” at the man. After being passed by countless times for decades—for his entire life—this man, his suffering, and his present condition, were seen. Then, Peter said, “Look at us!” I wonder if the man, so unused to being noticed as anything other than a permanent fixture at the temple gate, could hardly bear Peter and John’s direct gaze. 

Let’s pause the story for a moment. If this narrative is uncomfortably familiar to you, if you are in the midst of suffering that has gone on for far too long, if you have been waiting for your miracle so long that you’ve ceased asking for or expecting it, if you are hurting because Jesus seems to be passing you by on His way to answer the prayers of others around you, listen carefully. 

Look at me. 

If you and I were sitting across the table from each other, I would look you in the eyes and tell you with all the conviction that I have, 

God has not forgotten you. 

You are no less precious to Him than the friend who just had her healthy baby while you continue to wait for a positive pregnancy test. You are no less visible to Him than the co-worker who got the promotion that you worked and hoped and prayed for. You are no less worthy than the person who got the “cancer free” report while you are gearing up for your next chemo session. 

God. Has. NOT. Forgotten. You.

Isaiah 49:15 says, 

[The Lord answered] “Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.

You matter to Jesus.

He sees you.

He has a plan for you that is unique and beautiful. 

Let’s return to Acts 3. After Peter told the man to look, the man gave them his attention. Peter responded by saying that he had no money to give but would give what he does have:

…In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 
-Acts 3:6-8

After over 40 years, this man was healed immediately. Forty years of disability disappeared in one miraculous, holy moment. The temple gate, where the man’s weakness and disability had been on public display for decades, suddenly became a platform for the public display of his healing, and people noticed. Verses 9 and 10 say:

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Because the man had been there so long as such a permanent fixture at the temple gate, the people recognized him and were amazed at his healing. His weakness had been on display for all to see, but so was his miraculous deliverance.

He followed Peter and John into the temple, where Peter pointed the onlookers’ gaze to Jesus, the author of the miracle they had just witnessed. Peter used the miracle to help reveal who Jesus was (and is) and to encourage the people to repent and turn to Jesus “so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). In Acts 4, we see that as a result of the miracle and Peter’s message, many who heard the Gospel message believed, and the number of the men was about 5,000. The paralyzed man’s physical healing was the catalyst for 5,000 people’s spiritual healing.

I don’t know where you are, but I can say with confidence that God does. He hears your prayers, and He sees you even as He may seem to pass by you while you sit, paralyzed, and wait on Him. He knows your weakness and hurt, your vulnerability when your lack seems to be on an embarrassing display for others to witness. 

If that’s you, I have good news. When we surrender our lives to Jesus, our suffering is not in vain. I don’t know what His plan is for you, but I know that it is better than anything we could imagine on our own. The answers to our prayers may seem to be greatly delayed or may come in different ways than we asked for or expected, but He sees you and He is faithful. If you are still waiting for your miracle, your healing, your deliverance, keep holding on. He may just be lingering to wait for the crowd of 5,000 to gather and bear witness to His glory in your life as you rise up on those paralyzed legs and dance in His praise. Keep asking, hoping, and trusting, and get your dancing shoes ready.


Friday, August 17, 2018

the 5-letter word that no one wants to talk about


I was at a coffee shop one night, enjoying the luxury of catching up on some adult conversation with a friend while our children were at home. I told her I was writing my first book, and being the supportive friend that she is, she asked eagerly, “What’s it about?” I answered, “Shame.” 

I was caught off-guard when her smile faded, her eyebrows crinkled into a look of concern. “Oh, Lindsay. Why? What’s wrong?” This was the first of several conversations with other people who responded similarly, as if they wondered, “What terrible thing happened to make you feel ashamed?” 

Shame is the five letter word that no one wants to fess up to.

I had had no idea that shame was a problem for me until the Lord revealed it through scripture study. Then, as I studied the work of Brené Brown, I began to understand that though we may not like to admit it, we all experience shame (with the exception of sociopaths).

Shame is the fear of losing connection with others due to our perceived unworthiness. Guilt results from a discrepancy between our values and our behavior (i.e., “I’ve done a bad thing”) and motivates us to change. Shame is when I feel that I am a bad person and am unworthy of love. This feeling is so devastating that it is difficult to move from shame to a change in behavior. Our instinct is to cover up rather than lean into the pain of allowing our shame to be revealed. We use various coping strategies to protect ourselves when we feel ashamed, such as people pleasing, deceit, boasting, feigning apathy, defensiveness, withdrawing, and hustling for worthiness as we place our self-worth in accomplishments. When shame prevents us from dealing openly and honestly with sin, we can’t experience the abundant life God offers. 

Hebrews 12:7-8, 10-11 says:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Four truths from this passage can help us deal with shame in a healthy way.

1.    God is good.This is so simple and overly familiar to seasoned believers, but many of us perceive God as waiting to catch us misbehaving so that He can retaliate. Verse 7 says that He is treating us as his children when He disciplines us. We need to know and believe, deep down, that nothing we can do will cause us to lose favor with the Lord once we belong to Him. All discipline from the Lord is for our good. When we struggle with this, we can ask God to reveal His goodness and we can study His character in scripture. He delights to reveal Himself to those who seek Him.

2.    You are not the exception. Verse 8 says, “…and everyone undergoes discipline…” (emphasis added). One of the lies shame tells us is that we are the exception. Other people may experience God’s love and forgiveness, but shame tells us that we cannot or will not, that our sin is worse, our shame runs deeper. Shame does not want to be spoken, so one of the most effective ways to deal with it is to connect with someone you trust who will listen without judgment and say, “Me too.” When we connect with others who are open about their struggles, shame loses its power to isolate us.

3.    If you want the inheritance, you have to have the discipline. Verse 8 also says, "If you are not disciplined…then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.” A true son or daughter has inheritance rights. When God reconciled us to Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we (believers) became coheirs with Christ. We have an inheritance of abundant life that God desires us to experience here and now, but the way to accepting the inheritance comes through the refining chastening of the Lord.

4.    Shame does not lead to righteousness and peace. Verse 11 says that though discipline is painful at the time, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace. Shame keeps us from taking an honest look at our sin and bringing it before the Lord. As we are refined through trials, God allows us to experience the painful process of having our sin exposed so that He can heal and forgive us. This process sanctifies us and moves us toward our inheritance of righteousness and peace.

Though shame is part of the human experience, we can learn to move more quickly to bringing our shame to Jesus for healing as we grow in faith and trust in His goodness.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

-Hebrews 4:15-16