What it means to have boundaries with yourself

This one single topic I believe can change your life forever.  Stay with me here, this isn’t an infomercial.  I want to share with you the idea that the boundaries you have with yourself can drastically affect the relationships you have with yourself, with God, with your friends, family, coworkers.  How in the world do you have a boundary with yourself?  What is a boundary anyways?

First we need to define what a boundary is.  It’s much like a house with a yard and a fence.  I often think of my emotional self as a “house” with different “rooms” (parts of myself).  I also have a “porch” where decisions take place: It’s there that I decide what I’m willing to take inside my “house” (my emotional self).  For example, when someone gives me a compliment I literally picture it as someone giving me flowers on my door step.  I choose to bring them inside to admire them for a while. Those flowers (compliments) look good, smell good, and brighten my day in my home but do not determine its worth or valueMy house is the same whether or not there are flowers inside.  Another example would be when some people try to hand me a heaping pile of steaming poo that also looks like a guilt trip.  I can choose to bring it inside into my house where I have to smell it and hold it and cry over the effects of this lingering gift.  Or I can stand on my porch and hand it right back to them and say “currently I am not accepting guilt trips.”  No poo in my house!  But outside my house is my yard with a fence. It separates me from other people, everyone in fact.  I am the only one who lives in my house and it is my job to protect it.  Sometimes I have neighbors on the other side of my fence that I call friends and family who help me from time to time but ultimately this is my responsibility to decide who comes in and out.  If someone crosses that line without being invited there will be consequences.  Now, don’t get me wrong I do let people in.  Those people have my trust and I allow them into my home, some people different rooms than others.  This is the vulnerability glue that holds us together with other humans.  It is part of our ingrained primal instincts to be a part of our herd, our humanness.  Some let others come and go in and out of their house, leaving it in ruins, with little value because they didn’t protect their fence line and then resent them for ruining their house.  Others have let no one in their house in years because someone tried to burn it down once- so they live like hoarders with piles of stuff they haven’t gone through.  So much so, they can’t even walk around, they just stay in one room.  (Are you following, this analogy is getting deep…)

So now we are operating under the assumption that our emotional selves are a house with one owner and it is our job to protect the house, yard and fence.  What happens when someone crosses it uninvited? It really depends on what it is. Maybe the person didn’t see it – they didn’t know it was there and you just need to bring it to their attention- in a kind way.  Like “Hey I saw you texted me last night.  I turn my ringer off at 8:30 so I won’t be answering any texts or phone calls after that.”  Or maybe you need to reinforce it:  “Like I said before, I don’t want your wet bathing suit to be left on the floor.  Please respect our household rules or there will be consequences.” But sometimes people do not respect your boundaries and mow over them- almost challenging you to enforce them: “Next time you choose to come to my house without calling me first you will not be allowed in.”

The main thing that makes a boundary a boundary isn’t the fence – it is what happens if someone crosses it. Otherwise, why would it be there? Consequences to boundaries ideally should be considered at the same time of placing the boundary; Although, sometimes you don’t have time to think about it, because you thought it wouldn’t be crossed. For instance, a guy grabs your butt at a party- do you slap them?  Tell them off?  Call the police and file a report?  The last one is a bit extreme but you get the point.  The consequence should be one that “fits” your conviction to the boundary. If you don’t want your mother-in-law absolutely to not give your children ice cream, and this is extremely important to you, then you may threaten that they may not spend time together unsupervised.  But this may not be an issue for others.

One reason I am in love with PD (personal development) is because I realized I get to grow and learn and become a better version of myself through teaching myself things like boundaries.  A fascination with psychology of humans, I suppose.  Because, like many others, I didn’t grow up in a household where these things were talked about, or even known about.  I am so grateful and honored that I get to be the one to stop these patterns of behavior and instill them in later generations.  I get to alter the course of my own family and help others do the same.  I am by no means perfect and need do overs, permission slips to be human, and have to clean up messy deliveries of information.  But that’s ok because that means that I’m trying and that I care.

Which brings me to my main point- we know how to have boundaries with other people and the consequences but how do we have boundaries with ourselves?  This is something so many people struggle with and it looks like self-control– which is a piece of boundaries anyways. It takes self-control to not blow up on your husband for not putting his dishes in the sink.  Instead of yelling (which is what we want to do because we probably feel unappreciated) is realizing first that it is NORMAL that we want to yell- we are being human.  But we have evolved and realize that he is also human, we assume he did not have ill-willed intention toward you, we give him grace and say “Hey babe, I saw you left your dishes in the sink after dinner.  It would really mean a lot to me if you put them in the dishwasher next time.”  Chances are when your husband, who loves and cares for you, hears that kind request, instead of yelling, he will probably respond with a willingness to help- rather than look for a spiteful defense from the attack of all the yelling.

Grace + Self-control + Kindness = Boundaries with self (aka a term I’m going to coin as Autogenous Boundaries).

What does this look like?

I go through a process in my head.  For an easy example let’s say there’s a warm chocolate chip cookie in the breakroom at work. I’ve been on a diet and lost two pounds and really I don’t want to eat the cookie because I know it will derail the rest of the day.  But my salad is gone from my stomach already and I have 3 hours left of work.  So first I acknowledge my primal human self: “Of course you want to have that cookie! It looks and smells so good and you’re hungry!”  Then I set the Autogenous Boundary: “But the reality is you know what will happen if you eat the cookie, it negates the salad you worked so hard to choke down and will probably come with a autogenous guilt trip which will mean a stop for some fried chicken on the way home.  So if you decide to eat that cookie you will regret it and not lose the weight OR you will have to have that protein shake for dinner (consequences).”  It sounds simple because it is.

Something I was not taught, but now that I am in my thirties, I am fortunate to have learned what types and flavors of abuse there are: physical, emotional, spiritual, verbal, sexual, and there may be more.  I wish everyone was taught not to accept certain behaviors but also how to have Autogenous Boundaries to avoid it themselves.  Behaviors I may have used to but no longer tolerate without exception are:

  • Violations of my body (physical or sexual aggression or threats)
  • Name calling and belittling
  • Violent intimidation, threats, or violent behavior (slamming doors, throwing things, breaking things, punching things)
  • False accusations of my intentions
  • Snarky comments
  • Blaming
  • Guilt trips
  • “Always and never” statements
  • Cursing
  • Voice raising
  • Actual finger pointing
  • Threat of harm to myself or other living things, including suicide

These things stay on the other side of the fence and if they occur all kinds of alarms get set off. Once, I went to buy a clock from someone.  It was not as described and was broken.  I politely declined to buy the piece.  They then started cursing, yelling, and threatening to “beat up” my husband who was not present.  I quickly removed myself from the scene and filed a police report.  While some might say “he called you a mean name get over it,” he threatened the safety of my husband and disrespected my boundary of how I feel I deserve to be treated.  You teach people how to treat you based on what you tolerate- what you allow will continue. That is a necessary piece to drive the whole idea of boundaries- your house has to be worth protection TO YOU, regardless of the value others place on your house.  (Click on What God Says About Me for how to find value in your house).  It is how you (and God) value your house- whether it is a pristine mansion or a shaky shack- it’s up to you to place enough value on it to protect it.  Whatever kind of house you have emotionally it is worth protecting at all costs.  Until you can believe that, you will not have the stamina to protect it.  If you don’t currently identify with that statement: “my (emotional) house is worth protecting at all costs,” you can use progressive language like “I’m figuring out how to value my house,” or “I’m on my way to see what it looks like to value my house in order to protect it.” If you are consistent then eventually you can believe it.

So now we have our valuable house with a yard and fence and we are standing on the porch with a gun. Okay, maybe not a gun, maybe welcoming arms with a discerning alarm system.  These alarm systems are like muscles – the more you use them the better they become.  So don’t beat yourself up if you are “trigger happy” when you first start to protect your fence line.  But trust your gut- if it smells fishy it’s usuallya fish.

All this lead up to say: Autogenous Boundaries are like boundaries with others, except with yourself. Acknowledge the human wants and gut reactions.  Give yourself grace and an allowance to be a human.  Then understand the consequences and don’t allow yourself to fall into patterns of behavior because you didn’t have good boundaries with yourself.  This is how people gain weight, get lazy at work, gain additions, quit brushing their teeth, live their life being swallowed in unnecessary guilt and shame, and tolerate being a people-pleasing doormat.  (How to be a Christian without being a doormat). I have heard myself in an argument say in my head “no self, you’re not going to say that!” Or “If you don’t brush your teeth I’m going to spank you!”-not a real consequence.  But what about a mom who has a child with an addiction: “Of course you want to give him money to get his car out of impound, but we are not going to do that because he has to suffer the consequences of his own actions.”  Or the very rampant problem, infidelity?  Go through the process: “Of course you want to go flirt with the security guard at work. You have been going through a lot in your marriage lately.  It’s human to crave belonging.  BUT there are some SERIOUS consequences to that- so we are not going to do that.  We will instead avoid the temptation and take the stairs.”  (Just to clarify that was a made up scenario). But you get the idea.

If we can give ourselves grace for our human wants, and even primal needs, then we can better set behavioral boundaries with ourselves- whether it’s about our weight, our arguments, our addictions, or our relationships. That understanding will then free us to live our best life- one that we can be proud of.

 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us. power, love, and self-discipline.” -II Timothy 1:7

Photo credit: Lauren Garrison Photography

How to be a Christian without being a doormat

Hi, my name is Lauren and I’m a recovering doormat.

Through my growth in Christ I have come to wonder- Where is the line between service to others and “doormatism?” It is a very grey area to me. We are supposed to serve others with a willing heart but also not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I do something for someone I didn’t want to do and then shame myself for resenting them- “you shouldn’t be annoyed, you’re doing what Christ wants!” But am I really?

This post has been as much as the Holy Spirit revealing to me areas I need to work on as much as it is a blog post on the fruits of the Spirit. How in the world are we to be the hands and feet of Christ without being a doormat-people-pleaser?! On my way to work this came to me as a blog post idea. At first I thought maybe I could identify 3 areas to describe. But the Holy Spirit had more to say. Don’t worry I only made notes at stop lights. Mostly. Please don’t tell my husband.

1. the state of your heart

Wouldn’t it be great if every time we were about to do something we stopped and thought about our motives for doing it?

“The sacrifice of a wicked person is detestable — how much more so when he brings it with ulterior motives!” Proverbs 21:27

When we accept the Holy Spirit, He resides in us. He begins to go to our dark, hidden basement with a flashlight, sorting through the moldy junk we’ve been putting down there and ignoring. He reveals to us at the right time certain things we either need to dust off and bring to life, or just throw away the things taking up too much space.

“Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

1 Corinthians 2:10

Even the depths of God. Wow.

Sometimes if I think about it before I say yes to something- whether it’s cookies for the art show or committing to a project- I ask myself: “Can I do this thing without resenting them later for it?” If the answer is “I don’t know.” It’s a no. (If it’s not “shoot yea” it’s a “shoot no.”) This is my way of evaluating my motives. Can I do this thing for THEM because I want to help and be of service? Or am I doing it because I should? Am I ‘shoulding’ all over myself? I do this more times than I’d like to admit.

“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

“And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’” Matthew 25:40

This is a great reminder that when I’m cleaning up the mud off the floor and want to curse the person who left it there (probably was me, let’s be honest). I’m reminded I’m not doing it for me, for us to have a clean house, or for our visitors’ judgments of how well I can keep house. I’m doing it for God. My King wants me to serve others with a willing heart because ultimately I’m serving pieces of Him.

2. personal boundaries

If you have not read the Boundaries books by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, I highly recommend them. Everyone could benefit from these life-changers: Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries, Boundaries With Kids, Boundaries With Teens. This is one way being a Christian and a doormat are not the same. We do not have to put up with certain behaviors in the name of God. As the body and temple of Christ we are called to, not only be intolerant of, but to bring light to abuse, mistreatment, and inhumanity. We have an obligation to stand up for and protect ourselves.

I struggle with finding the line sometimes between being a part of a family and codependency. I think it’s possible, according to the right motives, to care for, help, and serve others but to also have boundaries with knowing when it’s gone too far into “saviordome.”

“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Matthew 18:1

3. your yes is yes and your no is no.

“But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37 (This was our son’s Bible verse one week- never know where you’re going to get revelation!)

We’ve all done it- or had that friend do it- where we ask something of them. Then we see them grit their teeth and say “suuuuure…” You know good and well that they DON’T want to do it. And every time you ask them for something you never really can trust them to tell you the truth. You would rather hear: “Thank you so much for asking, that means a lot. But right now I’m going to have to pass. I hope you can understand.” That puts a marble in the trust jar. You know their yes is a yes and their no is a no. Saying no does not mean you are being unkind. There’s no need to explain your reason or make excuses. When we don’t speak up or say our truth –it makes us a liar. Truly evaluate your motive (#1) and say your truth. We can’t be perfect. We can’t do everything. But if we prioritize we can be awesome at some things. If we are spread so thin trying to say yes to everything that comes our way we are going to be resentful, joyless, and burned out.

4. others needs are more important than your own consistently over time

Notice I said consistently over time. There will always be those moments when you have to pee but your toddler has to go first. You have a need from your husband but he’s not in the headspace to be there for you in that moment. Those moments I go back to letting it be a way that I can give selflessly without resenting and move on.

But if this is something you’re doing over and over and never choosing to make your own wants and needs voiced- that invites resentment.

Serving the body of Christ includes self service- you are part of the body. You matter. Your health and wellness matters. Many times the Bible says Jesus went away by himself to pray. #introvertgoals

5. pleasing people instead of God

“For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

I don’t know about you but that one hits me hard. This explains why I have allowed the staff I worked with to play dirty music. This is why I’ve laughed off racist jokes to win the approval of those around me. Or why girls think it’s cool to watch porn with their boyfriends. Or why couples move in together before marriage. Or why spouses justify flirting with their coworker. It’s so hard to stand up and create a new path in the wilderness because we all are searching for belonging. It’s not a bad thing to need belonging- it’s innate. Standing alone creates this uneasy, lonely feeling. You might be rejected by everyone in the room and that’s hard. Cry it out if you have too. But then pat yourself on the back because our loving God is smiling and pleased with you. Angels are clapping for you and high-fiving each other at your sacrifice of pleasing God over man.

A few months ago someone said to me: “you’ve taken His Spirit with you wherever you’ve gone.” I’ve had a dark decade of my life. Grosssss. I am so sorry Lord for taking you all those places physically and mentally.

“Nevertheless, many did believe in Him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, so they would not be banned from the synagogue. For they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” John 12:42-43

6. you can’t fully love others if you don’t know how to love yourself.

“The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” Mark 12:31

This begs the question: how do you love others as yourself if you don’t love yourself?!

First I want to define love. In my humble opinion, it is not a feeling. A feeling is a feeling and those come and go faster than a hot knife in butter. The poets had it all wrong. Love is an action verb. Love does. He GAVE His only son. Love MAKES coffee for your spouse. Love CROSSES the street to help someone else stranded. Love SAYS kind and encouraging words. No one would have any idea you love someone if you don’t SHOW it. How do you show love to yourself? By taking care of your own needs. There’s no need to feel guilty if you need time to yourself to workout, to put makeup on, paint your toenails. Look in the mirror and compliment yourself. You wouldn’t look at your friend and say “oh those thighs are so gross!” (When we speak poorly of the art we are really speaking poorly about the artists’ abilities). Are you speaking to yourself like you would a friend? Whatever it is- acknowledge your need and speak up. This goes back to #3&4 – There is no gold metal for letting everything else get in the way of taking care of yourself. You’re the only one in charge of that. An empty cup can’t pour. Refill your own cup so you can refill others. For those who have accepted Christ- you are a vessel for His Spirit. This is a duty to protect it and treat it well. You are perfectly and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Treat yoself with kindness like the incredible temple you are.

7. purposeful grace instead of resentment

None of us REALY deserve grace. We purposeful or unknowingly hurt others. But they forgive us (hopefully) and we all move on. Sometimes it is “doormatism” to totally forgive a friend or spouse or family member who done did you wrong. But it’s also part of being a Christian. Love covers a multitude of sins. Kindly express how their actions made you feel. Then forgive. At one season of my life I had to look up the definitions of forgiveness, grace, and mercy no less than 20 times. It doesn’t dismiss the person’s actions or require you to forget. Maybe some boundaries need to be placed. But for me, forgiveness means not holding it over their head, not dwelling my thoughts on it. It’s a choice to choose grace over resentment. Jesus asked God on the cross while he was actively dying to forgive those doing this to Him because they don’t understand the impact of what they’re doing. I haven’t been nailed to a cross lately but I can assure you I wouldn’t want to forgive those who were hurting me.

8. assuming good intentions of others

Brené Brown described in one of her amazing books that everyone is doing the best they can with the (emotional) tools they have at the time. That mentality makes me more empathetic. It makes me move towards the person instead of put up a wall. We all need to be loved, especially when we are being ugly. Judgement immediately puts a wall between you and the receiver. Sometimes just reframing the way you think about certain situations can move you from the doormat to the hugger.

9. believe that you too are worthy of service

This is an extension of number 6. We must believe that we all are worthy of being forgiven, being served, being loved in order to give these things to others. If we cannot fully comprehend the love and grace of God that we have received then how do we know to give it to others??

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

10. my identity is in Christ not the doormat

Notice I refer to myself as a recovering doormat- I don’t want to associate with something I don’t want to be. If I constantly identify with it it becomes part of me. (I’m really into semantics y’all). Something I didn’t realize until I was 32 is that everyone has a “God-shaped” hole in their hearts that only He can fill. We all have this longing for something more. More love, more belonging, more joy and good feels. We all try to put things in there to fill it: accolades, selfie likes, medications, alcohol, sex, porn, hoarding, shopping, vanity. None of us are immune. We all want to feel whole. Only Christ can do that for us.

I have been heart broken, on the bathroom floor, repeating Bible verses to myself as I cry. Believing this is easier said than done at times. And then there’s those moments when I don’t let others opinions affect my mood and I call it a win.

“May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

11.victim chair

I went to a retreat recently. While I was there God showed up. I know He tells me things when stuff pops into my head unprovoked, with no linear thought. It’s usually one word or small sentence. He values brevity, hah. As God revealed things to my heart I drew a victims’ chair. It was a throne, beautiful, comfy, and familiar. The crown was labeled “pride.” The umbrella shielding me from the sun light was my pain. The handcuffs keeping me there were labeled “shame” and “fear.”

All that to say that being a victim will always make you a doormat. You’ll always be the intended or unintended receiver of everything negative. You won’t be able to fully give to others without resenting because you’ll always be the victim. I know this because I love sitting in that familiar chair. “Well I wouldn’t have _____ if you wouldn’t have _____…”

So join me in getting out of that familiar and comfy chair and walk over to that person who needs love and love all up on em. Be the person you needed when you were needy. Not because any of us deserve it but because it’s what we are called to do as disciples.

Photo credit: Lauren Garrison Photography

What God Says About Me…

I’ve been meaning to post something sooner- I have a lot of posts started but haven’t finished yet. In the mean time we’ve experienced two deaths in our family, traveling, a pipe burst, Christmas and all its glory, etc etc. So I dug into my “archives” from early in my journey with God. I am very grateful for my journaling because I can look back and, not only see how far I’ve come, but also remind myself of things I’ve forgotten.

Sometimes I get hung up in finding material for my blog. I’ll spend two hours writing something and then I’ll say to myself: “This isn’t good enough.” Or “This is too basic and common sense.” But I have to remind myself – if I think I’m a 5 or 6 on the knowledge scale then I get to help the 3’s and 4’s, not the 7’s and 8’s.

Just this morning I heard about a study where people who were trying to change their habits were either instructed to say “I can’t” versus “I don’t.” Those who said “I don’t” were far more successful at avoiding the unwanted behavior than those who said “I can’t” because “I don’t” is associated with their identity. It’s who you are. Such a small change but a good reminder. It’s all semantics. How we talk to ourselves can be life giving or take the wind completely out of our sails. I get it. When someone else your entire life has told you unkind things about yourself- these can be hard to dispel. But you didn’t believe those bad things right away- you were convinced after the repetition. To replace the good with the bad it takes repetition. And you won’t always believe it. But don’t forget WHOSE you are. This is why I personally need to read the Bible every day. (I’ve just started the ‘read the Bible in 365’ plan on the Bible app! You can do it with friends too!) I need the constant reminder to love myself and others, to remind me that I am wanted and loved and pursued. I even saved this picture of Jesus laughing to my phone lock screen. I needed to picture Him as my best friend, not the angry judge above me. I’d imagine him reclined in the chair beside me, so intrigued and intently listening to what I say.

Once in my life I only cared what others thought of me. My favorite adjective was the F bomb. The tighter my clothes the better. The dirtier my jokes the funnier. I thought my only value was in my body and my ability to earn money. Any and all transformation is absolutely God’s doing (for His glory) and I am forever grateful for His guidance and freedom from my shackles.

So without further ado I give you my list of things I felt God saying to me as I first started to read, pray, and study the Bible. This is what the Holy Spirit did inside of me those mornings I couldn’t wait to get up at 4:30am to spend time with Him. I hope it touches your soul.

What God says about me

I love you.

I appreciate you.

I am grateful for you.

You are a rare and beautiful treasure.

I forgive you. Even for the things you’re not sorry for.

I’m proud of you. I’m proud to be your dad.

I smile and laugh and clap with unending joy for you.

I created everything for you and want you to enjoy it. You are why I do everything I do.

I want to spend time with you because you are important to me.

You are worth listening to, worthy of sacrifice, worthy of time and love and attention.

I hold you to a high standard.

You’re free from bondage.

I give you grace, undeserved favor. No matter what you do I will always love you and pursue you.

I’m not going to beat you up for what Jesus already got beat up for.

You have a special calling today.

I believe in you and I’m cheering and clapping and jumping for you.

I believe you will succeed.

I’m not going to give up on you.

I relentlessly pursue you.

I’m not going to give you what you think you deserve.

You are my prized possession.

I am patient with you. I am ready when you are.

I will come to you wherever you are.

I have compassion for you.

I get you. I understand what you’re going through. Don’t give up.

Everything you do- do it for me.

I delight in you.

My power that raises the dead to life is in you.

I give you infinite peace.

I am your greatest comfort and hold you in my hand. Close your eyes and surround yourself with my warm arms of grace.

I have bottled every one of your tears because your pain is important to me.

I’ve put you in my parade of victory and triumph.

I never grow tired or weary- you can depend on me. I will make you strong physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Do not be shy or ashamed- you are free from all guilt and regret.

Trust me. I will always be honest.

I’m renewing your spirit and give you endless hope.

Don’t worry, you won’t be on earth for long before I bring you to my home with me. I’m preparing your castle. You’re going to love it.

Everything awesome is from me, my gift to you.

The old you is gone. I’m proud of the you that you’ve become.

No matter what you’re going through in right here. I’ll never leave you.

I’ve made you brand new. You are my bride. Your dress is sparkling white.

Celebrate your weaknesses for without them I could not work inside you. I need you to need me.

Trials are my way of making you strong. You’re tough and I’m preparing you for something amazing. You’ll see.

Please don’t doubt me- I will give you all the knowledge, wisdom, and things you need. Let me be enough for you.

I will never tempt you- I will show you the way out, just ask.

Isaiah 9:6

Isaiah 25:8

2 Corinthians 2:14

Isaiah 40:28-29

2 Corinthians 3:17

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Isaiah 41:10

2 Cor. 5:17

Isaiah 43:2

2 Corinthians 5:21

2 Corinthians 12:9

James 1:2-4

James 1:5-6

James 1:13

(Photo credit: https://thejesusquestion.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/jesus_laughing21.jpg)

How Shame Keeps Us From Loving

Something happened in the 7th grade that was pivotal in mapping out the rest of my life. I grew up middle class in the nice part of a smallish town in the Midwest. I moved from a private Christian school to public schools in the 4th grade and was lucky to have made a few friends that made the transition easy. Good thing because a few years later I was an UGLY DUCKILING. The end of the ugly duckling story results in a beautiful swan but sometimes that swan still feels like the frizzy-haired, braces wearing, awkward, insecure, acne-faced, unfeminine giant. I would look at the beautiful, outgoing, popular, skinny girls in my class with admiration and envy. Their skin was clear, their teeth were strait, their hair was Disney princess and they all wore Abercrombie. Their picture perfect families would get together on the weekends, the dads playing golf and the girls painting each others toenails like a Ralph Lauren commercial. The handful of them had gone to school together their whole lives. For two years in a row they cheered together on a community squad for the football team of all the popular boys in the school. Some of the girls were in gymnastics, making them highly valued in the cheering community. And then there was me, trying to find where I fit in. I was a smart and my favorite class was band.

At the end of spring semester were cheerleading tryouts. Despite how much I hated the cliché valley girl persona cheerleaders were associated with I was considering it for a few different reasons. For one, my mom was a cheerleader in high school. She was very different from me. She was outgoing and I was painfully shy. She, too, played the saxophone, and to follow further in her footsteps I,too, became a nurse. I was motivated to compete and do more and be better than my mom. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about it. But I also just really wanted to show those snobby brats they weren’t the only awesomesauce in the school. I wanted to prove to them and myself that I could do it.

So I showed up. I went every day to learn the routine and practiced it at home until it was flawless. The final tryout day was Friday. I felt ok about my performance despite my voice being shaky and nervous.

The results were posted on a piece of paper in the window of the front door at the school later that night. I searched desperately for my ID number on that list. I found it. There it was. I made the squad. Take that snobs.

Then reality set in. I was going to be forced to spend 3 days a week and multiple games, pep rallies, and events with these girls I had little in common with. I ended up making friends with two other girls and we became inseparable through high school. To this day I still think it was an important year of growth and putting myself out there. It gave my self confidence stretch marks and gave me the courage to go after bigger things later in my life.

As part of my conservative Midwest upbringing it was expected that we would attend every church service and event offered. Just like any other Sunday evening we went to church, but this particular day I decided to bring my fundraiser for cheerleading in case any of those giving Christian ladies needed any chocolate or Fancy Christmas wrapping paper. I was not a salesperson so my best tactic was a sweet smile and asking if they had a moment to take a look at my pamphlet. Didn’t always work but that was all my shyness could muster. I made the rounds and then approached my Sunday school teacher. This woman bravely took on the task of teaching hormonal and emotional middle school girls why exactly boys and short skirts are not everything in life. I walked up to her and said “Hi Mrs. J would you like to see what I’m selling for my cheerleading squad?” She didn’t smile much and this was not one of those times. She looked at me and replied, “I don’t support cheerleaders.”

I’m sure my body and face coordinated the visible deflation of shame. I don’t recall if I gave her a dirty look before I walked off but I said “ok” and retreated out of the pews. I was so hurt and not emotionally equipped with handling rejection or shame or oppression based on false stereotypes. Am I something bad? Did I spend so much emotional and physical energy to be something Christians shouldn’t be? Is my mom bad? What is so bad about cheering?

I’ll never forget what happened a few minutes later. A woman who overheard the encounter came up to me and told me to forget what my teacher had said. This was odd because they actually were good friends. She smiled and gently said,

We need disciples in every corner of the world.

Wow I went from shamefully wrong to a called disciple!

I’ve thought about that moment a lot. What would happen in this world if we looked at whomever we deemed as not “Godly enough” and just left them alone to stay in our perfect Christian bubbles?

“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

So that they may see your good works and give glory to God. Are people won over through oppression and judgement? NO! We are won over through love- good works. Being treated with love, dignity, and respect, especially in the presence of controversial opinions and bias, is what makes undeserving sinners feel worthy. I love Brené Brown’s quote from her book Braving the Wilderness: “It’s hard to hate people from close up; move in.” We are all unworthy of every good thing based on our deeds. But it is not through deeds that we have won the kingdom of God. It was an unmerited gift.

“A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more? ” Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” “You have judged correctly,” He told him.” Luke 7:41-43.

Perhaps those who have experienced oppression, or been shamed for their identity are more likely to extend invitations of belonging to others because they know what it feels like to be rejected for being human. Humility is the birthplace of acceptance. Acknowledging that we are all broken, all struggling, that we all have had to overcome something difficult is what binds our humanity. To deny this is to deny true love for one another. Once we can grasp this concept then follows true empathy, compassion , and mercy.

If we do not go into all the world looking for disciples then who will? We sit at home and pray “God send someone to save the people of the world” but we forget it’s up to us.

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

Spiral Up

When I was a kid my mom would talk to herself out loud ALL THE TIME. She would literally share her verbal brain while she was doing an activity. It stressed me out to listen to her audible to do list as a kid so I just learned to tune her out.

But in reality we talk to ourselves in our brain all the time. Sometimes it’s just a feeling- that guilt when you’ve said something you shouldn’t have, that anxiety before starting your first day of a new job, that pride after marking a new personal record. But sometimes it’s actually words or a conversation: “What are you doing? You’re a failure. No wonder she doesn’t love you anymore. Look at your thighs, your skin, you’re disgusting. No one is ever going to want to be close to you. They aren’t going to believe you. He’s going to leave you like the rest of them do. No one cares about you. They’re going to find out you’re a fraud. They’re laughing at you and how stupid you are. Here we go again.”

Ouch.

That’s VERBAL ABUSE, my friends.

This inner critic serves a primal purpose- to keep you safe and part of the tribe. But I also think this is Satan’s favorite tactic to stop us from doing God’s will: “Let’s make him strive to be perfect. We know he won’t be since he’s human. Then he will feel like a failure. He will tell himself over and over again that he is a failure, becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. Once he believes he is a failure he won’t have the courage or motivation to do God’s will. Works every time.”

When we are triggered to think something may be the case, we look for evidence to support it and go further down the path of self sabotage, reaffirming our perceived worthlessness.

But we don’t have to go there. This voice can ride along, it always will. But it doesn’t get to drive. We have the power to spiral up, too.

You’ve always had the power, my dear You just had to learn it yourself.” – Glenda, Wizard of Oz.

The Bible says to take captive our thoughts and turn them towards him:

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

That didn’t say we would have lovely thoughts all the time. It said we have thoughts that need to be captured, caught, arrested, bound, confined. It also didn’t say this is wrong- it’s human.

We need to stop beating ourselves up for being human.

These words are not the typical weapons of the world; they are the sly tools of the devil. BUT! We have been given the power to apprehend and redirect these flaming arrows (Ephesians 6:16).

One day when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed I wrote down everything my inner critic was saying. At first it wasn’t words, just feelings. I dug deep and gave it a voice. Half way through I was in a cry-writing frenzy. All the while realizing that I had a lot going on deep inside. And then my critic, Veronica (because that just sounds like a woman of sass), said “wow you are really messed up. You’re hopeless; look at all this mess!”

Later I went back and reviewed my diatribe to myself. There I sat, tearing up in the living room, reliving the most egregious string of abuse I’d ever seen in one moment. I was horrified that anyone would speak to another human being like that- and those were MY words to myself.

I then decided to go back through, line by line, and take hostage each thought and turn it to God. “You’re lazy and selfish” became “you are practicing self love when you a take rest and speak up when you need something.” “You’ve forgotten everything you learned in school, you’ll always be a dumb failure” became “you always try hard at work to do what’s best.”

Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

This verse means a lot of different things to me. But in the context of how we talk to ourselves- imagine saying the same things you say to yourself that you’re saying it to Jesus’ face. Would He be hurt by your insults? Would He be offended by your implications that He didn’t make you ‘good enough?’ HE is inside you. He chose you as a vessel of his good and perfect spirit. And here we are tearing it down, one piece at a time. It’s heart breaking. But we get to have do-overs. We get to redirect our thoughts. We get to say “wow that is actually not how I’d like to see myself; instead, I want to see myself as valuable and holy in His eyes.” We get to say “the old me would have believed these lies, but today I’m choosing to count these phrases as irrelevant.” I still have moments where I catch myself in a 5 minute negative spiral. But the graceful part starts where I realize it and choose to spiral upward.

Take inventory of what you’re saying to yourself in the background throughout your day.

Write it down. Take away its power. Bring it to light. Then give yourself a heaping pile of grace and love.

Now, rewrite those phrases through Jesus’ smiling eyes.

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” Proverbs 18:21

Extra readings:

Mark 4:22

Ephesians 2:10

Ephesians 4:29

Proverbs 15:4

Proverbs 16:24

1 Samuel 16:7

1 Peter 3:3-4

Mathew 12:36-37