Shame and Guilt

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!                                                                                                                                                                      II Corinthians 5:17

Yesterday I talked about the role of guilt and remorse as we become more aware of how we are affected by our actions which may have perhaps hurt others, or even ourselves. Guilt is the response of conscience, but it can also be a response of anxiety. Often, anxiety will exaggerate the consequences of actions we have done into an unrealistic burden on us. Revisiting past actions that are long resolved can make us feel the emotion of guilt, when in reality, the feeling is cause by anxiety- not a responsive conscience.

Shame, on the other hand, is the residual of chronic guilt. It is guilt, perhaps unexplored by a mind that is convinced that we are not worthy of the love of others, or even ourselves.

Shame makes us direct our focus inward, and view our entire self in a negative light. Feelings of guilt, in contrast, result from a concrete action for which we accept responsibility. Guilt causes us to focus our attention on the feelings of others. (Quote from Scientific American article 8/9/2019) We see that shame becomes a self-defining aspect which causes harm.

Jesus was a master at recognizing the negative effects of shame, and giving new definition to us that does not give shame a foothold. His responses to Matthew and Zacchaeus, to a Roman centurion, Saul of Tarsus, Peter, and so many others was essentially this- “I know who you are. You are not what you did, you are who you are becoming”  

Shame reminds us of a person that is broken. It does not allow for healing and forward movement. Recovery and grace look for the future. They do not deny the past. The past has its place. However, the past sins of our lives do not define us as we take the road to healing that Jesus freely offers.

Jesus offers a new creation- one that takes shame out of the equation.

Prayer: Lord, we know that you would have us live in the dignity of grace rather than the bondage of shame, Amen

Remorse

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.                                                                                                                                                      II Corinthians 12:9

Remorse: a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs 

Merriam -Webster Dictionary

I speak with my clients about guilt and remorse. Guilt is a negative emotion that does actually have a purpose. Its job is to get us in touch with things that we have done wrong in order to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, many people live in guilt long after its usefulness has passed. Guilt is useful only to the extent that it can get us to a higher level of awareness and functioning. It can cause us to act upon the deeds we have done that are not praiseworthy, and ask forgiveness for them.

Remorse is the next level- the healing level- that guilt can bring us to. Remorse is the distress caused by the fact that we have hurt someone else. We feel bad because we have hurt others. Our pain is the fact that we have caused others pain.

Unfortunately, there is cheap guilt that is self-serving. This guilt is hurt that we have been caught. We feel bad because our reputation has been hurt, or because we have consequences to pay. We are upset because we got caught or found out.

I discuss this because remorse is a higher level of self-awareness. Those who experience true remorse seek forgiveness not because they want to feel better. Rather, they want those whom they have hurt to feel better in some way.

So, words matter, and the context of levels of awareness are part of that. True self-awareness needs language in order for it to be understood.  Living in guilt is a bad way to live. Defining ourselves in terms of shame is even worse.

Tomorrow we will talk more about guilt and shame.

Prayer: Lord, you have provided the remedy for guilt and shame. Thank you for your grace and forgiveness, Amen

What Should We Play?

In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps                                               Proverbs 16:19

I’m not sure what made me think of this today. Maybe it is the fact that I am just drifting in thought back to the “old days”. It brings me back perhaps 60 + years ago to a much simpler time. Cue the harp player and the wavy lines that indicate a dreamy flashback- yes, that is an old school reference as well 😊…

I was sitting under a tree across the street from my house on Mayfair Ave. in Cincinnati. Our gang of friends was gathered, because that morning had been the last day of school. It was an early June morning, and we had just come home from St. Martin School. We were very excited to be out of school, and this was the official beginning of summer vacation in the neighborhood. We had the whole summer to ourselves, free to do whatever we wanted! That oppressive school year had just ended, and the nuns no longer controlled us until the day after Labor Day some 3 months hence. What a joy!

We pondered what to do. Should we play war? Always a good option for the guys. Should we plan another neighborhood show to fundraise for Muscular Dystrophy? We had done that last summer to dismal financial success, but we sure had a grand time putting on a show with our chemistry sets for the neighbors. Should we ride bikes? Maybe strap on the roller skates?

After just a little deliberation, we all decided on what would be really fun. We would play school! Yes, just hours after leaving the “jailhouse” of school, we would play school! Why did we think that this would be a good idea? Because WE were in charge of the school. We made up the rules. We decided how things would be in our little schoolhouse.

I think there is a lesson here (OK, pardon the pun). When we are in charge of things, we are fine with it. However, if we need to submit to the authority of others, the venture loses something. We are not in control anymore.

Human nature at work. I am much more apt to do something if it is my idea, and under my control, rather than something that might be imposed upon me. Just an interesting observation about us. Funny how we like things our way right?

Prayer: Lord, you give us free will, and I think you have joy in giving that to us. Help us to use it wisely, Amen

It Is In Your Hand…

 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

 So He said, “I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”                                        Exodus 3:11-12

I spoke recently with a client about her difficult marriage. She was very upset that her husband was not really paying attention to what she needs and asks of him. Her husband told her that he loved her, but his actions did not reflect a willingness to do things for her that he saw as “uncomfortable”. She told him that mere words do not help how she feels about being isolated and minimalized.

She very much wanted his approval, and she was frustrated that she cannot change the way he looks at her or their marriage. I suggested to the client that she could make changes that will help her rather than waiting for her husband to make changes. This is especially important because she does not have the ability to change his behavior. She can only change hers.

I certainly understand where this client was coming from. She was hurt and frustrated and she wanted things to change. The problem is that if there is going to be change, she is the one who can make the changes that will give her a sense of validation. First, however, she needs to see her own self-worth. It cannot be dependent upon her husband.

We often look for behavior changes in others that might make us feel better- validated, worthwhile, even loved. Yet, we have in our hands the tools to improve our own lives. When Moses met God at the “burning bush” and God told Moses that he would be the one to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity, Moses quickly declined, saying that he did not have the ability for such a task.

God’s response was to tell Moses in no uncertain terms that he had, “all that he needed in his hand”- his shepherd’s staff. Read the story as I cited above in Exodus chapter 3, and you will see that God seemed to get frustrated with Moses and his lack of self- confidence as well as his lack of trust that God would cover him in whatever he undertook.

I think the lesson for me is this –

You have all that you need in your hand; trust God and use it.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see that you empower us to do the things that will give us assurance and hope, Amen

In the Beginning

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2

As my regular readers know, I am fascinated by science, and its beautiful interplay with faith. I was recently watching a show on Nova (a PBS science show) about the Milky Way, our home galaxy. The Milky Way is just one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. We also understand that the universe is continuing to expand. Can you imagine that? I doubt it. Neither can I. I know it boggles my mind to even consider things like eternity and infinity.

As a limited, finite person, I cannot have any real grasp of infinity or eternity. Yet our God, the Creator of it all, has planned and executed the most marvelous things we can (or cannot) imagine.

People may get a bit hung up on the Genesis version of creation, but I think there is no need to. Ancient writers simply wrote a basic truth- God was the Creator. There was no need to explain how God did it, just that he did.

Interestingly enough, the words used by these unscientific writers may have been concepts far beyond anyone’s expectation. When they wrote that the earth was without form and void, and that there was darkness on the face of the deep, they were using language to describe “nothingness”. Yet we now know that there are things called “dark matter” and “dark energy” that might have been the description of the state that they were trying to explain.

All of that to say, we still do not have a good concept of dark matter and dark energy. Yet we do know that a Creator planned and put forth a marvelous creation that he breathed life into. We don’t really need to know how God did it, and maybe we will never know.

All we need to know is that God created the heavens and the earth, and he did it because he loves his creation and all in it.  

Prayer: Lord, when I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
 What is man that You are mindful of him, (from Psalm 8)

Imperfect

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.                        II Corinthians 4:7

Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack, a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in. That’s how the light gets in, that’s how the light gets in.                                                                 From the poem by Leonard Cohen “Anthem”

In the past, I have discussed the idea of being perfect- rather, the impossibility of being perfect. We can relate to imperfect, because we are. All of us. However, the idea of being imperfect, like the crack in the Liberty Bell, becomes a symbol for us. It is a reminder that brokenness is an opportunity to be real and transparent. No one will ever try to mend that Liberty Bell crack. It reminds us that the broken can still be celebrated, and it stands as a symbol of our strength in imperfection. It is the opportunity to look for the healing that we all need in this broken and imperfect world.

Our American experience is imperfect. Yet, we have survived those failures, and we are committed to a better America. Without the recent pain we have endured, there would not be the attention to addressing and mending those failures.

I really liked the way that Leonard Cohen put it in his poem- the crack is how the light gets in. If we are not broken, we do not feel a need for anything beyond ourselves. What a tragedy to think that we are self-sufficient, in need of nothing outside of ourselves.  

Paul said that we are like “fragile clay jars”, containing a great treasure. Unless that jar is broken, the treasure is not revealed. So, our imperfection is the opportunity to recognize the need for a power greater than ourselves. In the lexicon of the 12 Steps, that is the first step- the humility step, which allows us to get the help we need to solve the problems we cannot solve on our own.

For addicts, that is an addiction that has baffled and overcome them. For all of us, that is a problem of sin that we cannot solve on our own. Christians confess and believe that Jesus is the answer to that problem.

So, imperfection is our lot. But staying in the broken places is not. We learn from the pain, and we seek the remedies. Thankfully, we have a God who has provided all we need.

Prayer: Thank you for meeting us at the place of need. Jesus is the friend we need and count on, Amen.

Worry


…casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

I Peter 5:7

So, do you worry? Especially about those we love? Of course you do. Some worry a little, some worry a lot, all worry some. That is why, I think, that so many promises are made in the Bible about how God provides for us, and that ultimately, he will take care of us.

Agreed, God is good and he will ultimately take care of us. God takes care of the sparrows, why would he not take care of us? Yet, we worry. Why? Well, lots of reasons. We worry because we care about others. We do not have control of those situations, but we worry, somehow in the back of our mind telling ourselves that our thoughts and prayers and concerns can give us some way to look at things differently. Maybe if we do this thing, or say that thing, we can make it better for those whom we care about.  

Well, bless our hearts, we usually cannot do much to change the minds and hearts of other people. The Holy Spirit can do the things we cannot do. So yes, we can and should pray about situations, but we must understand that there are things we can control, and things that we cannot control. The hard part is recognizing that difference, and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the things we simply cannot. In such case, we can have more peace about our situation.

My conclusion? Don’t beat yourself up because you worry. You worry because you care. Give yourself the assurance that your worry is stronger the more you care. Remind yourself- your worry will not change anything. Give yourself the grace of knowing that your care indicates your heart concerns for others.

 Let God do the caring for you also.

Prayer: Lord, bless all who carry a burden for others, Amen

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.                                                                                                                                        I Corinthians 13:12

I had a discussion with a client the other day about the roads we did not take in life. We all have decisions that we make every day, and some are more impactful than others. Truthfully, all are important. We talked about decisions he had made- roads traveled- that have brought him into this place in his life.

We both began to wonder, “what about those roads we did not take?” Indeed, there were some paths that we chose somewhat unwittingly. Some, where clearly God had laid out for us directions of which we could not possibly have known the ultimate impact.

Sometimes we call it luck, and the truth is, chance does play a part sometimes. Often, we have been led on paths where we simply took the next step, and God went ahead and paved the road for us. Sometimes, one little step in the wrong direction may have derailed our whole life. Simple decisions- that is they seemed simple at the time- may have changed the course of our entire life.

It is good to reflect back on how God intervened in places where we could not have known the ultimate outcome. My belief is that if we look back closely, we can see an invisible hand that guides us even when we don’t know it is there.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for directing my path, even when I did not see your hand in it, Amen

How Do We Spend Our Time?

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, …                Ecclesiastes 3

I was listening to a podcast this morning on my walk, and I got thinking about how we spend our time. “Spend” is an interesting verb when we think about time, because time is a resource- a precious one- and how we spend it, or perhaps waste it, is an extremely important consideration.

I then began to think about how we actually do keep track of how we spend time. My belief is that if we actually logged each day how we spent our time, we might be a bit embarrassed, maybe guilty. Who knows, we may even feel really good about it. I hope so.

You see, this whole consideration was based upon listening to a discussion about social media and its role in our life. How much time do we truly spend on social media? If we had to keep track of it, would it actually change the amount of time we spend on social media?

My guess is that if we had to actually write down the amount of time we spend on our activities of each day, it would change our behavior. It is one of those instances when, if we are actually mindful of something, it literally changes the way we behave. Do we really want to accept that we spend that much time looking at Twitter or Tik Tok, or whatever? Do we really want to become aware that we spent so little time in meaningful interaction with those we love?

These are just a few examples, but I think you get the idea. If we really become aware that we are giving much of our limited precious time to activities that do not give richer meaning to our life, don’t you think that might produce a behavior change?

Prayer: Lord, help us to be mindful of the amount of time we spend with others, and with you, Amen     

Fill the Void

“When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.                                                                    Matthew 12:43-45 (The Message)

I was talking with a client the other day about her teenage daughter who admitted that she has an addiction to electronics- specifically her phone. First of all, I believe that such addictions are really a thing. Addiction to electronic media is insidious and clearly, addictive. There is a built-in reward in the brain when the proper stimulation is provided. Media devices can provide the perfect stimulation to start an addictive process. Easy access, immediate gratification, and the initial sense of it being a benign influence all set up addiction potential easily.

Typical of all addictions, there needs to be initial abstinence before recovery can take place. Abstinence itself is not sufficient to sustain recovery, but it is necessary for the recovery to begin. Also true with recovery, it is not a journey to undertake alone. The addicted individual needs the humility to ask for help. In this case, she has caring parents who are willing to help her in the journey of recovery.

Finally, I suggested to the parents that simple abstinence will not help, because if there is nothing substituted for the addictive behavior, relapse is much more likely. I suggested that she become involved in healthy groups, sports, a part-time job or volunteer work. All such activities involve the input and cooperation with others, breaking the isolation and self-interest that electronic media feeds. I reminded them of the parable that Jesus spoke as a remedy for demonic oppression. I take that parable (cited above) to be a powerful metaphor for healing- a good principle of mental health.

Simply voiding our mind of damaging thoughts is not sufficient. We need to “fill the void” with behaviors that are positive and productive. If we do not do that, we are apt to drift back to those same damaging behaviors that gave temporary relief or pleasure.  

That is why the 12th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous is so powerful. If a person in recovery directs themselves to the care and healing of others, they ensure their own sobriety.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the recovery plans that Jesus set forth for us, Amen.