Monday, April 27, 2015

Let it go - shame

All year I have avoided homeschool meetings.  Divorce isn’t supposed to happen in homeschool families.  We are supposed to be the solid foundation, the families most committed to – well, the family.  I guess I have prided myself on being part of that.  Now I find myself out of sync with that group, and I don’t like it.  I feel enormous shame in it.

But this past week some things have occurred to me.
Is this shame for something I did?  Was it my decision, my choice that led to this divorce?  No.  The shame I feel is due to my soon-to-be ex’s decisions and his actions.  It wasn’t my choice or my action, and it isn’t my shame.  Period.  It is time to let that go. 

Was I a perfect wife?  No, of course not.
Did I try to work through our problems?  Yes.  He refused, for years.
Did I decide to stay in the marriage?  Yes.
Did have an affair?  No.
Did I offer reconciliation?  Yes.
Did I choose divorce?  No.  Never.

So I confessed my own sin, including my pride, and let it go.  I acknowledged that my life is what it is, God is still in control, and He has blessed me greatly. 
And suddenly, I was free. 

Free to enjoy God’s blessings in the midst of this desert, this wilderness wandering, this exile.  
I went to the last homeschool meeting, and the thing I have avoided all year became a source of great encouragement.  I was reminded that I am not alone out here in the marriage desert.  Even in the homeschool group there are other hurting women, wounded warriors, and we can walk together, encouraging and supporting each other.  And we are not looked down on as inferior Christians by God or by mature Believers.  I was the one blaming myself.  My ex was blaming me, Satan the accuser was blaming me, but God was not and is not blaming me.

God, the Healer, lifts my head, heals my wounds, provides for me in the desert, leads me from grace to grace out of exile into the Promised Land.  Will I embrace this path or will I grumble like the Israelites did?
Thank you Jesus.

I will trust You as You hang on to me – to the end.

©Rebecca A Givens, 4/12/15

I feel the need to add a postscript to this.  I have some very dear divorced friends who have had a different experience.  Their ex-husbands put on a show of godliness, or if they were caught in sin a show repentance, to the outside world, often over several years.  But as sincere as these men looked on the surface, there was nothing but darkness on the inside.  People have no idea the hell these women and their children were going through at home.  The emotional manipulation and bondage is devastating, but there is no outward mark to show to the outside world.  It is even hard to understand it themselves because the manipulation is so subtle, the guilt and blame and shame so accepted by the victim.  So they faked being ok, while their husbands faked being good and even godly.  When they finally admitted their situation was truly abusive and found the courage to leave, these women were judged by their own church families and the Christian community in general.  This is doubly devastating, and I don’t know how they manage.  I am so thankful for my church family who have supported me, so thankful that I did not have to deal with a divorce like this.  A human being can only manage so much, and while God does call us to forgive and love the sinner, sometimes even to put our lives at risk for the proclamation of the gospel, that is not what staying in a physically or emotionally abusive marriage is.  Allowing that abuse to continue is not loving the sinner, it is not forgiving the sinner, it is abuse and bondage.  Don’t think these women’s problems are like your own imperfect marriage and they are just giving up.  If you have never endured emotional abuse you have no idea what these families are going through.  Pray.  Pray for wisdom.  Pray for families and marriages that are hurting.  Sometimes there is no good solution.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What Shame Does

I was going to write something about this.  But dang.  Just read it.  It's so good.  Click the heading to go to the original posting.

What Shame Does

In a moment pregnant with sorrow and hope, dignity and depravity, and su”ering and glory, a grieving mother stood before the mourners who had gathered to honor a man’s life and spoke the words, “Shame killed my son, Luke. Shame kept him quiet, living in dark secrets with terrible regrets, surrounded by friends, but so very alone.” After surveying the faces of those gathered and silently recognizing those she knew who also had struggled with addiction, she admonished them. “Do not let shame win. The evil one has filled his quill with shame, disconnection, secrets, and sorrow and is writing his story of darkness. God’s story of light with redemption, hope, community, truth, and glory is written in His own blood.”
Luke Johnson took his own life last year at the end of a protracted battle with addiction and shame. Although he was a young man who grew up in a Christian home and had professed faith in Christ, he had lost all hope. He did not grasp the truth that the gospel of grace replaced his shame-based identity with an identity in Christ. Luke’s story is narrated by the voice of shame, in stark contrast to the gospel of Luke, which is peppered with stories in which shame is trumped by glory. In the gospel according to Luke Johnson, the evil one hijacked the story of glory and shaded it with shame. A person engulfed in shame will focus on self; they will isolate and blame others for their situation. Shame ultimately creates a relational style of avoidance. We want to avoid being found out, to prevent our darkest places from being discovered.
This is not only Luke Johnson’s story, because shame is a part of everyone’s story. Shame writes itself into the stories of our lives. Shame is made manifest by isolation, self-protection, self-hatred, self-destruction, self-preservation, and the illusion of control. The first dynamic is isolation, which is the relational stance of shame.
In spite of Luke’s popularity and friends, he created a world that did not know him, a world of isolation. The sin of shame has a way of distancing us from others. A simple way to define sin is to say that it separates us, most profoundly, from God; from ourselves; from others; and finally, from creation. A shame-based person will isolate themself from people who are healthy, and though they will not share their own secrets, they will be drawn into relationships with other shame-based people. They will avoid vulnerability and move toward cynicism in their relationships. The shame-based individual’s relationships are often shallow, broken, and focused on external common behaviors (gaming, music, cars) as opposed to shared emotional experiences. In order to create a stance of isolation, the energy that maintains that stance is self-protection.
If one feels as though they are about to be “found out,” they become gripped with fear. Good relationships demand vulnerability; the commitment to self-protection kills vulnerability. Much like a soldier behind enemy lines, the shame-based individual is always scanning and assessing the environment for any signs of potential exposure. Healthy boundaries are important, especially in new relationships, but relationships can only grow as deeper risks are taken to develop kinship. Shame prevents these risks from being taken. As isolation and self-protection increase, positive relationships decrease. The absence of encouraging influences and healthy perspectives propel growing self-hatred.
The motivation beneath all of the negative relational strategies is self-hatred. The level of shame that has entered into the story of one’s life correlates with the level of self-hate that is experienced. Shame-based people will rage at themselves and be offended at the thought of grace. They often live in a state of ambiguity, having both an odd sense of entitlement and a feeling of unworthiness. There is a demand for relief, but at the same time there is sabotage when it is offered. They often demand a great deal of attention while simultaneously sabotaging this attention because they feel unworthy. They are in a constant dance with the lie of inevitability: “I am a disgusting person; it is just a matter of time before everyone knows the truth of who I am.”
Satan is referred to as the “accuser of the brethren,” and he whispers and reminds us that our darkest moments will be revealed. In Jeremiah, God’s people are thirsty and in the desert. In Jeremiah 2:13, He states that they have committed two sins. The first sin is that they have turned their backs on God, the source of living water, and the second is that they have “hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water”; that is, they have stubbornly crafted their own creative ways to satisfy their thirst. It is the accuser who causes us to feel disgust for our thirst rather than being repentant for our rebellion.
God uses powerful imagery in Scripture to describe us as hungry, thirsty, in prison, in bondage, and enslaved. These descriptors are used to describe us when we are not in relationship with Him. Shame invites us to hate our thirsty, hungry desires for connection and redemption and makes us hate even the prospect of hope. Shame’s most insidious characteristic, though, is its ability to cause people to consider the erroneous belief that at their core, they are defectively designed. It is self-hate that told Luke that there was no way out and that he was too disgusting and too far gone for redemption. His “broken cisterns that can hold no water” eventually ran dry, leaving him to believe that he was alone and beyond redemption.
Self-hate gives way to desperate and self-destructive behaviors. Shame correlates with destructive behavior. Research shows a high correlation between shame and participation in bullying, aggression, and suicide. For Luke, the destructive behavior was addiction; in others, it could be soul-numbing activities. Shame operates as a filter and an amplifier. It filters out the dignity that is part of being an image-bearer of God and amplifies our depravity. Some may live a fear-based life and never take appropriate risks. The desperate soul longs to be numbed.
The fear of exposure when one is attempting to preserve the remaining shreds of dignity becomes profound. The amount of energy required to hide the growing struggle is immense. Living gives way to surviving; relating gives way to self-preservation. It is impossible to become other-focused or God-focused when one is survival-focused. In this heightened survival state, anxiety increases, there is an increased probability of depression, and we begin to hold and protect dark secrets of who we think we are, of what we have done, and in some cases, what has been done to us. When one’s goal is self-preservation, the illusion of self-control is imperative.
Shame paradoxically gives the shame-based person the illusion of control. It allows us to feel as if we are capable of digging our own cisterns—If the problem is me, I can fix it. I don’t need to be dependent upon God or anyone else. I can fix me. A principle of life is that we only fight battles that we think we can win, and shame allows us to restructure reality and believe that we are the problem and the solution; therefore, we can win. Shame invites a person to carry the weight, and in doing so, provides a false sense of control. The shame-based person is allowed to carry this weight and not trust God or others, ever again. Luke’s story of glory was hijacked by shame, whereas the gospel of Luke tells us of glory burst forth from stories that were initially bathed in shame.
The biblical gospel of Luke includes stories of the disenfranchised: the leper, the paralytic, the infirm woman. Luke’s stories invite his readers to see Christ as the transformer and healer. Luke even begins the grand story of glory in a place that many would consider shameful: a stable with shepherds. God’s great story of glory is teeming with stories of the poor, the ill, the neglected, the scorned, but His presence turns the lowly into the exalted. As believers, our stories will be woven together and end in glory.
Luke Johnson took his life, believing that his doing so would mean his story would come to an end. Yet, the Lord is using his story to comfort, instruct, and embolden others. His family is using their grief to educate and comfort others who feel as if they are losing hope. It is both sobering and exhilarating to realize that Satan’s voice will lead to shame, but God’s voice will lead to glory. Just as shame can lead to self-destruction, living in glory will lead to transformation.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Making it through... By the Skin of our Teeth

A couple of weeks ago I took my daughter to a play at a local university, “By the Skin of our Teeth”, by Thornton Wilder.  I had looked forward to it, plays there are always fun.  And it was pretty funny, until the end of Act 2.  Out of the blue, the main man is seduced by the leading lady to leave his wife and children for her.  She stops the play (this has been happening throughout) to say she’s not going to do this scene and argues with the director about it, because her friend is in the audience, and her friend’s husband just left her after however many years and she’s not going to subject her to this on stage.  Of course there is an actress in the audience who falls apart and runs out of the theater.  We sat transfixed.  It wasn’t funny anymore, it was all too real.  The scene closed with the Flood coming and the man hunting for his wife and family and getting on the boat with them.  The leading lady also got on the boat as the servant of the family, the role she played throughout the play.  The curtain closed, I still couldn’t move.  The intermission came and the audience chattered and moved around and still I sat transfixed.  Finally the thought came to me that in the end, the man on stage returned to his family.  Their family survived.  That’s not going to happen for us.

Unexpected reminders like this in the midst of what I thought would be an entertaining escape seem to come often.  Divorce is common in our culture, and not necessarily viewed as the evil that Believers associate it with.  Divorce is a part of marriage, as death is a part of life, and laughing about it helps - unless you happen to be in the middle of it.

But God didn’t design marriage to be that way.  Divorce happens due to sin, and it wasn’t the original design.  Marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and the church.  Something permanent.  Something sacred.  A promise never broken.

Yet here I am, in the middle of a life of broken promises.  I hurt for myself, for the loss of the future, for the tainted memories of the past.  I hurt for my own sin and inadequacies, and for the betrayal of his sin.  I hurt for the pain and anger in my children, and for my grandchildren who will not see the stability of a lifetime marriage.  I hurt because I will not be able to be the full time grandmother I dreamed of being, I will be at work. 

Somehow I sat through the last act, and I am glad I did.  The play written just 10 years after the Great Depression and in the midst of WWII, and as a whole was about the survival of the human race.  No matter what comes, the Fall, the Ice Age, the Flood, the War, man survives.  Not entirely intact, because there is the son Henry (Cain), who consistently seeks to destroy throughout the play, but the family survives and moves on with each disaster.

And so shall I, because God promises healing to His children.  He promises to make all things work together for not only His Glory, but for my good, and the good of my children, and the good of the church.  He is indeed Sovereign, and this place of exile and wandering in the desert is His Plan for me right now.  But the Promised Land is just over the horizon.  I can look back and see Him in the path I have already traveled, and I can look forward and see the future Hope of His Promise in His Words in Scripture, and I trust Him.

My broken marriage may not be the picture of Christ and His church that it should be.  But the very pain of the broken promises points me to a Faithful Father and Bridegroom, who will never break His Promises, who will never leave me nor forsake me.  And I trust Him.

©Rebecca A Givens, 4/10/15

Monday, April 6, 2015


Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

I’ve been reading this one verse for over a week, and each time it gets more profound.

May the God of hope – Think about the attributes and character of God.  Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer.  Sovereign over everything past and everything future.  He planned it all before time began, every detail of me and of my life, including the disastrous parts.  He also planned the end of this story, and He is all powerful and will make it happen.  And unbelievably, He loves me, He bought me, He adopted me as His child.  This is the God of Hope.  He is in fact Hope itself.

fill you with all joy and peace in believing, - OK, this is where it begins to catch me.  Paul is praying that this God that we described in the previous paragraph, would fill me with ALL joy and peace.  ALL.  Really.  That’s what it says.  All.  All is a lot.  All is bigger than I am, how in the world is ALL going to fit in me?  Remember the verse that says, “In Him we live and move and have our being”?  So maybe that’s what being filled with All Joy and Peace is like.  Like swimming in an ocean of it, it’s in me and all around me.  Oh, but we didn’t finish the phrase.  Fill you with all joy and peace in believing.  Do you ever feel like believing is hard?  Or impossible?  Yet this phrase connects joy and peace with believing.  Maybe it is trusting that God is in control and God has a plan that will work out for my good that brings joy and peace.  Maybe that’s the peace that passes all understanding.  Maybe it’s not about a peaceful happy life, it’s about Peace and Joy in Believing. 

so that.  Don’t ignore these little words.  There is a purpose in all this.  And it takes what comes before the so that to get to what comes after it.

by the power of the Holy Spirit  – Ahhhh.  What I said above about believing being hard.  Maybe it’s hard because I’m not strong enough.  But the Power of the Holy Spirit… that’s a different strength all together.  That strength, that power, breathed life into man, caused Jesus to be born a man, and raised Him from the dead.  That is true Power, and it is by His Power that joy and peace in believing happen. 

And the end of this matter? 

you may abound in hope.  Hope.  Hope that can keep me moving in the face of adversity.  Abound in hope, not just a little hope but an abundance of it; not hope that maybe we might win, but Hope in knowing that God is in control of everything and I am just waiting for His plan to unfold.  That’s trust again.  But not trusting in myself, trusting in God.

And so abounding in hope feeds my trust and belief which fill me with joy and peace which feed my trust and give me hope.  And so it goes, circling ever deeper in the ocean of His presence.  Because in Him I live and move and have my being.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

©Rebecca A Givens, 04/06/15