Of acceptance and shame

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything in this blog. I’ve tried my hand at a couple of podcasts, but there’s something different about writing that just can’t be replaced. While just speaking my thoughts “fits” with what I do all week long with my students, there is something “therapeutic” about writing it all out, and that’s what prompted today’s entry. (Just a little context)

Something that has been pressing in on my thoughts and consciousness is how much time I spend talking about shame, and by response to shame… acceptance. This is my third semester teaching the Human Sexuality course at CCU, and I’ve been

impacted by how often I hear and read about the state of shame that so many of my students experience around their sexuality. While that comes as no particular shock to me being in counseling/psychology going on 40 years, it is remarkable when one thinks about how much we (as Christians) like to talk about grace. It would appear that we are “ok” with grace that saves us, but not okay with the grace that provides us the “space” to participate in our own sanctification. In other words, we accept the grace that is offered us in our salvation, but then we spend the rest of our lives proving to God that we are “worthy” of that exhilarating gift. When you think about it, we seem to communicate in all our work for grace that it really isn’t a gift… it’s a contract that we have signed. In essence, by our actions, we have said, “if you (God) give me the grace to be saved, then I will adhere to all that is necessary to earn that gift!” Let’s flip the script for a minute… when we struggle and even “adhere” the rules of our faith, then we look at God and say… “I’ve kept my end of the deal… where are you???”

So what about shame? Shame is the indicator that we are controlled by our own legalism and distorted views about grace. Shame says, “I’ve done something bad, therefore I am bad.” We have over most of our lives come to believe that the only way to change our behavior is to “be ashamed” of it. Yet, no learning or change ever comes of shame. The only thing shame can do is tell us how bad we are, and to just give up because nothing good comes from someone bad. On the other hand, grace strengthens and allows us to accept our humanity and fallenness enough to actually change it. As Brennan Manning would often say… “you can’t change what you won’t accept.”

Which leads me to the second topic… acceptance. There are few topics that I have talked to people over the years about that is more distorted than acceptance. It’s one thing to accept another person, or a situation I don’t like, or most anything else. But, when it comes to us, our emotions shift into high gear informed by our fear that nothing will really change if we “accept” ourselves as we are. The implications of this change in focus results in a fundamental belief that those parts of us that we deem unacceptable could NEVER be accepted. In addition to that conclusion, is the assertion that IF I were to accept them, they would never change. But, going back to what I referred to earlier from Brennan, how can we possibly change anything if we aren’t going to accept that it’s there? Of course, intellectually we can ASSENT to the existence of such areas of our lives, but to ACCEPT it is an entirely different story. And, that’s why we stay stuck in shame. Shame speaks to the “pharisee” in all of us that says I can “work” my way out of this, and then, and only then, will I be worthy of the grace that saved me.

We have bought the lie that acceptance is the same as condoning. In other words, if I accept the unacceptable in myself it means that I’m condoning its existence, and therefore, I provide myself with a “wink and a pat on the head and assurance that I’ll be okay.” Personally, I believe that God is FAR more accepting of our humanity than we are. He was so “accepting” of it, that He sent Jesus to redeem us so that we can grow into the gift of grace He provided us in Jesus. He “accepted” the cruel and brutal realities of our fallenness… did He condone it? Absolutely not! So, He did the unthinkable… He became one of us, paid the price for the brutal realities of our fallenness, and then said (I know I’m completely conjecturing here… so bear with me), “There (It is finished!)… now go and GROW into what I have proclaimed you now are — my son, my daughter — I know that you’ll stumble, blow it, do stunning acts of mercy and grace, and be even more delightful by TRUSTING me.” Can we do anything less with ourselves? Yet, we do it all the time… we go back to our old ways of shame and self-punishment, and by doing so we turn our backs on the stunning grace God offers us to grow into who He meant for us to BE. Let me say that again… grow into who He meant us to BE (not more for us to DO). It’s out of that motivation the we choose to “do” something differently. It’s not doing something differently that changes who we are. It’s cultivating the kind of heart and interior that produces the “doings” without even thinking. We get so taken with the easier process of just behaving correctly, that we have completely forgotten that change begins with acceptance, not shame. That is far from easy, and it takes time… more time than we are usually willing to give. Why do you suppose Jesus used so many parables that included farmers, and farming? He wasn’t communicating anything about what we were supposed

to do… he was communicating everything about developing, what I call, a “cultivation mindset” (remember the parable of the vine/vinedresser?) It’s all about what we are doing with our hearts. If we see behavior that is anxiety-ridden, driven by perfectionism, and obsessed with what others are thinking of us (or even what we are thinking about ourselves), then it suggests what is going on in our hearts. It’s not “problem behavior.” It’s a heart problem, and that’s where change has to start.

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The Enemy, the strategy, and a Tin Man

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CCU Fall Symposium 2017: Workshop-Psychology and the Gospels?

A workshop presented for the CCU 2017 Fall Symposium entitled:

The Unchanging Gospel in a Hypermodern Age

Workshop Title:  Psychology and the Gospel?

Here’s the Youtube edition:

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God’s Upside Down World, or Ours?

Have you ever wondered if we are living in an upside down world without even knowing it.  Maybe, that’s why God’s approach looks so backward.

This is the first episode of many(I hope) of thoughts and reflections on life and what I often call as the “journey” with Jesus.   I hope you enjoy it.  While it may not appear for you Facebook friends… you will just have to visit the website to hear it… so join us!  It can be found at: www.drmitsch.com.

Thanks for listening, and if you like what you hear… please share it with someone who might be interested!

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An infectious faith?

Imagine what life would be like if we had an infectious faith as virulent as the more notorious infectious diseases of our era? When I began to think about that in response to the release of a friend’s new book, I was reminded of images like this… which was seen during the outbreak of the bird flu in China. We go to incredible lengths to protect ourselves from such diseases that if you ever walk into a doctor’s office and have the flu or a cough, there are a stack of masks waiting for you to wear so you can prevent spreading your germs to others. With infectious diseases that are airborne, what is the one, extremely powerful action of ours that we are most afraid of? The sneeze! Something so natural and simple, and yet so deadly when it disperses germ microbes into the air.

Now, let’s return to my question above. Imagine if our faith was like that… that because of how we live it out, or how we talk about it, or even how we think about others, God, and life, people can’t resist wondering with what we are “infected.” Obviously, we don’t think of faith that way… and maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we have spent so much time intellectualizing our faith that we forget that our faith (whatever that is) shows just like a sneeze that can’t be resisted. When someone sneezes around you, what’s the first thing you think? “I hope he or she doesn’t have a cold because I don’t want to get it!” Imagine for a moment that our relationship with Jesus shows in such a way that someone around us can’t help but think… “there’s something different about her, I wonder if it is his or her faith?”

I want to recommend for your consideration a book that will be coming out soon entitled “Sneezing Jesus.” (www.sneezingjesus.com) Yes, I know, it’s a little different for a title, but I can unequivocally say that this book paints a picture of Jesus and our relationship with him in a way that will resonate with your soul. Brian Hardin, the founder of Daily Audio Bible, takes us on a journey into the remarkable nature of Jesus as not only human but God. It is never an easy “needle to thread” between emphasizing Jesus humanity over His divinity, or vice versa. I believe having had the opportunity to review (and endorse this

book) that this book arrives just in time for those of us who are wondering what a “relationship with Jesus” REALLY means. And if this relationship matters to me, how does it change me and what I pass on (“sneeze?”) to others.

If you review the accounts of Jesus’ disciples and their disciples (such as Peter and John Mark), you will find that these people were changed as a result of being in relationship with the people who had been in relationship with Jesus. Something had changed about them to such a degree that it is was irresistible to effect and impact the people around them. So, embrace the metaphor of a sneeze, and see what wisdom is waiting for you in the pages of “Sneezing Jesus.”

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Day two – Eyes Wide Open

Once detoxification begins to take hold, what tends to happen? The answer to this question is the greatest testimony to the power of silence. Once we begin to make progress on detoxifying from the effects of the noise in our lives, the fascinating thing that happens is that we actually begin to listen. We listen not only to God, but to the world around us and the world within us. We had stories of noticing the wildlife that inhabit the grounds of this retreat house, and a developing sense of God’s presence in the world in which we live. Everything begins to be seen as a gift where before it was scarcely noticed. Once the pandemonium is tamed within, we can finally begin to pay attention to the evidence of God that “saturates” our world. We begin to grasp the immensity of the statement that “all is grace,” “all is a gift.” The other thing that has happened is a couple of our retreatants gave themselves permission to just rest, and found that the Holy Spirit moved even more powerfully in spite of the fact that they were convinced that they were doing “nothing.” We ended the evening with a powerful time of prayer and tears on behalf of the wonder of God’s grace, and the power of His Spirit to “work wonders” in our hearts.

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Wow! Here we are again at another silent retreat, and I’m already a day behind in sharing observations from the retreatants who are here with me. Our usual schedule at these retreats are when we arrive, we take some time to get the logistics out of the way like meal times, and how do you say “hi” to someone silently? Or, what happens if you slip up and speak in a normal tone of voice? After we get that stuff out of the way, we move on to fears and expectations that the participants have. What I heard this year was… “being able to see God’s glory.” Or, “I just want to fall more deeply in love with Jesus”. Or, “I really don’t know what to expect since I’ve never done this before.” And, that is always true for every one of my students since pulling themselves away for a time of silence and solitude in this noise saturated world is not an easy thing to do. They are to be commended for taking the bold step to intentionally allow something like this to happen. Something I always mention to them is that it takes a good 24 hours for them to “detoxify” from the sounds, and fury and noise of their worlds. It’s not an easy thing, and often we revert back to attempting to even structure the silence because we’re afraid of what we will find in our own hearts. They were quick to identify that, and were slowly coming around to accepting that this is a time to learn how to “be” in God’s presence instead of making ourselves busy doing something FOR God’s presence. And we wonder why we can’t sense Him or hear Him! More to come!

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Audiobook now available!

The newest addition to the Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love series has been expanded!  If you are in the car, prefer listening to a book rather than reading it, or just simply have a hard time reading given the place you are in your grieving process, you can now read Grieving the Loss as an audio book either through Audible.com(for digital devices) or purchase the Audiobook CD through Amazon.  The links are below to make it easier for you to find them.  Enjoy!


Grieving the loss of someone you love audiobook through Audible.com

Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love as an AudioCD
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Grief 2.0 – “Table Talk with CCU” – From Mourning to Morning: Reflections on a Journey

The Inaugural “Table Talk with CCU” — A series for CCU that is patterned off of the TED talk series of lectures.  I was asked to give this short talk reflecting on my journey through grief.  

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Grief 2.0 – The urgency of regret

unknownRegret is signature characteristic of grief. Now, that statement may not be terribly consoling for most people experiencing grief, but in many ways, it is forced upon us because of our position in time. The word “regret” has an interesting history that might reveal some insights for us to understand the importance, even the urgency of experiencing our regret. The fascinating thing about the origins of the word regret is the Germanic word for “greet.” In a sense, if you think about it, regret is to “re-greet” or revisit our interactions with someone and think through the consequences of that interaction. As we do so, we see what could have been done, or could have been said, and we feel repentant of our actions. The reality is that “regret” is often the modern equivalent of an expression of repentance. Interestingly, Henry David Thoreau reminds us of the importance of regret when he said, “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” To regret deeply is to live afresh??? Regret feels like suffering grief all over again. Not only do we feel the pain of the absence of the person we love, but now we add regret into the mess? Actually the answer to that is “yes.”

The process of grief is a process of healing, and with healing comes necessary pain and reminders of what has happened. It is a necessity to grief because of the love we have for the person we have lost. If we didn’t love, we wouldn’t grieve. Therefore, in response to the above quote, our regret is a demonstration of our love for the person we have lost. Just as tears are a memorial to the love we have for the person lost, our regret underscores how important our relationship with him/her is to us. Therefore, when we come to the place in time where the person is gone, it’s natural for us to look back over the course of the history we have shared with the person we love. For most of us, that doesn’t happen while the person is alive. Life courses on like a river made up of a variety of events and interactions – loving, insensitive and neglectful, forgiving, gracious, joyful, sorrowful and moments of sacrifice. At the death of our loved one, the river comes to an end (of course this is where the metaphor breaks down). It seemingly disappears from sight, and we are left with the feeling of lostness I was commenting on in an earlier post. As I said there, the question comes: “Now what?” Well, the “now what” is that our vision is drawn back in time to recall and relish our relationship with them. Of course, with this revisiting in time, we become aware of our insensitivity, our unintentional comments that hurt, our failures in our relationship with them. What rises out of us is regret. On the heels of that regret is usually a long list of “if only’s.” If only I had been aware. If only I had retracted the words I said at that time. If only… The worst part of the regret that afflicts us during our grieving is that we seemingly can’t make it “right.” We can’t repent directly to the person and receive the forgiveness he/she would most likely give. It seems that our regret throws us headlong into a massive “dead end” sign (interesting phrase, isn’t it?). Yet, even in this attempt to make things right, we are trying to resurrect the dead. Our focus has to be on the living. The “here and now” not the “there and then.” To which “living” am I referring? You and me and those we love! We are the living in the relationship we are grieving. We are where the focus now has to be. It’s the choices we now make toward those we love that allows us to “live life afresh” as Henry David Thoreau put it. Not only that, it’s the choices we make about ourselves that is the foundation for how we care for the living.

Remember, earlier when I said that regret appears to be the modern equivalent for repentance? I think there is something profound hidden in that observation. If you review our language toward one another when we have failed or hurt another person, it is rare that we actually use the “repent.” Usually we use the words, “I’m sorry.” It’s our code for “I repent of what I have done.” Furthermore, the word sorry comes from the word “sorrow.” In other words, what I am saying is “I am filled with sorrow because of what I have done and how I’ve hurt you.” Of course, that is way too wordy for our emphasis on the economy of words! But allow me to fill out our understanding of the word “repent” and by extension the word “regret.” In Scripture, “repent” has different meanings (and words) in the Old Testament and the New Testament. To put it succinctly, the ancient Hebrew doesn’t really have a single word for our word repent. The closest equivalent is “to return” (the word teshuvah). In the ancient Greek, the word repent usually is conveyed with the word “metanoia.” This is usually is rendered a “change of mind.” Therefore, I think I’m on safe ground to say that if we look at the entirety of Scripture and what it communicates about repentance is that it is a change of mind that leads to a change in direction (to return). As a matter of fact, Jesus vividly portrays repentance in his parable of the prodigal son (or should it be called the “prodigal father?”). While in the far country, the prodigal “comes to his senses,” changes his mind (metanoia), and heads for home(teshuvah), and by an act of his father (forgiveness) is restored to his original position in the family (reconciliation).

So, what does all this word study and language references have to do with regret? I thought I would allow you to get a good snooze in before I find my punchline! The desired outcome of our expressions of regret is our response to grace. Many would think, and have said, we need to learn to “forgive ourselves.” My response to this assertion is that using the word “forgiveness” in response to ourselves keeps the whole process within our control, and we don’t have to suffer the indignity of receiving and accepting grace for our human failures which is ultimately where restoration can be found. So, in response to our regret, it isn’t forgiveness we need (since the person can’t provide it anyway), it’s the humility to accept the grace we have been provided to make the necessary changes for the living we are still among. The great, world-renowned philosopher Sylvester Stallone (just kidding of course) once said, “I have tons of regrets, but I think that’s one of the reasons that push people to create things. Out of their angst, their regret, comes the best from artists, painters and writers.” Ironically, I think Sly Stallone has stumbled on to a profound truth, and learned(probably) the hard way about regrets. He highlights for us just how essential they are for our future, not our past. Thankfully, we have been provided grace and forgiveness empowering us to become more like Christ through our journey with Him. The added benefit to that is that those around us reap the harvest of our willingness to accept the empowering grace to treat them differently in the future.

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