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.