Empathy A Sin? You’re Kidding, Right?

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photo by Drew Hayes

Empathy has been getting a lot of press recently, and not in a good way. Past controversial statements by John Piper came to light recently concerning empathy. This occurred amidst the July resignations of staff members from Piper’s former church, Bethlehem Baptist Church, (a church he pastored over 30 years.) The seminary affiliated with the church, and the president which Piper appointed, have also taken a stand against empathy.

In a podcast in March of this year, the president of the seminary, Joe Rigney, even called empathy a sin.

I had to read that a few times. Empathy a sin?

photo by Youssef Naddam

What Is Empathy?

According to pastor and professor Scot McKnight, (author of A Church Called Tov), the naysayers of empathy are distinguishing the virtue of compassion from the potential vice of empathy. (A Church Called Tov, https://amzn.to/3h0TEyK)

The former means to “suffer with” and the latter “to suffer in.” Or, to “feel with” and “feel in.” The former is rational; the latter appears to be less (than) rational, and perhaps irrational. At least in their constructions, it’s OK to suffer with but not to suffer in.

Furthermore, McKnight continues by saying, This may be the most unwise piece of pastoral theology I’ve seen in my lifetime. Pastors without empathy are not pastoring. 

Warren Throckmorten, professor of psychiatry at Grove City College, defined empathy as following:

Empathy is simply understanding the inner world of other people. It is all about being able to relate to them and understand what they are going through. It quite important in human functioning and when absent, is associated with cruelty and antisocial behavior.

Isn’t Sympathy Enough?

Potentially, there are several reactions each of us has when we learn of a life crisis which a loved one, co-worker, or a neighbor is facing. Very recently, we all learned of the plight of thousands of people in Afghanistan who were attempting to flee from the brutal regime who is now in control. Tragically, we now know many of those were left behind to a fate that is difficult for Westerners to imagine. What stirred within you during this event?

A few had apathy. Some felt sympathy. Others felt empathy. Still others felt compassion, but which ones were moved to take some type of action?

I like how Dr. Allan Schwartz, LCSW, PhD, described it in his post discussing the three.

Sympathy carries with it more than a small dose of pity for the other. Of course, the problem with pity is that it strongly implies a superior attitude to the one in pain or need. In other words, it is never helpful to feel sorry for the other person.

Consequently, sympathy feels sorry for the hurting person. However, if I understand him correctly, sympathy feels little more than pity for the one in distress.

Throckmorten’s definition sounds a bit harsh. Nevertheless, in comparison to compassion and empathy, sympathy takes the least action. We may share a feeling with someone, then move onto the next thing on our schedules.

photo by Iluha Zavaley

Empathy & Compassion

McKnight looked to Merriam Webster to define compassion and empathy.

Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Empathy: the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Schwartz sums it up well:

In fact, empathy precedes compassion. Empathy without compassion leaves the individual drained of energy as a result of feeling what the other feels. Empathy occurs immediately and leaves no emotional room between the individual and the one who is suffering. Compassion is more cognitive in nature. There is a sense of self awareness that provides some necessary space between the two people. The empathizer experiences the same suffering with the other, leaving the empathizer overwhelmed. As a result, compassion allows the individual to be more helpful than the individual who experiences empathy alone.

Truthfully, both are necessary  – empathy and compassion. As Schwartz stated, empathy precedes compassion. Without empathy, there would not be compassionate action.

photo by Rodnae Productions

The Fear of Vulnerability

Shane Moe is a marriage and family therapist in the Twin Cities area. He also provides care for trauma survivors, many of whom attended Bethlehem Baptist. He views the empathy-as-sin folks in a different light. Moe looks beneath the theological posturing and sees men who fear vulnerability. Traditionally, vulnerability in men signified weakness.

Revealing emotions is for women. Men are expected to be stoic and tough.

Additionally, and disturbingly, a lack of empathy is a characteristic of narcissism.

There are reasons some of my clients’ family members who exhibit narcissistic traits and who have engaged in consistent patterns of spiritual and psychological abuse toward my clients have been attracted to this ‘empathy is a sin’ teaching (and to this church): It feeds perfectly into their narcissism and psychological dependence upon maintaining power and control.

Sadly, there remain many patriarchic church cultures where male leadership distance themselves from feelings and emotions. Furthermore, they label them as sinful and isolate women, (whom they deem too emotional) who cry for help from abusive husbands. The traumatized and abused find no empathy and therefore, no compassion.

photo by Gus Moretta

Jesus, Our Example

Contrary to this, the New Testament Jesus is frequently said to have splanchnizomai. This word means – to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity.) McKnight paraphrased its meaning as follows:

It means to be moved with emotion and pity for someone in pain and pastoral neglect, and it leads from understanding to actions that help alleviate the pain (like healing, teaching).

Let’s look at just a few of these instances.

Matthew 9:35-38, ESV

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Matthew 20:29-34, NKJV

Mark 1:40-41, ESV

40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”

Mark 5:18-19

Luke 7:12-13, NKJV

12 And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.

Luke 10:30-33

Our Response

Throughout His time here on earth, our Lord was moved with pity and compassion to take action in assisting those in need of His care. He moved to meet basic needs for food, needs for healing, and miraculous needs by restoring a widow’s son to life. Jesus met people where they were, (empathy) and took them by the hand (compassion) to deliver them to where they needed to be.

In 1 John 3:15-18, ESV, we have a clear admonition from ‘the disciple Jesus loved.’

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Theologians and preachers can quibble over word definitions and etymology until they are breathless. However, no one can argue with the simple truth of the words of Scripture. Furthermore, the example of the life of our Lord Jesus is all we need to know how to care for our brothers and sisters.

Can I hear an Amen?

 

 

 

Toxic Christian Relationships

photo by Mitch Hodge

There is an intriguing story in the book of John. You’ll find it in chapter 8:1-11.

Now [a]early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear, (NKJV).

Picture the scene. Jesus in the temple, teaching his followers and those who were curious. Suddenly, the religious leaders burst in with a nearly (or completely) naked woman and thrust her before Him. Moreover, she is accused of adultery before Jesus and the crowd.

There are so many problems with this scenario.

The scribes and Pharisees gloated over this humiliated woman because they believed that Jesus would have to agree with them. Otherwise, He would be going against the Mosaic Law. On the other hand, if He disagreed with them…then He must be a fraud!

However, as is often the case with abusive men, they told a half-truth. Actually, if they were interested in following the Law, it required the death of both the man  and the woman. The Pharisees were conveniently silent with that information.

photo by Sora Shimazaki

Whose Responsibility?

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers[j]of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Clearly, Jesus quickly assessed the situation. He saw the toxic dynamic of men placing the weight of their agenda onto a woman. In addition, He knew who needed to own the responsibility at that moment…and it wasn’t the woman before Him. (Please note that He did admonish her not to continue in her sin.)

Jesus simply waited until the scribes and Pharisees realized they had responsibility for their own sin. The men had no right to place the burden of their hidden, personal sins onto the woman, (i.e. judging, conniving to trap Jesus, lying about the Law, using another person for their own benefit.)

Then, in love and mercy, Jesus sent the woman on her way.

Unfortunately, the number one characteristic of abusers is denial of responsibility. It’s nearly impossible for them to take responsibility for their behavior.

Where Does Abusive Behavior Begin?

Each of us have met people with varying levels of emotional maturity. Some “never seem to grow up,” while others were “grown before their time.” We know that abusive behavior is often learned in the home, whether by witnessing abuse or experiencing it. In addition, Bob Hamp, counselor and owner of Think Differently Counseling, (www.TDCounseling.com) said, The backbone of emotionally healthy development is the movement from dependence to independence to interdependence.

Ideally, parents begin early to train their children toward independent thinking and feeling.

If that doesn’t occur, these children learn to constantly look outside themselves for success, affirmation, and fulfillment. Furthermore, they usually grow into dependent adults who:

  • have an inability to face consequences for personal behavior
  • cannot manage conflict
  • have trouble with differing thoughts, emotions, opinions of others

Many become addicts, abusers or serial adulterers. They have internal pain, but unfortunately, lack the resources to meet them…and no longer possess a desire to do so. Therefore, they look to outward methods to soothe it.

In addition, they use a position of power to assign responsibility to their victims to carry the weight of their sins, emotions, or daily responsibilities, (Bob Hamp.)

Covert Agreements

Surprise! Abusers find victims who do have the resources they need! This person was likely groomed in her own family of origin. She may meet a financial need for the abuser, but most often it’s emotional, as well. Usually, the victim is an empath. She’s caring, and understanding; surely she can meet his gnawing inward needs.

This is the ideal person to carry the abuser’s pain, and believe me, before long, she’s carrying all of it.

Therefore, the two unconsciously enter a covert agreement:

(Abuser) You will meet all my emotional needs, and anything else I can think of. (Victim) I’ll be fulfilled by being the most amazing helper who will change this poor man.

Remember, the victim never sees herself as a victim, (until she’s completely burned out, that is.) She just wants to help him. If she could just do more to change him – perhaps she can fix him or…soothe her own fear.

Furthermore, abusers don’t see themselves as abusers. They think they may have a little problem with anger, (or porn, or alcohol…) that only gets worse when she doesn’t do her job. Of course, her job consists of meeting all of his needs when he needs them…and always being understanding and forgiving of him…

every. single. time.

photo by Yan Krukov

Abusive Christian Relationships

We began with a story of self-righteous religious leaders using their power to exploit a woman’s personal sin, merely to prove their point to Jesus. Consequently, as difficult as it may be to acknowledge, we are aware that religion has had harmful elements since the beginning of time.

With that in mind, is it such a big leap to realize that there are Christian marriages where women are being abused? (I use the term Christian here loosely.) I realize that sometimes men are abused, too. However, the vast majority of the time when abuse is present, whether Christian homes or not, the victim is a woman.

Actually, the doctrine in Conservative Christian circles, makes it easier for abusers to blend in. Contrary to the example of Christ, far too many in fundamentalist leaning churches continue to see women as second class citizens of the Kingdom of God. This feeds directly in to the ego of an abuser, who sees his victim as someone who lives to meet his needs.

For an example, look no farther than a recent article about a schism at Bethlehem Baptist, John Piper’s former church.

photo by Karolina Grabowska

Christian Abusers

According to Natalie Hoffman, writer and educator regarding domestic abuse, you can’t tell an abuser by his cover. To outsiders, he can appear shy and gentle or charming and gregarious. However, these are a professing Christian abuser’s core beliefs. At home, they are revealed as follows:

  • Women follow men
  • Women cause men to trip up
  • If rape happened, there had to be witnesses or it wasn’t rape
  • Women cannot give feedback unless it’s done in a meek and quiet way
  • A wife cannot have personal boundaries
  • Grace is only allowed for men
  • Women must die to themselves, not men
  • If a woman stands against her husband, she is against God’s will
  • If there is not peace in the home, it’s the woman’s fault
  • When a husband says he’s sorry, a wife owes him a clean slate – 70×70!

You can easily see the distortions, but these are deep-seated beliefs an abuser lives by. He expects his wife to live by them, too.

Next week I’m going to talk about the 5 areas of abuse. None include him lifting a hand, but all inflict pain.

Until then, keep in mind that Jesus did not condemn the woman thrown at his feet. Conversely, He was gentle, kind, and forgiving toward her. His judgment was toward the religious leaders.

The heart of God has always been tender toward victims of injustice.

Please know – You are loved.

 

 

 

 

 

Continuing The Conversation: PTSD After Sexual Trauma

This site contains affiliate links to books. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

photo by Angelo Pantazis

In the late 90’s, I began venturing into the early stages of my counseling education. In addition, I began a required semester of volunteer counseling. My first clients were women from the large church my family attended. One particular young woman came to see me who had been in an elementary Sunday School class I taught years before. Therefore, I struggled to maintain a calm composure as she described the sexual trauma she had endured at the hands of her brothers…and the subsequent PTSD she was suffering.

Unfortunately, I was not equipped to help her then. As a professor told us in our undergraduate program, we knew just enough to be dangerous. In the following years, more Christian women came to me with similar stories. As a result, I quickly realized that I never wanted to be in that position, again. There are people, trained therapists, programs, hotlines available for women who no longer want or need to be silent about their abuse and the resulting PTSD.

PTSD And Sexual Trauma Identified

As noted last week, initial research on trauma and PTSD focused on men. Most of these researchers concentrated on male combat veterans and how they responded to trauma sustained from war. However, in 1995, researchers who studied women’s experiences of sexual assault identified a syndrome that was similar to that experienced by combat-exposed men. This recognition led to an increase in research on women’s experiences of traumatic events and risk for PTSD. 

photo by Daria-Nepriakhina

Consequently, research exploded on women, trauma, and PTSD. As mentioned in my former blog, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. did extensive research on trauma and the brain, (The Body Keeps The Score). (https://amzn.to/3gSijpA)

What is Sexual Assault?

This may seem like a silly question. Nevertheless, I fear that it has grown so common in our culture that we have grown numb to the reports.

The term “sexual assault” refers to a range of behaviors that involve unwanted sexual contact or behavior. This can include actual and attempted rape as well as unwanted sexual touching.

Furthermore, sexual assault occurs at staggering frequency in the United States. The CDC, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,) estimate that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Common examples of sexual assault are:

  • Being taken advantage of by someone who has authority over you (boss, parent, teacher, doctor)
  • Bribed or manipulated into performing unwanted sexual acts against her will
  • Being forced into sexual activity because a woman is unable to give consent due to intoxication or being mentally/physically incapacitated
  • Being physically forced or violently sexually assaulted
photo by Liza Summer

Short-Term Effects of Sexual Trauma

Initially, the trauma of being assaulted can leave you feeling scared, angry, guilty, anxious, and sad. Additionally, the stigma surrounding sexual assault causes many to feel humiliated, embarrassed or ashamed. Other things someone who has been traumatized by sexual assault may experience are:

  • Shock and disbelief
  • Mistrust, sense of betrayal
  • Memory loss
  • Irritability
  • Heightened sensitivity to touch
  • Repulsion to sexual contact, or hypersexuality
  • Change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Anger, thoughts of revenge
  • Disorientation, confusion
  • Overwhelmed, fear of “going crazy”
  • Intense fear of injury or death

Many survivors experience a reduction in symptoms within a few months, whereas some women experience distress for years

photo by Alex Green

Long-term Effects of Sexual Trauma

Unfortunately, sexual assault produces negative, long-term side-effects when left untreated. Children who have experienced sexual abuse have many, sometimes severe long-term negative effects. We may discuss that in a later blog.

Surprisingly, the long-term effects of PTSD are global – mental, emotional and physical:

  • Chronic pain and worsening physical health problems
  • Risk of developing autoimmune diseases
  • Depression, anxiety, social withdrawal or suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Loss of occupational or academic functioning
  • Difficulties with interpersonal relationships
  • Substance abuse, addiction
  • eating disorders
  • suicide

Healing: Is It Possible?

First, YES, healing is possible for most people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. The process can be slow, however, and requires patience and a therapist. Regrettably, for some PTSD symptoms will be lasting.

Notably, the recommended therapy for PTSD is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, (EMDR.) Dr. Van Der Kolk found this to be true in his research and therapists support it today. This therapy helps the client process the trauma and release the past.

Secondly, Van Der Kolk recommends yoga. The brain tends to shut down during a trauma event which leads to numbing. Yoga enables you to reconnect with your body.

Helping Yourself While Healing

Along with therapy, there are several ways an assault survivor can help herself.

photo by Rachel Claire
  • Focus on slowing your breathing when you feel frightened. Your breathing may become irregular when you’re scared, which could lead to panic.
  • Carry an object that reminds you of the present. Some people find it helpful to touch or look at something when they’re having a flashback.
  • Tell yourself you’re safe. Write down key phrases ahead of time which you can refer to when you are frightened.
  • Comfort yourself. Curl up in a blanket, listen to soothing music, or cuddle a pet.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down what happens when you have a flashback could help identify patterns in what triggers those experiences. You might also learn to notice early signs that they’re beginning to happen.
  • Try grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can help you stay connected to the present. For example, describe your surroundings out loud.

Where Was God?

I’ve heard the anguished question many times as a hospital chaplain and as a therapist, “Where was God when my baby died?” or “Where was God when I was repeatedly raped as a child?” or date raped or…

Fortunately, there have been several books written over the years asking similar questions. These books were written by people wiser than me. For instance, C. S. Lewis wrote The Problem of Pain. Philip Yancey wrote Where is God When it Hurts?

In addition, Tim Keller wrote Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. Joni Erikson Tada wrote When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to The Almighty. One last book by an author I especially admire: Suffering and The Heart of GodHow Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores by Dianne Langberg, PhD.

These authors have each suffered and/or worked with suffering people.

What I know is sin entered the world in the Garden. With sin came death, evil and destruction. And we have been suffering the consequences to this day.

photo by Lina Trochez

Suffering and The Bible

As one who has suffered, I also am convinced that God never wastes our sorrows, though they may be many. Jesus suffered greatly. He identifies with your suffering.

1 Peter 3:18

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 

And He comforts us with the comfort that only He can give…if we will accept it.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

It may be hard to see now, but our sufferings are not comparable to the glory we will see later.

Romans 8:18

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

And His love will never be taken from us.

Romans 8:18

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

And then, when it’s all over…

Revelation 21:4

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Hear this song from a man whose son committed suicide in Nov. 2020.

Resources:

The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis (https://amzn.to/3hwkcbX)

Where is God When It Hurts (https://amzn.to/3hwkz6l)

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering (https://amzn.to/3k3kVDc)

When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to The Almighty (https://amzn.to/3r1rO9p)

Suffering and The Heart of God – How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores (https://amzn.to/3qXX8G5)

Unsafe People: Knowing the Difference From Safe People

This site contains affiliate links to books. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Have you ever started a relationship with someone only to discover along the way – weeks, months, even a year later – that he isn’t who he presented himself to be? The loving promises turned into defensiveness over not keeping promises. What you thought was an honest man is ultimately revealed as a deceiver? You thought he was a safe person…how could you not have seen how unsafe he was??

Perhaps we have all experienced a similar situation at least once in our lives, with a friend or in a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, many have multiple relationships like the one described. Each time they come away from it exhausted, hurt, and feeling betrayed.

Why?

The Necessity of Knowing the Difference

Unless we had a childhood that instilled distrust, or a traumatizing event, most of us generally trust people we first meet. We give them the benefit of the doubt. Regrettably, there are those who take advantage of trusting souls.

Therefore, it is necessary and healthy for us to be able to recognize the traits of unsafe people so that we can avoid unhealthy relationships. It’s important to have clear boundaries in place. Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend wrote a groundbreaking book in 2009, which is still handed out or referred to in counseling offices across America today. It’s called Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good For You and Avoid Those That Aren’t.  (https://amzn.to/3iu8cID)

Types of Unsafe People

In Safe People, the authors identify three types of commonly recognized “unsafe people.” Though these types of people are not necessarily abusers, recognizing them as unsafe is still a good first step toward a healthy relationship.

Abandoners. These are people who start a relationship but can’t stick with it. They often leave when you need them the most. The authors say this type of person has typically been abandoned themselves at some point in their life and are afraid of getting too close. Others are simply perfectionists. They leave people when the discover what they perceive as faults.

Critics. These individuals are judgmental without being caring. There is no room for grace or forgiveness. They often jump on doctrinal and ethical bandwagons,  more focused on pointing out others’ errors than they are with making real connections with people. They can make you feel guilt-ridden and full of anxiety.

Irresponsibles. These people are those who don’t take care of their own lives very well. They’re like grown up children. Irresponsibles don’t think about the consequences of their actions, or follow through on commitments. They’re people with whom you will grow to resent after giving them countless chances. You’ll find yourself often making excuses for them.

Learning the Traits of Unsafe People

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but enough to give you insight into a questionable relationship.  If you recognize several traits, consider leaving the relationship for your own emotional health. This person could be someone who needs to work on their own personal struggles, but staying with him will not guarantee him doing so.

However, if you are married, I recommend that you seek counseling. If he won’t go with you, go alone. Afterward, when you feel stronger, ask, again, if your spouse wants a healthier marriage.

Unsafe People:

  1. think they “have it all together,” instead of admitting their weaknesses
    2. are religious, instead of spiritual
    3. are defensive, instead of open to feedback
    4. are self-righteous, instead of humble
    5. apologize, without changing their behavior
    6. avoid working on their problems, rather than dealing with them
    7. demand trust, instead of earning it
    8. believe they are perfect, do not like to admit weaknesses
    9. blame others, instead of taking responsibility
    10. lie instead of telling the truth, (use deception as a way of dealing with problems)
    11. are stagnant, instead of growing

Safe People Traits

Safe means that we feel protected from danger, that we feel cared for and not likely to be harmed. People who are “safe” aren’t out to hurt us physically or emotionally, and these types of people are the ones you want in your life, especially if you have experienced their counterparts—unsafe people.

Dr. John Townsend once wrote, “A safe person is someone who influences you to be the person you were designed to be. It’s just that simple. It’s a person in your life who influences you. They encourage you.”

My husband is one of my safe people. He’s the first person I want to call when I have good news to share…or bad news, for that matter. He has proven over the years that he is a safe person to whom I can entrust my heart. I believe he feels the same about me.

Safe people tell us the truth, even if it’s a difficult truth. They give honest feedback without judging us. Despite our flaws and fears, they accept us and we accept them. In fact, we have a mutual respect for one another.

Characteristics of safe people include:

  • Honesty
  • Gentleness
  • Directness
  • Humility
  • Self-awareness
  • The ability to listen to and receive truth
  • Acts on needs, not just hears
  • Grows and works towards personal improvement

At times, each of us fails in our relationships. However, if there are consistent failures, this is a good time to assess for ourselves – Am I a safe person?

If not, what can I do to become one?

A Parable of The Safest Person

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:11-24, ESV

Final Thoughts

The son left as arrogant, unteachable, demanding. In that culture, by demanding his inheritance early, he was, in essence, telling his father that he wished his father was dead. The son was the quintessential unsafe and unredeemed person.

After the prodigal’s humbling experience, rather than receiving rebuke and humiliation, he received open arms and celebration. To his shock, he was lavished with love and gifts. He was home, safe, in his father’s arms.

That’s the safest place on earth to be. Have you experienced this kind of safety?

You can.

 

Shame: Healthy Shame Versus Toxic Shame

This site contains affiliate links to books. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Photo by Caleb Woods

There is healthy shame and there is toxic shame. I have known mostly toxic shame throughout my life, gleaned from dysfunctional parenting and religion…

but I have ever so gradually learned that healthy shame is possible to achieve.

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.

Brene Brown, PhD.

from her book: I Thought It Was Just Me: (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” (https://amzn.to/3ia61d0)

Healthy Shame

All toddlers experience a healthy amount of shame if their parents set boundaries for them. I have never met a toddler who liked the word no; however, providing limits for young children enables them to develop important developmental and socialisation skills. Not to mention keeping them safe.

It also helps parents to maintain sanity.

I find it fascinating that shame is so embedded in the human race. Even infants and toddlers, when told no, display signs of shame, (feelings of “I am bad.”)

 Shame deactivates the sympathetic (nervous) system and activates the parasympathetic system. The infant becomes quiet and may try to hide.  A healthy parent or caregiver recognises this and reconnects immediately; the parent repairs the relationship, comforts and soothes the infant, and either shows them how to do the activity appropriately, or redirects the infant’s behaviours to another activity.

The child experiences small amounts of shame that are manageable within a safe and secure parent-child relationship.  This is the easiest time to teach the infant:

  • “Its not you, it’s the behaviour”
  • “Its not our relationship, it’s me teaching you”

Attunement is the interactive process between a parent and young child.

Sadly, many parents or caregivers are not attuned to their children and the shame voices begin to grow within the child.

 Shame Thinking

Shame thinking originates from deep roots in our childhood, family, culture, or religion.

As children we tend to blame ourselves for things that
happen around us, because we are limited in our capacity to think about others being responsible. In a five-year old’s mind if something bad happened, then she or he must have deserved it, therefore the universe makes sense. It is not until around age 12 that we gain the cognitive capacity to see how others’ actions and behaviors are more
complex with varying degrees of culpability.

Therefore, it’s easy to see how children can take on shame without a parent being aware that it has happened! Children are naturally egocentric.

In addition, unhealthy religious institutions often resort to shaming in order to keep their flock obedient to creeds, doctrines, leadership, etc. It can be a slow, insidious process, but effective, nevertheless.

We are all susceptible to shame. It began in the Garden of Eden.

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.

Brene Brown, PhD

Photo by Tabitha Turner

Toxic Shame Hides

Nothing silences us more effectively than shame.

Brene Brown, PhD

Toxic shame is painful to experience. In fact, the feeling is so distressing that we often find ways to avoid it. Unfortunately, shame is more destructive and powerful when it hides. Being aware of our defense mechanisms and bringing shame out into the open is the first step toward healing.

Here are some things to watch for:

  • Being defensive 
    • We can avoid taking responsibility for our behavior when we can transfer blame to another. If we equate responsibility with blame, then we run from it.
  • Perfectionism
    • Shame drives perfectionism. If we’re perfect, no one can criticize or shame us. However, the energy to attain the impossible goal of being perfect is exhausting. Furthermore, attempting to be someone we’re not disconnects us from the person God created us to be, flaws included.
    • Researcher Dr. Brene Brown said, Perfectionism is self-destructive and addictive
  • Apologizing
    • People who are overly apologetic and compliant are often prompted by deeply rooted shame. There is an assumption that others are right and they are wrong. In hopes of preventing criticism, a shaming attack, or conflict, we’re quick to apologize.
    • On the other hand, a deep, unconscious shame can have the opposite effect. This person can be so ruled by hidden shame that she can’t allow herself to be exposed to the possibility of ever being wrong. Admitting a mistake or being wrong is unthinkable. Human vulnerability is considered weak and shameful.
  • Procrastination
    • Shame often drives procrastination. Underlying the consideration of projects, especially new ventures, is the possibility that they might not turn out as we planned. Consequently, we might be criticized or be shamed. If we don’t attempt it, we won’t  fail. We won’t face the shame of failure.
    • We may live a safer life, albeit a smaller life.

Healing For Shame

When we are shamed repeatedly, we are taught to think that our feelings are wrong and our experiences are delusive. Whether this happens as a child or as an adult, the result is the same: if there is no one compassionate and perceptive enough to acknowledge the validity of our stories on a repeat basis, then we, too, are challenged to see them as true. We learn to distrust ourselves; we learn to deny our own truth, even to ourselves. Transforming this mindset requires a witness with a willingness to look and listen in a most powerful way—by seeing, feeling and believing.

Shame causes us to hide.Photo by Ivan Aleksic

It’s important to recognize when someone is shaming you. For example, the following statements are shaming:

  • You’re stupid!
  • You’re so fat!
  • What an idiot; I can’t believe you said that!
  • You’ll never be as good as _____.

If or when you hear things like this, don’t accept them as the truth about yourself. In fact, challenge shaming behavior.

In addition, be aware if you are the one who shames you the most! Open your ears to hear shaming words and discover who they are coming from.

Don’t be a shamer, yourself.

It’s good to understand the origin of the toxic shame. Are you with someone who often shames you? Do you perpetuate it by staying?

Learn to have compassion for yourself. This will take time. It will likely require a therapist if the shame is deeply rooted, but the freedom gained is like a huge weight lifted from you.

Work toward accepting that you are human and have flaws.

Forgive yourself for past mistakes.

Jesus Experienced Shame

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV
The Bible declares that sin entered the world through Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2, they were naked and not ashamed. Pivotally, they chose to eat from the Tree of Life, the single thing God instructed them not to eat. They chose their own unsound wisdom over God’s proven, loving wisdom.
 
Immediately, they attempted to hide from God. Adam and Eve felt shame for the first time.
 
On the cross, Jesus experienced the humiliation of our shame. The very weight of shame that was introduced in the Garden by Adam and Eve was laid on Him.
 
And He despised it.
 
But Jesus suffered it so it would not be necessary for us to live under the bondage of shame any longer.
 
Dr. Brown’s research on shame is brilliant. I recommend her books and her Tedtalk*.
on shame. John Bradshaw wrote a seminal work on shame in 2005, Healing the Shame that Binds You, (https://amzn.to/3yJlkPT). I recommend that, as well.
 
Pure Joy, by Ben White
However, my personal experience has taught me one thing.
Jesus alone can completely free us from the chains of shame. God gives us a new identity. His mercy and grace bring joy.
 
Photo by Eye for Ebony
 
 
Chain Breaker, by Zack Williams
 
Brene Brown “Listening to Shame”
 
Brene Brown “The Power of Vulnerability”

 

Living Life Without Codependency…or at Least Less

Last week we talked about the types of homes that produce a codependent person. In addition, we began learning how to recognize the characteristics of codependency. Today, we are going to see how we can live a life without codependency…or at least with less codependent behavior.

A Brief Review

Unfortunately, codependents have low self-esteem. Due to circumstances that were outside of our control, we learned to seek anything (or anyone) beyond ourselves to make us feel better. Moreover, we find it difficult to “be ourselves” because we generally don’t like ourselves.

Let’s review a list of characteristics once again. This one is a bit more comprehensive.

Characteristics We Display

  • Inability to know what “normal” is.
  • Difficulty in following a project through
  • Difficulty having fun
  • Judging self, others without mercy
  • Low self esteem, often projected onto others. (eg: Why don’t they get their act together?!)
  • Difficulty in developing or sustaining meaningful relationships
  • Belief that others cause or are responsible for the codependent’s emotions (Codependents often use language like “you make me feel ______”, or “I was made to feel like____”)
  • Overreacting to change. (or intense fear of / inability to deal with change)
  • Inability to see alternatives to situations, thus responding very impulsively
  • Constantly seeking approval and affirmation, yet having compromised sense of self
  • Feelings of being different
  • Confusion and sense of inadequacy
  • Being either super responsible or super irresponsible. (Or alternating between these.)
  • Lack of self confidence in making decisions, no sense of power in making choices
  • Feeling of fear, insecurity, inadequacy, guilt, hurt, and shame, (which are denied)
  • Isolation and fear of people, resentment of authority figures
  • Fear of anger or bottling anger up until it explodes
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Being addicted to excitement / drama (Chaos making)
  • Dependency upon others and fear of abandonment
  • Avoidance of relationships to guard against abandonment fears
  • Confusion between love and pity
  • Tendency to look for “victims” to help
  • Rigidity and need to control
  • Lies, when it would be just as easy to tell the truth

Remember, there is no shame in being codependent, as Melody Beattie has said. However, the revelation that we are can be a gateway to freedom to live a different way.

Steps to a Less Codependent Life

I found the following to be a good recovery task list. With that said, recovery is impossible to do alone. We need accountability. In addition, success is much more likely with a therapist or a 12-step group walking with you.

  1. You start putting your own needs first.
  2. You say what you mean without being mean.
  3. You can admit that you don’t know it all.
  4. You don’t have to give advive.
  5. You know how to stay on your side of the street.
  6. You don’t always say yes, (have healthy boundaries).
  7. You can ask for what you need.
  8. You’re not obsessing on what’s not in your control.
  9. You don’t care as much what other people think.
  10. You can let go of what other people are doing.

Adding Scripture to Your Healing Process

To a casual observer, codependence looks a lot like love. Regrettably, one doesn’t need to look long before it is evident that it is a masquerade. Genuine, Christ-like love involves serving one another, (Galatians 5:13).

In a codependent relationship, those involved use one another to meet their own emotional needs.

Rather than loving selflessly, partners in a codependent relationship are actually looking for someone to fill a void within them. This is an impossible expectation which leaves one or both perpetually disappointed.

Only God can fill the void in our hearts. Only He can enable us to love with a genuine love.

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

By this, by our godly, sacrificial love for one another will people know that we belong to Jesus. Why? Because that is how Jesus loved His followers and how He loves us, now.

Absolutely, it is wonderful to share a life with someone we love. The difference will be that we won’t need another person to fill our empty, lonely hearts.

A long, long time ago, God knew we would attempt to make each other idols to fill our hearts with the love we needed…and we have.

As a result, we have a 44.8% divorce rate and a high percentage of unhealthy relationships. (By the way, don’t let the lower percentage rate fool you, fewer people are getting married, now.)

What Genuine Love Looks Like

So, what does genuine love look like in a relationship? I believe I  Corinthians 13:1-8a, (HCSB) is a goal to strive for. Notably, only Jesus can love like this through us.

13 If I speak human or angelic languages
but do not have love,
I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy
and understand all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith
so that I can move mountains
but do not have love, I am nothing.
And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor,
and if I give my body in order to boast[a]
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited,
does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.
Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends…

I warned you this chapter has high expectations! But the good news is that God loved us first. Then, He enabled us to love others in a healthy way. Moreover, we never need to earn love, again. It may take a while to rest in that truth, but it will happen for you.

Now that is something worth singing about!

 

Great recovery tool 

 

Codependency: Which is Me and Which is You?

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Photo by Heather Mount

The word codependency has been somewhat of a buzz word since the late 80’s. Generally, we’re referring to someone who is extremely clingy with her partner. However, codependency is much deeper than that. A codependent relationship becomes so enmeshed that each partner forgets which is me and which is you.

The lines between where you end and the other person starts are blurred.

A person who is codependent will plan their entire life around pleasing the other person, or the enabler.

In its simplest terms, a codependent relationship is when one partner needs the other partner, who in turn, needs to be needed. This circular relationship is the basis of what experts refer to when they describe the “cycle” of codependency.

Photo by Eric Ward

What Creates a Codependent Person?

Codependency evolved from the term co-addict. The co-addict was the person living with the addict. This person became sick through living with the distorted thinking  and behaviors that surround addiction. (Emotional Sobriety, Tian Dayton, PhD), (https://amzn.to/3tG8YVF.)

Today, newer research has recognized codependency as a trait resulting from any dysfunctional family.

Dysfunctional Family Characteristics

So, you ask, what is a dysfunctional family? Realistically, every family has some level of dysfunction because we’re human. Think of it as a continuum. About half of families fall in the middle of the continuum.

The others are in the unhealthy range.

A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame.  Sadly, it is ignored or denied. Therefore, these families are unpredictable, chaotic, and often unsafe for the children. The core problems include any of the following:

  • A family member’s addiction to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling.
  • The existence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • A family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness

There are consistently three rules within these families. They are never verbally expressed, but each family member knows and abides by the rules. Each begins with don’t:

  • talk
  • trust
  • feel

The addiction, abuse, or illness sits like an elephant in the middle of the home.  The problem is never openly acknowledged. As a result, other family members learn that it isn’t ok to talk about it to others. They also learn that their own needs are not important.

Photo by Munga Thigani

They become survivors.

In doing so, family members develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. Therefore, they become numb to their genuine feelings. In addition, the identity and emotional development of the children are often inhibited.

How Do You Know if You’re Codependent?

Codependents spend a lot of time managing the world around them so that they can feel less anxious. One way they do this is to try to anticipate danger and head it off at the pass. (Dayton, Emotional Sobriety)

At a young age, we learned  to be hyper-focused, scanning our caregivers for emotional signals. (The Body Keeps the Score, Van der Kolk), (https://amzn.to/3vuaTNV)

There are several characteristics of codependent people. Codependents Anonymous has broken their list down into common attitudes and behavior patterns.  It’s useful, especially if this is first time you have considered it for yourself.

Admittedly, I was appalled when a therapist suggested I was codependent. The term, itself, seemed to imply weakness. Nevertheless, I recognized myself in many of the characteristics!

Moreover, working with therapists has taught me a lot about the damage done to children raised in the home of an addict. (My parent was traumatized by an alcoholic father). Working in the field of therapy taught me more.

Characteristics if Codependents

Photo by Alex Green

If you recognize yourself in anything written so far, I invite you to check out the links I have provided both above and below. Following is a list of characteristics:

  • An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
  • A tendency to always do more than their share
  • Become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship to avoid being alone, (even if it’s unhealthy.)
  • An extreme need for approval and recognition
  • A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
  • A compelling need to control others
  • Lack of trust in self and/or others
  • Fear of being abandoned
  • Difficulty identifying feelings
  • Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
  • Problems with intimacy/boundaries
  • Chronic anger
  • Lying/dishonesty
  • Poor communications
  • Difficulty making decisions

Help and Hope For The Codependent

Next week we’re going to look more at what codependency looks like in adult relationships. In addition, we’ll look at steps to healing. For now, I want to close with help and hope.

First, I want to point you to Melody Beattie’s seminal book that put codependency on the map, so to speak. The book is, Codependent No More, published in 1986. (https://amzn.to/3sH1H6J)

Alcoholics Anonymous has been helping codependent spouses since the ’30’s, but Beatties’s book lit a spark in the culture. Consequently, her work revealed the far-reaching effects of the behavior.

Created For Relationship

In Genesis 2:18, God said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

Since the beginning, God knew we humans functioned much better in relationships. Relationships are ideally a nurturing thing. They give us a sense of belonging. Supposedly, relationships are our safe place.

Yet, relationships can be painful, even destructive.

Unfortunately, they can all have a measure of pain. We can learn from some pain. However, relationships should never be destructive.

We must realize our identity doesn’t depend on our performance or our ability to please someone else.

For codependents, the drive to perform and gain approval is deep seated. Nevertheless, it is an empty pursuit. It leaves you damaged every time. (Untangling Relationships – A Christian’s Perspective on Codependency, Pat Springle), (https://amzn.to/3tRhPUF)

The Bible – A Place to Begin

The Bible has another solution. For example, one place is in Ephesians. There are key points in Chapter 1. Paul instructs us to find our identity in Christ, and no one else.

Ephesians 1:3-8, 13-14:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insightIn him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…

When we are in relationship with God, we are:

  • chosen
  • adopted
  • forgiven
  • sealed; it’s forever

If you aren’t in relationship with Him, He wants you to be.

 

Self-test for co-dependency

CoDa 12 Steps

Abandonment: An Anxious, Overwhelming Fear

Fear of Abandonment

There are many of us who struggle with fear of abandonment. This anxious, overwhelming fear that someone you love is going to leave you. It isn’t a diagnosed mental health disorder, but it involves a high level of anxiety. Early childhood attachment wounds or some type of trauma are usually at the core of this fear.

In our early years of marriage, I panicked if my husband was late coming home from, well, anywhere. He was met with anger if he did not arrive when he said he would, or call when he was going to be late. At the time, I was unaware that I had a fear of abandonment. Consequently, he was completely puzzled by my anxiety over any delays returning home.

Help is available for both overwhelming anxiety and trauma wounds. I am living proof.

Normal Abandonment Fear

Healthy human development requires that an infant’s and child’s emotional and physical needs are met. Therefore, some degree of abandonment fear can be normal. Parents are going to fail sometimes. Infants and toddlers are helpless; they need to be constantly assured that their primary caregiver will be available for them. For instance, separation anxiety is a normal part of the developmental process, but it generally ends by age 3.

It becomes a concern if the fear of abandonment is severe or continues beyond age three. Unfortunately, it can impact how future relationships develop.

Unexpected Fear of Abandonment

One December, my family went to at a local downtown coliseum for what we thought was the Festival of Lights. It was an annual event featuring donated and decorated Christmas trees. Instead, we discovered a clogging convention! Disappointingly, the Christmas trees had been scheduled at another location.

In the confusion and crowd, we lost our 6 year old daughter. One minute she was beside us; the next, she was gone.

We felt heart-pounding panic. It took only moments before we found her chatting with security guards, but it felt like a lifetime.

However, decades passed before she recovered from the fear of abandonment.

Abandonment Wounds

Abandonment can be real or perceived. Absent, abusive, or inadequate parenting can cause abandonment wounds in children:

  • who felt deserted due to divorce, death, foster care or day care;
  • who felt forsaken because they were physically, emotionally or sexually abused;
  • whose basic needs were neglected by their parents.

Some forms of abandonment are less obvious, but just as significant. For example:

  • Parents who were emotionally unavailable due to mental illness or substance abuse
  • Siblings who perpetually teased their brother or sister
  • Children who felt routinely ignored and were left to solve problems without guidance
  • Adolescents who were often criticized and made to feel mistakes were not an option
  • Children who felt mounting uncertainty when caregivers would repeatedly leave town or come home late.

When a child’s needs are consistently unmet, she learns the world is not trustworthy.

Emotional Abandonment

We seldom hear about emotional abandonment, but it leaves deep scars, as well. Some characteristics are when a parent or parents:

  • stifle their children’s emotional expression, (Stop crying! That doesn’t really hurt!)
  • ridicule their children
  • hold their children to standards that are too high
  • rely too heavily on children for their own sense of worth
  • treat their children as peers

Abandonment and Relationships

As you can imagine, these early wounds lead to fear and anxiety in future relationships. Of course, adults who have lost a partner to divorce or death can also experience abandonment anxiety. Furthermore, affairs contribute to fear of abandonment. Signs of  abandonment issues in adult relationships are:

  • always wanting to please others (being a “people pleaser”)
  • giving too much in relationships, (always taking the blame or “giving in” during a disagreement)
  • an inability to trust others
  • pushing others away to avoid rejection
  • feeling insecure in romantic partnerships and friendships
  • codependency
  • a need for continual reassurance that others love them and will stay with them
  • the need to control others
  • persisting with unhealthy relationships
  • the inability to maintain relationships
  • moving quickly from one relationship to another
  • sabotaging relationships
  • lack of emotional intimacy

Remember, an individual doesn’t necessarily have all of these symptoms, but enough to raise a red flag in your mind when you read them. Sadly, those with childhood abandonment wounds are often drawn to people who mistreat them. Moreover, it becomes a cycle which reinforces their fears and distrust of others.

How It Affects Our View of God

Children who grow up learning that caretakers are untrustworthy and the world is unsafe, naturally view God through a distorted lens. If the very people who gave me life couldn’t be trusted, could God? Trust, if you remember, is a very daunting thing to regain for those suffering from abandonment anxieties.

Sometimes in childhood, Jesus was all the comfort I had. First, in prayer. Then, at around age 10, I began reading the Bible. At 13, a friend invited me to a local church, and my journey with Christ began in earnest.

But, it might be different for you. Perhaps there is a belief that God has already abandoned you, (or was never there at all.) You might believe that the Psalms assuring us of God’s nearness don’t apply to you.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18, ESV

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.

Psalm 145:18, ESV

You don’t believe yourself to be one of the “brokenhearted” to whom the Lord is near. Apparently, neither are you one of the “all” to whom He draws near when you call.

Are these some of your deep beliefs?

Jesus – The Abandonment Expert

It’s easy to think that Jesus doesn’t know how we feel when abandonment anxiety overwhelms us. In reality, Jesus knows exactly how it feels to be abandoned. In those moments, when He was taking the sin of the world upon Himself, God turned away from Him. For the first time in His earthly life, Jesus was completely abandoned by His Father, (Matthew 27:46).

So that we would never have to be, again.

Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood, (Luke 22:39-46; Matthew 26:36-46). His turmoil and sorrow was not about the torture and mockery, although he felt and heard it all. No, the agony of Jesus was about the imminent separation from His Father, with whom He had shared loving, divine relationship since before creation.

Jesus was abandoned so that we will never have to be abandoned, again. Throughout Scripture, God promised to never leave or forsake us. (Isaiah 41:10-13 is one of my favorite passages.)

In the upside/down kingdom of God, the Father invites us to run to Him when we most want to hide. He is always available to His children.

Come rest in His arms.

 

 

Equality: According to People, According to God

Equality has been a social buzz word for most of my life. People want equality for various, usually righteous reasons. Through God’s eyes, equality is less complicated than we’ve made it. For instance, Martin Luther King had a vision for equality that I believe was God-inspired. Sadly, politicians and others took his dream and used the word equality more often to divide rather than unite.

In like manner, it took women nearly 100 years to win the equal right to vote. It wasn’t expedient for the political power structure of the day, apparently. Today, however, at the stroke of a pen, a president or governor can allow convicted felons and non-citizens to vote in America. I’m not advocating for or against these actions. We are looking at equality, particularly for women.

In the Church, one of the biggest points of contention between (and within) Protestant denominations is how women are treated.

If you read any of the numerous articles concerning Beth Moore recently, you know that she finally grew weary of the Southern Baptist Convention’s sniping and criticisms of her. Early this month Moore publicly declared her departure from the SBC. One of the largest kerfuffles surrounding Moore involved the fact that she spoke, by invitation, at a few churches on a Sunday morning….

A Biblically-sound, Christian woman, speaking to a church on Sunday morning.

Scandalous.

It’s difficult for me to fathom the abuse Beth Moore has suffered at the hands of fellow Christians.

Equality in Man’s Eyes

Individuals want equality in areas that are important to their health and welfare – housing, employment, accessibility to education, etc.

Different races or genders call for equality if they are being minimized or sidelined in daily living and are suffering as a result. For example, over half a century after pay discrimination became illegal, there remains a significant pay gap between women and men in the workplace. This inequity has a negative impact on working women throughout their lives, i.e. pensions, social security.

Despite earning higher education in many instances, women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Many politicians campaign on equality in order to garner more power, i.e. more votes.

However, often the true sufferers of inequity are co-opted by those who are using them to gain power or for financial gain for themselves. Why do people take advantage of those in true need of assistance?

Jeremiah 17:9 gives us the answer.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Equality Through His Eyes

I could regale you with many stories of Jesus treating women with grace and honor, and this in an era when females were considered mere property. The Samaritans were a despised, half-breed people, so the woman at the well would have reason to be doubly dishonored. She not only had those strikes against her, but this woman had been married 5 times and was living with a sixth man. For this reason alone, the Samaritan woman was held in the lowest esteem.

Yet, Jesus approached her and asked her for a drink of water, an unheard of gesture in his day. His gentle acceptance led to her salvation, (see John 4:1-42.)

What Else Did Jesus Do?

Then we have the “woman of the city who was a sinner,” (how would you like to have that title?) She came to Simon’s house and washed the feet of Jesus with perfume and tears, (Lk. 7:36-50.) This woman was lifted out of her misery by the Lord of Life. Jesus praised her above the wealthy host at whose house He was dining. Why? Because she humbled herself before Him and expressed a desire to repent.

Simon, the host, simply wanted bragging rights for having the popular, new prophet at his table.

There is the widow whose son Jesus raised from the dead because she would have been destitute without a husband or a son. And the desperate woman who attempted to secretly touch Jesus in a crowd in order to be healed, but Jesus knew that power had gone out from Him. He stopped everything so that He could give her the personal touch she needed.

Oh! There are more examples, but you can see that man has failed miserably in following Jesus’ example in raising up our sisters to a place of equality both in and outside of the Church! Indeed, we have all failed at embracing our brothers and sisters with equal love and kindness. Let me be the first to confess to it!

Paul a Bigot? Hmmm

I’m aware that there are Christians who view the apostle Paul as a bigot. However, I have great difficulty reconciling the man who wrote Galatians and Colossians with what I consider a bigot. Of course, I am open to your input.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:25-28, ESV:

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Again, in Colossians 3:11, ESV:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self[a] with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Equality: Overarching Theme of NT

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

John 1:12, ESV

The Ephesians and Colossians passages don’t leave anyone out. Paul lists every division he can think of in that day because he desperately wants them to know what John said in chapter 1. ALL who receive the Lord – that means anyone, everyone, regardless of race or gender, slave or free – are given the right to become God’s children. Moreover, when we become His children, those manmade divisions don’t apply to our relationship with Christ…and shouldn’t apply to our relationships with other believers.

We are all one in Him.

That’s why Christ could speak to harlots, multi-racial women, or women at all! That’s why he could eat with sinners – Jesus loves. When we believe on His name and receive Him, the barriers between us and Him are removed. Sadly, manmade divisions will remain, but they don’t have to be the focus of our lives.

Because Christ is the main thing. He is all and in all.

 

 

 

Healed: What Happens If You’re Not?

The word healing brings with it a kaleidoscope of feelings. Many experience complete freedom from former disease or pain. For others, like me,  the idea of healed body became a distant memory. What happens if you’re not healed?

At a time when a career I loved was taking off, my body betrayed me. I had had an intense few years leading to this point: the last two of our three children married in one year

Dad had suffered with cancer for seven years and ultimately died.

Mom had had mental problems all of my life and dad’s death escalated those. Our  hands were full in our attempts to help her.

My husband was diagnosed and treated for cancer.

During all of this, I was completing a master’s degree and an internship in chaplaincy. But it was ALL behind me and I was experiencing success and fulfillment. These were joyful days, even in the midst of an oncology center, which is where I worked.  Those courageous patients taught me more about living life than I could have learned anywhere on earth.

A weight lifted; my life was in a good place.

My husband was in remission. We had an empty nest. Each of us enjoyed fulfilling careers. Our daughter and son-in-law had given us 2 young granddaughters whom we adored.

The Road of Suffering

At some point, pain in my legs began waking me up at night.

Although I wore Dansko’s, the shoes were no longer helping my legs. The pain worsened and became coupled with fatigue. I attempted to ignore it and plow ahead…

Until one day after work, fatigue overwhelmed me after walking from my office to the ground floor exit. I thought I may not make it to my car. It was parked a half block from the hospital. I could not ignore the stranger within me any longer.

For eight months I saw various doctors and specialists attempting to discover what was wrong with this body I had called home. Finally, a pain management doctor told me I had fibromyalgia. Not long afterward, the migraines, which are often associated with fibro, began in earnest.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, life as I had known it, was over.

Without healing, life can feel hopeless.

“The deep meaning of the cross of Christ is that there is no suffering on earth that is not borne by God.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What Happens Now?

Many of you have a similar story, experienced similar losses. You could be writing this yourself. You’re well acquainted with the grief associated with loss. You’re familiar with the stages with which I cycled and grappled…

And continue to cycle during dark seasons of my life. My go-to emotion is anger. It feels more powerful than the grief that can drown me.

I wondered how God could use me, now. I questioned if He had even called me to ministry in the first place. A body wracked by pain and fatigue seemed useless to me or anyone else, for that matter.

Can you relate?

A quick Google search will reveal that we are a nation, and yes, a world in pain. In 2015, in America, medical scientists were sounding an alarm that 11.2% of the population was reporting chronic pain. By December 2020, the number had jumped to just past 20%; that equals to approximately 50 million people. In a 2021 study, the UK reported 38% of adults with daily pain.

These figures don’t touch the number of people living with debilitating diseases. Each of those statistics represent a face, a person whose life was upended by pain or disease. Every one of those people have had to release their dreams and goals. Too many have falsely believed they no longer have purpose.

A decision must be made. The next step is crucial.

The Choice

It’s embarrassing to admit, but it took several years for me to make my choice. I’m still making it, actually. Initially, at least, making the choice requires making it daily, sometimes hourly.

 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,

Deut.30:19, HCSB

Choosing life sounds like a no-brainer. But when the life God wants me to choose is different from the life I had and loved, the choice can become less clear.

Sometimes we may need to simply choose life. It is possible to become so attached to something or someone we have lost that we move forward blindly, looking over our shoulder to the past rather than before us to what lies ahead. The Bible tells us that as she looked back, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. I suspect that many of us have had this happen to us without our realizing we have become frozen, trapped by the past.

Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Ramen

I was trapped by my past. In my stubbornness, I didn’t want to look ahead to future possibilities with God. However, until I stopped dwelling on my former life, I would never be released from the self-made trap of grief and anger.

Gradually, and with humility I came to a place where I chose life.

 

Healing: What happens if you're not?

 

Healing

Healing looks different for each of us. Many pray to be healed. A few even demand physical healing, (whether in “Jesus’ name” or by their own virtue.) Others hope for it, but don’t expect it. Still others seek healing continually, going from doctor to doctor or faith healer to faith healer.

Certainly, I have prayed for healing. I have asked others to pray for me, too. After so many years, however, I find that I have accepted that I will not be healed, physically. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying new medications or stopped seeking wisdom from my heavenly Father concerning my suffering.

But my wrestling and anger is mostly gone, now. I wish I could say with the apostle Paul that I give thanks for the pain, but most days, I’m not there. However, the healing I have experienced is in my soul. Ever so slowly, with the help of a therapist, I’m learning that God doesn’t love me only when I’m in ministry or serving. He loves me regardless of what I do.

That’s a hard lesson for someone who was teethed on “doing,” both at home and in the my denomination.

Miracles

Approximately two thirds of the miracles Jesus performed on earth involved healing. It’s safe to say that it was important to Him. However, if you read the passages describing each healing miracle, you will find that there is usually a lesson being taught by the healing, (John 4:43-54; Matthew 9:1-18; Luke 6:6-11).

Healing isn’t the main point.

Oh, it always is for us, at least in the beginning of our affliction.

But, there is so much more to glean from these ailing bodies than physical health. When Jesus touched the leper and told him, “Be clean!” (Mark 1:40-45), Jesus was modeling compassion. The main thing was not the physical healing, but that He did the unthinkable. Jesus touched a leper with love.

With Him, it’s always about the miracle of the heart.

What miracle do you need today?