encouragement

The medicine ball of shame

shame

 

 

 

 

This morning I did something really stupid. I overturned an entire Yeti tumbler of Diet Coke on our family room carpet. And immediately I heard the voices of my parents…

“Idiot!”

“What’d you do that for?”

“THINK!!”

“You jerk, you should be more careful!”

“Just move–get out of the way, I’ll clean it up myself.”

Yep, those were words I often heard as a kid. And look, I’m not a kid anymore; I’m 65 years old. My parents are dead. But those wounding words echoed in my head this morning as I rushed to get towels and wipe up the mess I’d made.

It was quite a revelation, hearing those voices again. And it made me think: No wonder! No wonder I feel ashamed and incompetent so often. No wonder, when I make a mistake or feel that I underperformed, I beat myself to a pulp. No wonder I feel intimidated by older, powerful people.

My parents did not hit me (well, Dad did once). But they shamed me. A lot. Shame was the sharpest tool in their parenting kit. And to this day I haven’t been able to shake it. I know God loves me. I have friends who love me. I often get affirmation and praise. But shame, like a 100-lb. medicine ball, weighs me down and keeps me from running with joy and abandon.

Here’s what shame feels like:

  • Hating yourself
  • Second-guessing your decisions and opinions
  • Feeling you’re never enough
  • Being skeptical of compliments
  • Apologizing for things that aren’t your fault
  • Taking responsibility for others’ comfort and happiness
  • Refusing to forgive yourself
  • Regretting the past
  • Doubting the love and grace of God

You’ve just read a description of my medicine ball.

Remember my first sentence?– “This morning I did something really stupid.” There’s that voice again. But come on. Is spilling a Diet Coke “really stupid”? It was just an accident. It’s not a big deal. But when I was growing up, spilling things was a big deal. So was not perfectly mowing the lawn, slouching in my chair, having acne, stating my opinion, or talking about sex. During my childhood I learned that such things are not just unfortunate or inadvisable, but shameful. Bad.

Chuck DeGroat, in his book Toughest People to Lovesays that we all drag a long, invisible bag behind us. As we grow up, we put things in that bag that we don’t want the world to see, things that our family, friends, or culture think are unacceptable. I remember the night I disagreed with my mother. I said she was crazy. You would have thought that I had just blasphemed the Holy Spirit. “Michael!” my dad shouted. He shamed me for voicing a counter opinion and (jokingly) calling my own mother crazy. That night something happened. I decided I was bad for thinking for myself. I felt ashamed for daring to disagree with an authority figure. So I pulled out my invisible bag and stuffed my bold dare into it. Throughout my childhood and into my teen years, I stuffed a lot of things into that bag. And it really wasn’t until my late 40s or early 50s that I began to reveal parts of my hidden self to other people.

While it hurts to revisit my past like this, it gives me understanding. It helps me understand why I do the things I do and feel the things I feel. And it helps me understand other people too. Because they are carrying around medicine balls of their own. Everybody has wounds no one else sees and hears voices no one else hears. Everybody drags a bag. Shame has dogged us ever since Adam and Eve hid in the Garden of Eden.

To battle shame we have to believe the other Voice. We have to believe the Word that says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (Isaiah 43:1, Romans 8:1, 1 John 3:1).

That’s the Voice of love. Listen to it, over and over again, and let go of the medicine ball of shame.

 

On Failure

imageI’ve been reading a biography of Calvin Coolidge, America’s thirtieth president, written by Amity Shlaes. I didn’t know Coolidge experienced so many setbacks in his life. Shlaes writes,

[until] his death in 1933, Calvin Coolidge did confront challenges. The acres he inherited were so poor that the men in the Midwest laughed when they recalled it, more rock and hill than dirt. When Coolidge reached high school age his family sent him to school in Ludlow, twelve miles from Plymouth, and often he walked. Death visited Coolidge constantly; he lost his mother, probably to tuberculosis, the winter he was twelve; the ground was so frozen she could not be interred for weeks. Several years later, Coolidge’s companion and only sibling, Abigail, died suddenly and of mysterious causes. Young Coolidge himself was always so sickly that both his father and he worried that he might never complete his education. He was deeply shy and found it agonizing to meet even the adults who entered his parents’ front rooms. Adulthood brought more trials. Indeed, to an improbable extent, the chapters of Coolidge’s life after childhood are chapters of near failure upon near failure. Coolidge almost didn’t leave the village, almost didn’t make it at college, almost didn’t get a job, almost didn’t find a wife, almost disappointed as a state senator, almost stumbled as Massachusetts governor, almost failed to win a place on the Republican presidential ticket in 1920, and almost failed in Washington once he arrived there as vice president in 1921. As president, Coolidge almost failed to win the backing of his party, almost gave in to grief after the sudden death of his sixteen-year-old son, Calvin, Jr., almost capitulated to a recalcitrant Congress and unruly foreign leaders. Surveying the travails of the thirtieth president, some writers have suggested that those personal defeats are the essence of the Coolidge story. They err. Coolidge’s is not a story of “Yes, but.” It is a story of “But yes.” For at every stage, Coolidge did push forward, and so triumph. Coolidge himself identified perseverance as the key to that triumph. “If I had permitted my failures, or what seemed to me at the time a lack of success, to discourage me,” he wrote in his autobiography, “I cannot see any way in which I would have ever made progress.”

What are the lessons we pastors can learn from stories of failure like Coolidge’s? I can think of at least five:

  1. The most successful people don’t ordinarily get there without a long record of mistakes, losses, and failed attempts. You’ve heard those famous words of the inventor Thomas Edison? “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The absence of failure is evidence that one is not really trying hard to succeed.
  2. Failure keeps us humble. Nothing’s worse than a church leader who thinks s/he is invincible and unbreakable. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).
  3. When we blow it, our church members see that we are human. The distance between pastor and people is often bridged by our failures. Especially when they hear us being honest about our mistakes and running to Jesus for forgiveness.
  4. Failure strips from us those stubborn tendencies of the flesh to look for contentment in this world instead of the next, to yearn for the praise of men rather than the praise of God, and to rely on our record instead of Christ’s.
  5. Failure helps us learn to reach out for the help of others instead of trying to do everything ourselves. We often fail because we’re trying to do something we’re neither gifted for nor called to do. Maybe we should have asked for help long ago.

What lessons have you learned from stories of failure–your own or that of others?

 

The words of the wise are like goads

The most valuable words ever spoken to me by a mentor: You minister out of who you are.

That’s what an older pastor said to me over 30 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I have tried to live out his words by reminding myself often that I don’t have to covet other people’s gifts or calling. I am who I am by God’s design and for this time and place. I have a unique past, a unique voice, unique abilities and limitations–all of which equip me for influence with people whom God has sovereignly placed in my sphere.

The Teacher once said, “The words of the wise are like goads” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). What wise words have meant the most to you as a pastor?

Today’s Words for the Weary

“You are a pardoned sinner, not under the law but under grace–freely, fully saved from the guilt of all your sins. There is none to condemn, God having justified you. He sees you in his Son, washed you in his blood, clothed you in his righteousness, and he embraces him and you, the head and the members, with the same affection.”

  • William Romaine (1714-1795), an Anglican priest, scholar, and author of the trilogy The Life, the Walk, and the Triumph of Faith

How to encourage your pastor

Much is written about how vulnerable pastors are to criticism by church members. But apart from an annual reminder of Pastor Appreciation Month (what’s that, you say?), little is said about the incredible power church members have to encourage and sustain their pastors.

That’s why I want to share an email that a member of my church sent to me and my colleagues this morning. The subject line read “Praying for You,” and the message was,

Good Morning, Gentlemen.
As I was reading this morning, the last lines of 2 Thessalonians 1 immediately made me think of you…and so I prayed for each of you: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 
May you continue to see God being glorified before you so that you are more and more amazed at His love, power, goodness, grace and fall more in love with Him.
I am truly thankful for the ways you’ve impacted my life.
Thank you for following Him.
I have a “Keepers” folder in my email program. That email went into that folder so I can look at it again and again to fend off discouragement. It made my day…no, my week!
Church member, if you’re reading this, know that a brief email or text of appreciation and prayer can put spring back in the step of your pastor. Don’t underestimate the power of your encouraging words.