stories of shame, part 6: entering a new group

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{Part 6 of a 10-part series entitled, “stories of shame.” Read the rest here.}

It had all the markings of a social-shame triggering situation:

  • New group of people
  • Desire to belong to new group of people
  • Representing not only me but my daughters (and their future social standing, added my inner critic)
  • Feelings of insecurity and self-doubt – do I have what it takes? I’m sure everyone else there is more qualified than I am. 

What, you might ask, was the event in question?

Team

Parents’ orientation at our daughters’ new school.

All of you veteran parents might be laughing a bit at this point. But just remember with me for a moment those feelings and doubts that you held before your child entered a new school. And kindergarten, at that. It’s their official beginning of all that school will be for them – the good, the sweet, and the bad and the ugly too. As I paused outside of the school building last night, I felt myself holding my breath and mentally replaying some of my memories of kindergarten. My beloved teacher, Mrs. Casey, is a highlight. My friend, Jenny, who I wanted to sit next to before I understood the “assigned seating” thing meant the teacher decided where you  sat. The girl with the same name as me (I kid you not – the only other “Heather Davis” I’ve ever known was in my same kindergarten class!). Learning to read with easy-reading books like “See Jane Run.” Meeting friends who to this day are in my life – Shelby and Kathryn – and being bridesmaids in their weddings and vice versa. It’s momentous.

For someone who loves social settings and fears them, too, you may understand why I was feeling a bit nervous last night before we walked into this auditorium. It wasn’t only my own social shame that was triggered, but the reality of my daughters’ shame-and-school narratives beginning in a new way, too, that made anxieties and insecurities rise to the surface.

Until I paused for a brief moment of prayer, admitting my anxiety to God (and then also out loud to my husband). The still, small voice of the Spirit answered back with the word, “authenticity.” I began thinking about my goal of the evening. Social shame told me my best bet was to be impressive all evening, from what I wore to how I spoke and interacted with other parents and the new school. Perhaps because I’ve been steeped in this truth I’m teaching others – that freedom from shame comes from encountering Jesus and acting according to a new narrative – I stepped out of this “must impress” mantra. I asked myself the question, “What if I was authentic tonight? What could it look like to be real instead of impressive?” The focus shifted from “impress” to “be real.” And being authentic reminded me that it’s likely that many other parents felt the same way I did – so how could I show up in a way that made space for them to feel insecure, too?

Instead of pasting on the got-it-all-together mask, I asked questions that showed I certainly didn’t have all the answers and felt a bit nervous about this whole kindergarten thing. We met other parents and were open about feeling a bit overwhelmed – as well as being authentic about who we are, what we do.

For its part, the school did a fabulous job reassuring all of us nervous parents through the headmaster’s words of warm welcome – saying that relationship is primary and acknowledging our collective nervousness. The kindergarten teachers resonated his welcome and answered all of our newbie questions, and we met new friends along the way who seem great, too.

Maybe best of all, social shame was dealt a major blow as I lived according to who I am, not who shame tells me to be, and as I focused on being authentic instead of being impressive. 

stories of shame, part 5: burnout & performance shame

This is part 5 of a 10-part series entitled, “stories of shame.” Read the rest here.

burnoutMinistry burnout (definition): when the lie of my indispensability has mixed with the practice of neglecting rest and the reality of a heavier-than-usual season of ministry burdens, resulting in emotional/spiritual/physical fatigue that necessitates an extreme break.

Have you been there? So many of us who are in ministry either full-time or part-time (is there such a thing as part-time ministry?), and/or are married to someone whose vocation is full-time ministry face burnout at some point and to various degrees. In my upcoming book on shame, I address the connection between burnout and performance shame.

Performance shame (definition): the belief that I am acceptable to the degree to which I am successful in life, work, and/or home

Add in performance shame with a vocational calling to ministry, and you can get some dangerous beliefs that you’re acceptance to God depends on the quality and quantity of your ministry to God’s people. Believe me, I know. I’ve been there. Two times, and most recently last fall. As a girl who grew up doing pretty well in school and towing the line at home and in church, I received a lot of recognition for my success. This isn’t inherently bad, of course, but unfortunately my heart bent on earning love and acceptance twisted this into an unhealthy algorithm that love = perfect performance.

Fast forward to adult life in my early 30s: I’m a pastor’s wife, counselor in our church, mom to twin daughters, leader/teacher in a few different ministry areas of our church. And when I felt like I needed a break, my impulse was to push that away and just keep on going. The needs of others always seemed more pressing than my own. And honestly, it was more rewarding to meet another’s need than to tend to my own needs of rest. Being able to rescue a friend in crisis earned instant approval, while I’d have to fight my own self-criticism (and possibly that of others) if I stepped down from ministry positions or took a break for a season. Not all of this is bad. I believe God’s gifted me to be calm and clear-headed in crises. I thrive in these places, and I enjoy being able to help – not merely for selfish reasons of feeling “approved” but out of a sense of doing what I was created to do and providing a real service to others.

The problem is that crises began to stack one on top of the other and were coming at me from many different directions: work, home, church, and friends. And I went into my default mode of showing up to be what was needed in the moment rather than stopping to take a break, ask for help, rest and tend to my own need for refreshment. I’ve learned/am learning the hard way that while you can’t ever prepare for a crisis – and crises are inevitable in life and ministry – you can recover from a crisis. And you must clear your schedule after an intense season of ministry in order to be able to continue to serve others well – and to disentangle the voices of others/self from the voice of Jesus. Jesus’ invitation is to come and rest, to abide in his love, and from there to go out and serve. The way my performance shame twists the voices of others is into a message of, “Meet my needs first, and then you can rest.”

How did I get recover from burnout and at the same time fight to be free of performance shame? I stopped and took a break.

Yes, it’s that simple and that hard. In January, I began a sabbatical from my counseling practice that isn’t over yet. In February, my husband took a 3-month sabbatical from his position as associate pastor at our church (thank you to our church who builds in a sabbatical for every 7 years of ministry). While he returned from his sabbatical a couple months ago, I am still taking a break from formal positions/places of ministry and service at our church. And to be honest, it feels a bit strange. I’m a little bored. But I’m committed to wait on the Lord for what’s next and when it’s time to jump back in – and how. In the meantime, I’m immersing myself in the message of freedom and healing from performance shame that’s found as I look at and rest in Jesus’ perfect performance on my behalf. The gospel of John is a great place to start, by the way. And writing a book on shame has opened doors for me to talk to many others about the freedom I’m experiencing and fighting for – the freedom found by resting in daily sufficient grace.

Unashamed w: Welch

What about you? What’s helped you recover from burnout? Or what’s helped prevent you from reaching burnout? Join the conversation by leaving a comment.

stories of shame, part 4: Jesus meets the ashamed

As my first book, Unashamed, prepares to launch June 30, I’m writing a 10-part series on shame. All of them can be found by clicking here.

What does Jesus do with shame? I can tell you my story of struggling with shame (and I’ll continue to do so throughout this series), and this may provide you with some sense of connection as you feel less alone. That’s invaluable. But you need more than empathy and connection. You want healing, right?

And for that you’ll need to encounter someone powerful enough to take away your shame. To exchange it for honor – to call you “worthy.” Jesus may be the last person who comes to mind when you think about healing shame. But these stories give you a picture of why he is the only one – and the first one – to turn to when ashamed. It’s a creative retelling of three accounts in Scripture of Jesus’ encounter with those filled with shame, in this case all three women.

Story 1 (from Matthew 26:6-10):

I saw Jesus – glimpsed him entering the home of one of the religious leaders, Simon. Simon and his cronies never look my way. They must be afraid that simply acknowledging me will make them dirty and unclean. I am a prostitute, and cloaked in shame. But Jesus – he is different. He is not afraid to look me in the eyes. He forgives women like me. It’s the talk of the town. And so tonight – I am going. I am braving the scorn and the disgrace that may await me, and I am going to Jesus.

I entered the home and began weeping at his feet. I broke my alabaster jar of perfume – rather costly – a year’s wages – and anointed his head and feet. I wiped his feet with my hair. They’re all staring at me – Simon and his friends, Jesus’ disciples. But Jesus won’t turn me away. And so I stay.

Then they begin talking. It starts with the quiet whispering as they look in my direction. Then one of them says, “Do you know who she is?” And another adds, “What a waste! She could have sold the perfume and helped the poor with it!” Their arrogance looks “good.” I tremble inside and out. The shame – it’s taking over. I shouldn’t have come. Who did I think I was? Was Jesus worth this disgrace?

And then it happens. He stands up for me. He speaks up on my behalf. He defends me. And – I can hardly believe it – he shames Simon for his lack of hospitality! He says I’ve washed his feet (which Simon failed to do), that I’ve anointed his head (also forgotten by Simon) – and he says that what I’ve done is beautiful.

They are quiet. And my heart is full. I am free and unashamed, for Jesus set me free.

Story 2 (from John 8:3-11):

They caught me with him. And while he got away, I am now here, encircled by those who are backed with the law of God – with the right to stone me to death. It’s the end. I should have known it would come to this. I feel such disgrace – such shame – to be here, to end my life like this, surrounded by their disdainful looks and critical words.

But then he comes. Jesus is his name. And he stands by me – by me – and he says, “what has she done?” And then he says, “He who is without sin can cast the first stone.”

And I wait. And I watch with wonder as they leave, one by one, the older ones first.

I’ve never been treated like this. My shame? It’s beginning to fade away. He turns to me and forgives me, saying, “Go and sin no more.”

I walk away with my head held high and my shoulders back for perhaps the first time in my life. I am free and unashamed.

Story 3 (from John 4:6-30):

I’ve been married a lot. Five times, to be exact. The other women despise me. I can’t bear to pass them when gathering water at the well, so I go when I’m assured to be alone. In the heat of the middle of the day. Then I can get the water I need and go my way without contending with their shaming words and looks.

But today was different. There was a Jewish man there. And he talked to me. That’s not done. Ever. I’m a woman. And I’m a Samaritan. But he talked to me. And I didn’t like the direction he was going in – seemed to be trying to circle in to what I was trying to hide – and so I deflected. Began talking to him about his living water, about where to worship, anything to change the subject from me and the shame I’m living with daily.

Jesus persisted. He called me on my source of deepest shame (all my marriages) – and he pointed out my multiple marriages not for the purpose of condemning me, as everyone else does, but in order to let me know I’m loved for who I am. And to offer forgiveness.

So I am telling everyone about him, the one who told me everything I ever did, and then loved the shame right out of me.

I am free and unashamed.

stories of shame, part 3: postpartum body shame

As a woman writing about shame, I can’t get too far into this series without discussing body shame, which I define as follows:

“Body shame is the feeling that your body with its imperfections is something of which to be ashamed – something you wish you could hide or change.” – from “Clothed in Christ: Body Shame” in Unashamed: Healing our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame

I will say that compared to the “typical woman,” I managed to dodge the body shame bullet for a long time. I attribute this to growing up with brothers, where the focus at meals was about how much you ate instead of competing for how little you ate. I also come from pretty awesome genetics that I can take no credit for – high metabolism – and a generation of women who loved their desserts (and it didn’t show #unfairIknow). My dad did nothing but praise my appearance, giving me an inward confidence that was such a gift during adolescence particularly. My mom was free of the dieting cycles many of my and her friends tried throughout the years. The result = a ton of resilience against body shame.

Until I got pregnant, gained a lot of weight with twins, and hit the awkward postpartum months/years when, yes, I’ve had people ask me if I’m pregnant because that’s what it looked like. Weight doesn’t come off so easily when you’re in your 30s. End result = first real personal struggle with body shame.

mirror

So what have I done? What do I do? I preach the gospel to myself. The gospel as applied to body shame is that I am redeemed from my deepest flaw (sin within), and that Christ has made me beautiful. The beauty that counts is within, and my struggle with my outward appearance is either increasing inward beauty or decreasing it.

  • Do I obsess to the point of self-centered focus?
  • Do I spend more time measuring myself by dress size and the number on my scale than by the truth that I am hidden with Christ in God?
  • Do I judge my worth by how snugly my clothes fit compared to a few years ago?
  • Do I look at the mirror on my wall more than the mirror of God’s Word?

The truth is that right now, this struggle is nearly daily. But I know freedom is possible, and I have tasted it in glimpses. What I pray is that more and more, I will be more focused on loving others than on how I appear or what I don’t like about my body. I pray that I will be more and more radiant with the beauty that comes from being with Jesus instead of becoming obsessed with wearing the right clothes, makeup, and being my “ideal size.”

I want to see myself as God sees me, not as the message given to me by the culture, the mirror or the scale.  And God calls me beloved and beautiful, because I am clothed in his Beloved Son, Jesus, by faith.

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You can read the other post of this series here: part 1 & part 2.

 

 

 

 

stories of shame, part 2

Read along for the introduction and part 1 here.

I’m writing this to give context to my book Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom From Shame which is coming in June.

As I moved into middle and high school, shame became a familiar companion (though I couldn’t name it as such). As I feared exposure of weaknesses and social rejection, I began to withdraw. I presented as shy and quiet in the halls and classrooms of my high school. I didn’t date, not by choice but because of lack of opportunity. I distanced myself from my parents, believing that they were “uncool” and that I needed to create some space between me and them to socially survive high school. I tried to stay small and inconspicuous in high school. Don’t have the best grades, nor the worst; figure out what everyone else is wearing and copy it; do your work quietly, speak up only if necessary.

There was one oasis from shame – which for me was synonymous with the fear of rejection – and that was youth group. It was like I was a different person there. Not shy or quiet or in the background, but very much up front and involved. The difference was community – a community with shared values and a community who accepted me as I was. I had a strong group of friends, many of whom I am still in contact with today, and we were emboldened to do silly/crazy things together. We also prayed with and for each other, studied the Bible together, wrestled through hard things together – the death of classmates in a car accident, for example, and the opposition we faced as Christian high school students in public schools.

oasis from shameWhen I look back at high school, I cringe at the way shame held me back in many ways from living out of my confidence in Christ, especially in the way that I distanced myself from my parents. Yet I also am deeply grateful that I had a taste of the “unashamed” experience through youth group. This was a hint of more redemption that would come in later years.

A few things that I’d reflect on from this season as it relates to shame’s development:

  • Shame comes in the wake of some type of relational pain and brokenness. For me, it wasn’t connected with my sin but more like a result of living in a world where middle school girls can be mean and high school halls can be unkind.
  • Shame resilience happens through community. This community of my youth group strengthened me to be myself when I was with them, and to remember who I was and the strength God had given me through faith in Christ.
  • Shame can often only be named upon reflection. I had no category for “shame” while in high school, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle with it. Any place in your life where you tried to be small and inconspicuous probably points to the presence of shame.

Questions to ask in reflection: 

-Are there seasons/aspects of your life where shame was present although you didn’t see it then?

-Were there tastes of community that helped fight shame? What was true about these communities?

stories of shame: a 10-part series

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There is something about a story that draws us in – that engages us in a way that no other genre can. The power of a story hit me anew as we were driving back from South Carolina last Friday. It was getting late; it was rainy; and halfway into the 7-hour drive, I was already done. Then I started listening to a story (Serial Season 1 by This American Life), and I’m telling you, my driving experience transformed from monotonous to engaging. I found myself almost regretting the moment when we pulled into the driveway because it meant that I had to press pause on the story.

Isn’t that the power of a good story told well? More than mere entertainment or an academic lecture, it engages both our hearts and our minds.

I want to be a better storyteller. I want to tell the truth of who I am with all my heart (a paraphrase of Brené Brown/Glennon Melton Doyle). And especially to lead the conversation around shame that I hope to begin with my book’s launch next monthUnashamed: Healing our Brokenness and Finding Freedom From Shame.

I want to connect my story – and thereby your story – with The Story. The Story that makes ultimate sense of all of our stories, and which is the birthplace of each of our stories. The Story = humanity’s beginning, God’s eternity, Jesus’ salvation, + resurrection hope.

Don’t miss this series – subscribe now to my blog so that you’ll catch every part, delivered into your inbox [see sidebar where you can enter your email address].

And go ahead and pre-order my book if you want to hear more. I’d be so honored for you to join this journey with me!

Without further ado – part 1:

I remember life before shame. Neighborhood bike rides through streets as idyllic as their names – Sweetwater Court, Sugar Creek Road, Sun Meadow Road, Berrywood Court. Building forts in our wooded backyard with very little parental supervision because, well, it was safe, and we knew all of our neighbors. Family vacations with my two younger brothers. The rare joy of snow days as the main break from the normal, happy routine of church-school-home, repeat. Getting dressed in whatever I felt like. Being sad when I outgrew my favorite red sweater with panda bears on it. The worst “trauma” being a broken arm (or two) and a skinned knee.

Life felt secure, and so did I. Life wasn’t perfect, of course, and I fought a lot with my younger brothers – as well as trying to pin some of my misdeeds on them (which worked often, according to their accounts of growing up). But overall I felt very little shame in childhood.

shame part 1

Until, well, it began creeping up. The embarrassment of “liking” a boy who “liked” me back, and the complication of wanting him to know but not wanting to talk to him or even sit next to him in chapel. The sting of being rejected by said boy when a new girl moved to town. Getting really big plastic pink frames in fourth grade, and somehow connecting this fact to the boy’s rejection and the growing self-consciousness I felt. I dreaded having any attention brought to me, and I was terrified of any sort of public presentation in class. I began to wonder if my friends were true friends, or if I had any friends at all, after being socially rejected by most if not all of the girls in my eighth grade class.

I didn’t call it shame back then, and until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have labeled any of this growing self-consciousness, doubt, and fear of rejection as “shame.” Come along with me as I’ve learned how to better make sense of some painful aspects of my story, and how I’ve become free as well.

A few questions for you:

-Do you remember life before shame? What was it like?

-When did shame begin to enter your picture and how did it first show up?