Stories of shame: part 8/performance shame

I could start by noting that it’s been TWO YEARS since part 7 of my 10-part series on shame was written. Just picking up the proverbial pen and paper after such a long absence triggers all of my performance shame. Why didn’t you finish this before now? What’s the point of continuing the stories of shame so long after the last part? Why write at all? 

But I want to speak against the performance shame that would keep me from creating new words and writing new ideas by starting.

My daughters are in second grade now, and while there is much that I love about this age, I’ll admit that I’m inwardly a little sad because they start getting grades. For the first time in their lives, they’re going to be given “A’s” or “B’s” or “C’s” or any combination thereof. And the message will begin to creep in that their worth is tied to their grades. And the shame may start when she compares her work to her sister’s and finds that hers doesn’t quite measure up. What makes me sad is that I see this process still at work in my own life. I don’t get graded on my performance – not in letter grades at least – but there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways that I’m told how good my performance is.

grades

Like money. Let’s talk about that taboo subject. Don’t all of us inherently assume that the more money someone makes, the better he or she is? The more worthy they are of our adulation? And no one wants to get a pay cut – not simply because of having less money for spending but also of the inevitable struggle with self-worth that will follow. We are trained to equate our financial worth with our value as people. It becomes the adult grading system of how “good” someone is and how much they’ve “arrived.” Yet the problem isn’t with money itself, nor it is wrong to have a job that pays well. The problem is that performance shame teaches us to measure ourselves against one another, and to do so via our output (performance). In other words, we compare. And in comparison, I will always come up short or superior. Neither is a place where we are to dwell.

How does Jesus break into our performance shame cycles? He does the disarming thing of saying, “It is finished,” at His lowest, most shameful moment of his life – death on the cross. It looks like utter defeat and total failure (what performance shame most fears). But what is finished? All of our striving – all of the ways we try to prove we are worthy to others and ultimately worthy of our Creator God. He flips the definition of shame on its head and completes what will always be unfinished in  my half-hearted efforts. He trades my imperfection for His perfection – giving me not only His clean record, but His righteous living. In the Spirit, I am free to live out of Christ’s life. And His is perfect. There’s no room for comparison here, no waiting to see if I’ve “made the grade.” It’s already been accomplished, and it’s perfect.

How does that change my life – my work? It means that I am free to push past shame’s lies of not-worthy and not-good-enough and don’t-try. I look at Jesus’ perfection on my behalf, and I freely engage in the work and life He has given me to live. I can rest before my work is done. I can appreciate another’s work and art without jealousy. I can make mistakes because my salvation and God’s love for me doesn’t rest on my efforts but on Christ’s finished work. And then joy begins to take root in place of shame as I find myself in a community of fellow ones who are free.

 

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.