Brené Brown on “Rising Strong” (a review at TGC)

Dear readers, I am thrilled to share with you my official review of Brené Brown’s latest book over at The Gospel Coalition Blog. You who have been following me for awhile know that I’ve been tracking Brown’s work for a few years now. You who are new may find it interesting to read these posts about my early encounters with her material and ideas:

As always, you honor me by your presence here. Thank you for stopping by.

*****

Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution is the third in the list of popular books written by shame-researcher Brené Brown, the University of Houston professor whose TED talks on vulnerability and shame went viral and have propelled her into the national spotlight. Rising Strong follows Daring Greatly(2012) and The Gifts of Imperfection (2010). I’m a self-professed Brown fan who’s been influenced and inspired by her work in my own thoughts about shame, which will be published as Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame (Crossway, June 2016).

As a church-based biblical counselor with more than nine years of counseling experience and a master of arts in biblical counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary/CCEF, I would like to speak into both what’s good and what’s misleading about Brown’s book. To be clear where I’m coming from, I’m speaking as one who loves biblical theology and has been changed by the gospel of grace that sets me free from my self-righteous striving. Galatians 2:20–21 is my life verse as a recovering self-righteous Pharisee who can too easily trust in her own works.

Pitfalls to Sidestep

In reading Rising Strong, it seems the most obvious pitfall could be outright dismissal by the Christian community and particularly church leaders because of its raw language and failure to speak explicitly about Jesus. Brown cusses throughout the book, and does so unapologetically. This may well be a stumbling block for many readers. However, if you’re able to move past that problem, there is much here for us to learn. Much of her material maps onto a gospel-grace framework—if only Brown would follow the trajectory to its conclusion. She gives words to and speaks boldly about vulnerability (which 2 Corinthians 12:9–10 calls “strength” through boasting in weakness); about the value of owning our failures (instead of hiding them) and then learning from them; and about the importance of examining the default stories we tell ourselves when we experience failure and shame.

[To read the rest of my review at The Gospel Coalition Blog, click here.]

Shame’s lies to victims, perpetrators, and their church(es): a response to the Duggar scandal

curtainsShame’s insidious fingerprints are all over the latest abuse-cover-up scandal involving Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting fame. How could such abuse be covered up for 12 years by a family living life “in the open”? A family with a reality TV show, no less. Shame thrives with a conspiracy of silence, and abuse of all sorts provides ample fodder – but particularly so when you add in the factors of abuse of a sexual nature, abuse of a minor, a perpetrator who’s publicly known, and a perpetrator who belongs to a faith community. As a counselor and a Christian involved in church my entire life, I have seen these scandals played out in a hauntingly familiar pattern over and over again. I want to suggest a few ways that shame keeps an abuse scandal secret in such a scenario.

Shame’s whispered lies for the victim:

1 – It’s up to you to protect your perpetrator’s reputation by staying silent.

2 – God forgives him/her, so why can’t you? (And forgiveness=forgetting.)

3 –  What happened wasn’t really that bad.

4 – You did something to deserve it. You didn’t say “no” – or you were dressing “immodestly” or allowed yourself to be alone with him/her.

5 – To speak up about the abuse would bring embarrassment to you and your family. It’s best to deal with it alone and not bring anyone else into the shame you feel.

Shame’s protective shield of lies for the perpetrator:

1 – It only happened once (or twice or 3 x’s) … so it’s not that big of a deal.

2 – I was young and immature, and I didn’t know better.

3 – The less it’s discussed, the better off I will be.

4 – Because God forgives my sin, I don’t need to ask forgiveness from my victim or talk to the appropriate authorities.

5 – S/he made me do it. It’s really his/her fault.

Shame’s lies believed by a faith community who discovers the abuse (and doesn’t report it immediately): 

1 – God’s reputation is at stake, so it’s best to keep this quiet and not let anyone else know.

2 – We can handle it. No need to get the authorities involved.

3 – The laws of the land about mandated reporting do not apply to us – we’re under God’s law.

4 – It’s up to us to protect the reputation of the perpetrator.

5 – God’s mercy negates God’s justice.

Shame’s role in such a scandal is to exacerbate it – keeping the victims and the perpetrator locked in silence – a place where neither of them can find the healing they truly need. It would have been merciful for the abuse to have come to light 12 years ago instead of today. There would be much less of a scandal-element for the Duggar family, and certainly there would have been more freedom for the victim(s) to know and see justice being done. And to be protected from contact from him. And even for future victims to be rescued from the same.

If you find yourself identifying with any of these places – that of victim, or of perpetrator, or of a faith community member who’s covering up abuse – speak up. It’s the only way shame begins to lose its power. And it’s the only way full redemption and restoration can begin to occur.

*Shame is the subject of my upcoming book with Crossway – shame of all varieties and the freedom and healing that comes through Christ. Expected release date of June 2016.

beauty in darkness: what’s good about Good Friday

Another repost from a year ago. It still stops me in my tracks to slowly traverse the painful path filled with shame unimaginable – and to realize that Jesus walked this path for ME. For me who too often tramples on the gift of redemption I’ve been given by taking it for granted, or thinking that I did something to earn it. Love led him through the agony we remember today. Don’t forget that love is behind all of the horror of “Good” Friday. (And don’t forget that our sanitized, decorative crosses are far from its original horror – public execution of the most shameful kind.)

***

I had skimmed over the verse countless times in the 30+ years I’ve read and meditated and studied this familiar account. Good Friday is the time to read the crucifixion story. A story of horror turned beautiful. Yet if you’re like me, too often I jump to the “turned beautiful” part without staying with the horror of what Jesus endured. It’s uncomfortable to sit with the events that culminated in the most gruesome of deaths on a Roman cross. But this week – this Holy Week – asks us to do just that. To sit. To see. To hear. Because in the horror, we are saved. We are deserving of all that the King of Glory endured innocently. And we who bear his name are called to endure similar suffering for the sake of love. Love enters into the messy, the broken, even the so-gruesome-you-can’t-bear-to-hear-it and Love takes it. Love endures. It does not run away. It stays. It shows up.

What feels impossible for you to endure today (and yet you must because of Love)? How can Good Friday become truly “good” for you today? What brokenness do you run from in your own heart and in the lives of those around you?

In my calling as a counselor, I often sit with those who have endured stories of abuse that are too difficult to name. And to think that what I have a hard time hearing is what they lived through. Well, that causes you to pause. To pray. To beg for redemption, for healing, for a Justice to make it all right. 

On Good Friday, we are given just that. Not only in the cross, but in the events leading up to the cross. Here’s the verse that stopped me in my tracks this morning (from Matthew 27:27):

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.

Do you know how many soldiers are in a battalion? I didn’t either, so I checked the footnote and saw that a battalion is “a tenth of a Roman legion; usually about 600 men.” 600 men. Quite different than movies who portray this portion of the scene with a couple soldiers kicking Jesus around. That’s bad enough, but this has an arena quality to it. 600 soldiers. That’s a very full auditorium hall. And what did they gather to do? Well, read on:

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Utterly shameful. Shameful if it’s an audience of one, but for these horrors to happen before an arena-size audience of 600? Shame magnified. Shame too great for words. Twice he was stripped of his clothes. In addition to the emotional abuse of this mockery, there was the physical abuse of being “crowned” with thorns and beat on the head with a reed. What is striking is Jesus’ response. Nothing. The one who was God incarnate – who could have called down fire from heaven to devour these fools – stayed still and endured. That is the miracle. The miracle that turns bad into good, abuse into redemption, mockery into honor.

Centuries before, a prophet called Isaiah wrote about this and puts words to the what and the why of all that Jesus endured on “Good” Friday:

Surely he has borne our grief
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed. …
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth …

Because Jesus did not open his mouth when enduring abuse, we can open our mouths and beg for healing and redemption. Healing from our own abuse and from the ways we have abused and oppressed others through our sin – through our brokenness seeking false healings.

In the place of your abuse, there is healing. Because he took the shame for you.

In the place of my sin, there is peace. Because he carried the guilt for me.

In the places where you and I have been silenced, our voice is restored. Because his was silenced this Good Friday.

So go. Walk as one who is healed, who is at peace, who can speak up and speak out and speak of darkness turned beautiful on this most good of Fridays. 

Five Minute Friday: “ready”

What a perfect word for this week of readying ourselves as we sink into the September schedule. Three days a week preschool; grandparents newly moved from New Jersey; fall church schedule starting up. Are we ready? Definitely not … but a good refuge is “Five Minute Friday” this week.

*****

photo credit: photographsbypeter.com

photo credit: photographsbypeter.com

“Ready or not, here I come!” Her call echoes through the halls of our home as she eagerly goes in search of her sister (who is likely hiding somewhere fairly obvious). Is she ready to be found? Always. Is her sister ready to seek? Definitely. In this brief interchange, there is a metaphor for relationship with the Divine. With our Creator. I think of the first “hide-and-seek” that happened in an idyllic garden. Perfectly perfect except for the sin that had just clothed Adam and Eve in shame. This time when God comes seeking them for their afternoon walk n’ talk, they hide. They do not run out to meet him, eagerly embracing the God who delights in them as his own image-bearers.

And ever since then, we too have been hiding. Hiding because we never feel ready. I was not ready to leave home for college in the Midwest; I certainly was not ready to be married or to parent twins or for my first counseling client. I am not ready for God to find me as I am. I need to clean up this corner; hide and straighten things out a bit. Smooth over the angry wrinkle in my heart; ameliorate the impatience; cleanse out those dirty stains.

God comes though, and he calls out gently, lovingly, “Ready or not, here I come!” For I cannot clean myself up without him. He knows and sees already the shame I want to hide. He pierces it through with his presence, exposing and healing and restoring in one fell swoop. In a great divine reversal, he makes me ready as I cry out that I am not.

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embracing imperfection (July edition): living between “not quite enough” and “a little too much”

I’ve felt my inadequacy this month, which I’ll label under the category of “not quite enough.” Today all it took was hearing about a higher-than-expected car repair bill, which sent my heart sinking. Any cushion – any savings goals? They seem to have fled out the window as that bill fluttered into my text messages. A feeling of being defeated. And it’s not just that. It connects with a larger picture of feeling not quite enough as I seek to parent my “spirited” three-year-old twin daughters. I gave up on bedtime last night. I was doing all of *those things* you’re not supposed to do: empty threats, adult-like reprimands that devolved into harsh commands barked from downstairs – “JUST.GET.BACK.INTO.BED!” I felt as if I didn’t have the energy to get up from my comfy chair and interesting TV show (Parenthood in case you were curious) to do more than that. And you know what? Eventually, they went to sleep and settled down. So did I. But this morning roared to a start just minutes after I had settled into the quiet of my journal, and it felt like “you’re not quite enough” was the banner floating over my head as a mom yet again. 

“Not quite enough” is a shame sentence. A statement connecting to that vague sense of inadequacy we all carry and experience, that lurks behind any attempt to do or to be something glorious. Like a writer. I’m wrestling with feeling “not quite enough” as I long to pursue my passion to write, but feel like I don’t have quite enough time and I’m not sure I have quite enough of an audience and a message and would anyone really publish what I wanted to write?

I’m not quite enough when it comes to being a strong wife for my husband as he endures the challenges of full-time ministry as a pastor.

I’m not quite enough of a good friend because so often I can feel swamped by an over-full schedule.

But then the tone can switch, too. And I feel “a little too much” when I look at the scale and see a number there that feels 10 pounds too high. I was talking to a childhood friend who’s also recently reached mid-30s and we were commiserating about how much more difficult it is at this age and after having babies to be in the shape to which we’d grown accustomed.

I felt “a little too much” when I showed up in my full ballet leotard and tights to the “Mommy and Me” class when all the other moms (except my friend and I) had on t-shirts and yoga pants. Oops. Felt a bit out of place that day!

I can be “a little too much” at a dinner party – too intense, too counselor-esque, too brooding, too withdrawn (all at the same time).

But you know what my real problem is? It’s that I have not embraced “not quite enough” and “a little too much” as part of what it means to be a human dependent on a strong God. A God in whom I am more than enough, not because of me but because of all He gives me and all that He is for me. A God who never views me as “a little too much” because He delights in me. Yet I kick against my human limitations while God continues to shower me with grace. A God who says gently in the stolen, quiet moments (few though they be) that how well today went does not equate to how much He loves me. (Thank you, Gloria Furman, in Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full for that thought!) A God who reminds me that who I am is not what my ever-wavering bank account shows or the scale reveals, but it is forever redeemed, forever loved, forever holy because of Jesus’ forever grace. 

beauty in darkness: what’s good about “Good Friday”

I had skimmed over the verse countless times in the 30+ years I’ve read and meditated and studied this familiar account. Good Friday is the time to read the crucifixion story. A story of horror turned beautiful. Yet if you’re like me, too often I jump to the “turned beautiful” part without staying with the horror of what Jesus endured. It’s uncomfortable to sit with the events that culminated in the most gruesome of deaths on a Roman cross. But this week – this Holy Week – asks us to do just that. To sit. To see. To hear. Because in the horror, we are saved. We are deserving of all that the King of Glory endured innocently. And we who bear his name are called to endure similar suffering for the sake of love. Love enters into the messy, the broken, even the so-gruesome-you-can’t-bear-to-hear-it and Love takes it. Love endures. It does not run away. It stays. It shows up.

What feels impossible for you to endure today (and yet you must because of Love)? How can Good Friday become truly “good” for you today? What brokenness do you run from in your own heart and in the lives of those around you?

In my calling as a counselor, I often sit with those who have endured stories of abuse that are too difficult to name. And to think that what I have a hard time hearing is what they lived through. Well, that causes you to pause. To pray. To beg for redemption, for healing, for a Justice to make it all right. 

On Good Friday, we are given just that. Not only in the cross, but in the events leading up to the cross. Here’s the verse that stopped me in my tracks this morning (from Matthew 27:27):

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.

Do you know how many soldiers are in a battalion? I didn’t either, so I checked the footnote and saw that a battalion is “a tenth of a Roman legion; usually about 600 men.” 600 men. Quite different than movies who portray this portion of the scene with a couple soldiers kicking Jesus around. That’s bad enough, but this has an arena quality to it. 600 soldiers. That’s a very full auditorium hall. And what did they gather to do? Well, read on:

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Utterly shameful. Shameful if it’s an audience of one, but for these horrors to happen before an arena-size audience of 600? Shame magnified. Shame too great for words. Twice he was stripped of his clothes. In addition to the emotional abuse of this mockery, there was the physical abuse of being “crowned” with thorns and beat on the head with a reed. What is striking is Jesus’ response. Nothing. The one who was God incarnate – who could have called down fire from heaven to devour these fools – stayed still and endured. That is the miracle. The miracle that turns bad into good, abuse into redemption, mockery into honor.

Centuries before, a prophet called Isaiah wrote about this and puts words to the what and the why of all that Jesus endured on “Good” Friday:

Surely he has borne our grief
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed. …
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth …

Because Jesus did not open his mouth when enduring abuse, we can open our mouths and beg for healing and redemption. Healing from our own abuse and from the ways we have abused and oppressed others through our sin – through our brokenness seeking false healings.

In the place of your abuse, there is healing. Because he took the shame for you.

In the place of my sin, there is peace. Because he carried the guilt for me.

In the places where you and I have been silenced, our voice is restored. Because his was silenced this Good Friday.

So go. Walk as one who is healed, who is at peace, who can speak up and speak out and speak of darkness turned beautiful on this most good of Fridays. 

shame and its antidote

After listening to Brene Brown’s first TED talk a few weeks ago on vulnerability, it was time to listen to the second one on “listening to shame.” Shame is different from guilt, guilt meaning the feeling that tells you, “I did something bad.” Shame’s message is much more pervasive and insidious, telling you, “I am bad.” Ed Welch in his excellent book Shame Interrupted says this:

Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated. … Guilt can be hidden; shame feels like it is always exposed.

Are you beginning to feel it? Beginning to feel the places in your own life where you hear the insidious whisper of shame, telling you that you’re not good enough; you aren’t holy enough; you don’t have the right friends; your possessions aren’t sufficient; that you deserve only bad and not good, and it goes on and on and on.

Brown discusses the way that shame is defined differently for men and women. For women the definition is “conflicted, unattainable expectations of who we should be.” And so I feel shame that I’m not working enough nor am I home enough, for example. Or shame that I’m not more like the perfect mom/wife/friend in my head who’s always available, always loving, always putting others’ needs above my own, always feeding my family organic food straight from our garden …. you get the picture.

For men, it’s a bit more complicated. A bit more hidden. Shame for men is being perceived as weak, according to Brown’s research. And we as women unconsciously support this sense of shame any time we pressure our husbands, fathers, brothers, boyfriends to always be the strong one for us and to never fall apart. Do I give space to my husband to be weak – or am I always expecting him to be together, thus supporting the idea that he can’t be anything but strong? If you are a man reading this, do you have someone you can be weak with? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be weak?

“How do we get back to each other?” Brown asks. A good question, that she answers by saying that shame’s antidote is empathy. Because shame grows in secrecy, silence, and judgment, to be understood and known in our place(s) of shame will eradicate its presence. Brown says –

Vulnerability is the way back to each other.

Who can you be vulnerable with? Knowing that vulnerability takes courage and brings community – how essential vulnerability is yet how unattainable it can feel! I have found that the only way I can be vulnerable with others or even reach out in empathy towards others is experiencing this in my own life. It is in relationships with brave ones who have loved me when I was unlovable; who have entrusted me with their shame-laced stories; who have stood with me without turning away as I began to speak about my own places of shame that I have learned how to empathize and connect. Yet even these ones have not done so perfectly or completely. I have both disappointed others and been disappointed. Where do you go then?

Try the one who carried all of the hurts and shame and guilt of the world. The one described as –

… he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him, despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and one from whom men hide their faces …

Read on about this man.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace; and with his stripes we are healed.

And what’s your connection to him? That shame that was so disfiguring to him? It was yours and mine. Those dark places that you can’t bear to speak about, much less for someone to know? He was there, and he knows, and he will redeem – if not in this world, in the one to come. His is the empathy that heals both shame and guilt as we say “yes! I need you!” to this one. It is in intimate connection with Jesus Christ, who knows us intimately and loves us completely, that we are free to risk vulnerability to fellow shame-laden travelers. It is in relationship with him that we are free to relate to one another; to offer the empathy that is shame’s antidote.