This is the third presentation in the series, Getting Real.
Help Us Help Others
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Hi everybody. We’re on the third in our series on Getting Real.
By way of review, in the first, we saw, in Genesis 3 and 4, that shame – that is, the feeling that we’re wrong, or defective, or bad, or not enough causes us to hide parts of ourselves from ourselves, and from others, and from God. That’s the source of deceptiveness – shame. I mean, that is the connection the scripture makes to it. It’s interesting that Philip observed that today, as well. In the second presentation, we looked at how to overcome this deceptiveness and the shame that drives it. And today, we’re going to look at what happens when we overcome shame and become open and truthful – the benefits of it.
We have that section in Deuteronomy where God says, “If you obey Me, everything is going to be all good. But if you don’t, here’s what is going to happen.” And He gives this horrendous list of curses that will come on us, including mental illness, famine, poverty, all of that. This topic reminds me of that.
It’s not enough to talk about inward truth. We have to talk about what gets in the way of that. We’ve done that already to some degree – shame. But we also want to back into what are the benefits of it. I’ll be more clear about that in a moment.
One of the biggest benefits – by-products – of inner truth is, amazingly, emotional and mental health – physical health, too, for that matter. So I’m going to back into this one a little bit and say that, in her study on shame, Brene Brown demonstrated that shame correlates to a number of mental health issues – one, eating disorders, bullying, depression, anxiety, addiction, violence and suicide. Those are all connected to people who feel a lot of shame. So how does that work? Well, I think shame and an eating disorder might be pretty obvious – you know, “I’m too big, so I develop an eating disorder,” or “I’m so defective,” and “that’s so depressing,” or “I should just kill myself, because I’m bad,” or whatever. But how does the devil move us from feeling bad about who we are to addiction, or to violence, or bullying? Let’s unravel that a little bit. Let’s talk about the things that get in the way of inner truth.
The first one is fear. And there are two areas I’d like to bring to you on that one. The first one is fear of exposure – that people are going to see what we’re really like. Correlated with that is blame – to take attention off our own wrongness. It feels good to blame other people. Think about politics today. Just think about that. What do you hear from both parties? Hardly any discussion of the real issues in the media. Even when they have the debates, it always kind of devolves down to agendas. And today, even the media is pulled into it. You hardly find a newscaster that is not biased one way or the other. It’s hard to find anybody who isn’t taking sides. So blame takes the attention off of us and puts it somewhere else, right? And that’s why we do that.
Another one is judgment – another way to draw attention away from our weaknesses and our secrets. Think about religion. Jesus told us to think about the railroad tie in our own eye before we tell other people about the speck in theirs. So what do we do? Well, we focus on the sins of other people. We look down on other people who don’t believe like we do – whose sins have been brought out in the open – instead of looking at our own. We label them. We categorize people. And that gives us permission to look down on them, and to control them, or even hurt them, sometimes.
I read some stuff that Albert Ellis wrote years ago and he was saying that people have a very common belief. And that is that people who don’t do what I want are bad. And then the next progression to that is that bad people should be punished. And then, with bullies and violent people, the next thought is, “And I’m just the one to do it.” That’s kind of how that runs.
So looking down on others and judging others is caused by people who are insecure or fearful that they’re going to be uncovered. And what does all that cause? Well, that causes disconnection, doesn’t it? It causes people to pull away – just like Adam and Eve pulled away for fear of exposure – or we pull back from others because we’re afraid they’ll figure out what our problems are, or even isolating themselves sometimes. We see people who feel like they can’t compete because they’re not enough. They feel ashamed of themselves and so they tend to withdraw from other people – so a sense of disconnection.
The second kind of fear we see with this – more and more, I think – is fear of our own feelings. We see an obese society, an addicted society, a promiscuous society, a preoccupied society, a depressed society – people who numb away the fear of disconnection with behaviors that drive others away from them. I didn’t realize this, but, when I started working addicts, they’re all isolated. Nobody wants to be around them. They don’t have any friends anymore. So, when we start becoming afraid of our own feelings and want to numb ourselves, there are a lot of different ways to do that – food, sex, drugs, money, power – all that to avoid facing the feared beliefs and the hurts within us. You see people that are so busy all the time that they never have time to think about what they’re like. It’s a sad thing. But that builds walls between us and other people, and between us and God, and between our own conscience and our own reality, too.
If you’re depressed, it’s quite likely that you’re feeling the inner side of that wall – that wall that keeps others out. It’s so hard to be around people that are depressed. It’s hard to make a connection with them.
And there are other mechanisms that are rooted in self-deception, too – repression, rationalization, justification. These are all ways that we alienate others from us as we attempt to keep our own feelings from ourselves. When we let go of these things, we suddenly find ourselves less depressed, less anxious, happier, more connected to other people, less isolated and more healthy emotionally.
One of my supervisors told me that the primary function of psychotherapy is to help make the unconscious conscious. It’s to help people get in touch with who they really are.
So the opposite of fear is what? Courage, right? – so the courage to tell our story. To do that, we have to be vulnerable. We have to be courageous enough to risk being vulnerable to tell our story. And when we do that the fear just kind of goes away. We’ve already laid it out there. There’s nothing more to worry about.
You think about the things it says in the Bible about truth, inner truth, the truth will set you free, God is truthful – He doesn’t lie. We’re created to be God’s children – to be like Him. We were not created to keep secrets. We were created to be authentic. And the way we communicate best to each other is in story form. So we were created to tell that authentic story – to be who we are and to share it. Last week we talked about ways to approach and tell our story.
I had a client a while back – a teenage boy – young teenager, actually. I just loved to see him coming, because he was so open about his situation. His mother and stepfather brought him to me because they just thought he was totally out of control. They couldn’t handle him. He was in all kinds of trouble. And he was one of the easiest people to work with I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. He was completely open about all the bad stuff he’d done, completely open about his part in causing the problems. He completely admitted that he needed to change. It was interesting to me that his willingness to admit weakness opened the door to change. If you can’t admit you need to change, you won’t. He admitted he needed to change. And he was very quick to listen and consider what I had to say. It was just an amazing thing to me to watch how he so readily changed his attitude. He came in very weak emotionally, I think, but he moved away from that and he moved toward emotional strength.
In contrast to that, I had another client who ran away from home. She was his age, actually, I think. So it was two kids the same age. After she finally was brought back by her mother, and she knew that I knew she had run away, she sat in my office talking about dying her hair – totally avoided facing the issue and her feelings about it. I was thinking, “What is her life going to be like if she never learns how to deal with her problems?” She didn’t want to talk about why she ran away – the underlying causes, what she was hoping to gain from it – nothing. She’s not willing to accept and face who she is at this point in her life. I’m not saying that can’t change, but just contrasting the two of them – lack of change by one, and readily available to change on the other. It’s just amazing. And it all has to do with being willing to face inner truth.
I think, too, about the movie that Elaine and I watched recently called Monumental. It points out a problem in our country – didn’t blame anybody, didn’t judge anybody – just offered solution. Instead of being depressing, it was inspiring and encouraging, wasn’t it? And it tended to draw me toward the producer of the program, Kirt Cameron. I had new respect for him.
What other benefits are there beside emotional health when we are willing to be open and to let go of fear and become courageous? Well, we touched on this already, but our relationships drastically improve. If you think about what we talked about last time and the time before, the fear of disconnection is at the heart of it all. It’s all about relationship. And we think there’s something wrong with us that will cause others to turn away from us. And we don’t want that.
I was thinking about the young guy I was just telling you about – about how much I liked him. I couldn’t help but like him. And I thought about how interesting every session was, because it was all about what was real. There was no phony-baloney there. What you see is what you get. And I’m interested in him. And so would you have been. And I thought about how my empathy was activated by his story, and how much I wanted to see him succeed, and how much his openness had helped him. When he came in, he really needed somebody to be on his side. And being open with me just drew me in. I am on his side.
Now, by contrast again, the girl talking about her hair…can you imagine how boring it was to sit there and listen to her talk about dying her hair? I wanted to connect to her and to help her, but there was nothing to connect to. There was no real girl there. How frustrating that is when that happens! If she could just trust me, it would be so much easier for me to be all in and involved with her. And it would be so much easier for her to feel loved and cared for and to get the help that she needs.
Another thing related to relationship has to do with empathy. The opposite of shame is empathy, actually. Shame dulls our sensitivities to other people.
Let’s go to 1 John 3:16 and look at a scripture. John said here in this verse – 3:16 – 1 John:
1 John 3:16 – By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. For 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? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.
Let’s focus on that phrase “closes his heart against him.” – in talking about the ability to maintain an empathic stance toward other people. So of the two teenagers, which one was it easier for me to feel empathy toward – which I’m supposed to do to everybody? Well, the boy. Why? Because he was sharing his experience with me. And empathy is understanding the experience of others. If there is no experience put forth, it’s hard to empathize with it.
So, when it says that we’re created for connection, it follows that we’re also created for empathy. And it follows from that that we’re also created for authenticity, and openness, and truth in the inward parts. That all goes together.
So that’s a little bit about the benefits of relationship. You can’t connect to something that’s not there. It kind of reminds me of years ago…I was having a house built. I was subbing it out, and the foundation was laid, and we were going to pour the concrete on the slab. I contracted with a concrete company to come pour the concrete and I contracted with a man to finish it. He had a crew there with these big rotary trowels – whirly-birds, they used to call them. And he was finishing it and they were getting close to done, and I noticed a spot out there that looked a little rough. And he said, “Yes, Mr. Jacobs, I noticed that, too.” And I said, “What do you think the problem is?” And he said, “Well, you know, Mr. Jacobs, you can’t finish what’s not there.” He was telling me the concrete company was a little light on the mix. So, sometimes people are a little light on the mix, too. They don’t give you anything to relate to.
I had a client one time who was an addict. And he’d been in prison. And he’d had a lot of bad things happen to him. He was telling me about an experience he’d had with another counselor – a man of his own ethnicity, so he couldn’t attribute anything he said to anything ethnic. But the man said to him, “I noticed that you are tri-lingual.” He said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, you speak English, and you speak Spanish, but you also speak a third language. And it begins with BS.” What he was telling him was that he put out a lot of words but they weren’t really who he was. I’d already noticed that. That’s what made it hilarious to me, actually. And I was glad that he knew that. So I started calling him on it. He got somewhat better before he disappeared. So we might as well be open about things if we want to have a connection with other people.
The third thing I wanted to mention, then, besides relationship with others and the negative side of it – that goes with it – is the relationship with God. It almost all applies with God the same way it applies with other people.
Let’s go to verse 19 of 1 John 3 – pick up where we left off. He says:
V-19 – By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him. When it talks about reassuring our heart, it’s talking about knocking the edge off of that shame that we have – that doubt that we’re okay. It’s talking about having courage. For whenever our heart condemns us – that’s when we feel guilty or ashamed – God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything. So when we’re feeling that way – and guilty – and have that desire to hide – Christians can know that there’s no hiding from God. He knows everything. So we might as well be open about it. And then he continues in verse 21:
V-21 – Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God – we find the courage that we need. So, while it’s talking about an uncondemning heart, it’s talking about knowing that we have no need of guilt, because we are forgiven, and no reason for shame, because we are God’s children. We’ve done a lot of bad things, but we’re not inherently rotten. We’re designed to be in God’s Kingdom and in His family. V-22 – And whatever we ask, we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. And this is His commandment – that we believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He has commanded us. For whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in Him. And by this we know that He abides in us by the Spirit, whom He has given us. So we can know that we’re connected to God, even if we don’t feel like it, we are, because of what He does, and that courage can come from that – courage to be open.
There is so much in the Bible about repentance. And that has to do with that, too – the ability to be open with God. We’re going to talk a little bit more about that in the next one, which is freedom. “The truth shall set you free.” Right? So that’s another benefit of being truthful.
Psalms 119:32 – David said:
Psalms 119:32 – I will run in the way of Your commandments when You enlarge my heart. Set my heart free – free to understand the experience of other people, free to hear their stories without judging and blaming them, free to love other people as ourselves – enlarged, bigger, more accepting, more room in it for other people – free of sin.
Let’s look in Psalms 51:10. David asked God:
Psalms 51:10 – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me, and cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. And notice what he says here in verse 12:
V-12 – Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. And then I will teach transgressors Your way and sinners will return to You.
When we’re busy hiding, when we’re phony, when we’re judgmental, when we’re not attuned to other people because our empathy is way down, because we’re not real, it’s really hard to attract people to our congregation – when there is a bunch of us like that. So there’s a huge implication for evangelism here. When people are experiencing the joy of their salvation and they have a willing spirit, that draws people. And when our heart is bigger, and cleaner, and more empathic, and less judgmental, we’re able to connect to those people and to connect them with God better. You know, it’s amazing how it all fits together, isn’t it? If we just do what God says, all the good stuff starts to happen. And when we don’t do that, things just don’t ever seem to go right. Everything works when we do what God says. And when we don’t, nothing works.
Most of the people that I’ve run into, since I learned about congregational health, tend to shy away from it, but healthy congregations draw people like magnets. And unhealthy ones don’t. The biggest thing about being unhealthy, individually, is about letting shame rule our lives.
Let’s go to Psalm 51 and learn some more about what David said about this.
Psalms 51:1 – Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love. According to Your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and clean me from my sin, for I know my transgression and my sin is ever before me.
Against You – You only – have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
David asked God to wash him up, and clean him up, and to forgive him of what he did wrong, and then he didn’t have to be ashamed or guilty – very important.
One of the things, when we’re open with ourselves, and we can come to God and know what we’ve done wrong, and repent of it, and admit it…you know, if we’re repressed, and justify, and rationalize, we can’t really see how we are. But when we drop those things and we face the reality of ourselves, then we can go to God and we can ask to be forgiven of those things, and He honors that. And then, we don’t have to feel the guilt and the shame, and it all starts working the right way then.
Let’s talk about one other area. And that is implications for parenting – thinking about living this way differently. Kids are really hard to fool. They are very difficult to fool. They keep track of what we say and what we do. And they weigh those two back and forth. Why do they do that? Well, because they’re learning from us how to live. And they don’t just look at what we do or what we say. They look at both of those. So they’re always measuring. So, if we live a hypocritical life before them, we teach them how to hide – just like Adam and Eve did in the Garden. We unwittingly pass on the devil’s legacy and become his conduit to instill human nature in them. But, if we’re open and loving, and we show them what it feels like to be understood, that’s a great thing. If we admit to them, when we’ve wronged them, and apologize, then we teach them to be empathic and open people. But, if we just say, “He’ll get over it,” and go on, what we’re really teaching them is how to just close everything off and become unempathic people. They will.
If we keep family secrets…you know, one of the things I learned in Family Therapy is that all families have secrets. It’s very hard to penetrate inside a family and learn what those secrets are. But, if we’re very secretive as a family, we teach our children that that’s how family should be conducted, and we pass on the bad habit of sweeping important issues under the carpet, so the tough stuff never gets talked about. Problems don’t get talked about. They fester into crises. And people run away or whatever.
I had a mother and teenage daughter come to me recently. The seventeen-year-old said, “My mother’s a good mom, but she causes so much stress in my life.” I said, “How does she do that?” She said, “Well, she always lays guilt trips on me to help her with her work.” There’s a family situation that puts her mother under a great deal of stress – and her dad, for that matter. She said, “My dad’s just as busy, but he doesn’t do that to me like she does.” So I’m thinking, “Oh, wow! She’s got a real problem with her mother,” and, “What is it about her mother that causes that problem?” She says that she guilt trips her. So the mother came in at the end of the session, and she sat down, and she said, “My daughter tells me that I cause her a lot of stress. And I’m not sure I know how I do that, but I’m willing to learn. And I will come here with her to talk about this whenever she wants me to. And I’ll do whatever you think I should do to fix this problem.” And then she said, “The most important thing to me is that my daughter feels better.” It’s so much easier to work with that. Before you get started, this problem is going to resolve – unless she’s just lying, which didn’t appear to me that she was. You have two very open people here. And they’re going to be able to get together and talk about stuff. They just haven’t known how to do that yet.
Going back to the girl who ran away…she ran away because she was hurting. She tried and tried to communicate that to her mother, but her mother didn’t take any action. Her mother didn’t want to admit that she was making mistakes in her parenting that affected the whole family in a negative way. She was afraid to make changes and stir things up – to take that big step – because she wasn’t sure where it was all going to go. So she wouldn’t let herself become vulnerable. And her daughter had watched this for years and suffered from it, but she subscribed to the same philosophy. Her mother was fearful of being open and so was she, so both of them were isolated and miserable – where the other two are going to be fine. And it all has to do with being willing to be vulnerable and let out who they really are – to share the secret with somebody else.
Okay, so that’s some of the benefits of being open with God and with others. Next time we’re going to take it to whole other level. The title of that one is called Risking It All. And that’s about vulnerability, which is the core value that leads to all the good things that we examined today. So tune in for that one.
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