July 6, 2006 EJOURNAL...
Shame vs the Spirit of Adoption
This e-journal will conclude the theme of the effects of shame in a person’s life. If you missed the last two e-journals on shame, you can read them HERE .
Most of what is written below was extracted from letters I wrote to a friend after I went on a mission trip to Africa last year. I’ve changed the names of any people I may mention.
At the risk of sounding like an amateur psychologist, I’m going to step even further into the murky waters of sharing my thoughts.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my trip to Africa, and for the past few days have had a delayed emotional reaction to it. I had already told you that the thing that stood out the most to me was the contrast between WKCL’s (well-know Christian leader’s) place of knowing she is completely loved and accepted by God and the various levels of lack of that “knowing” that I saw in our team (including myself) and in the pastors there in Africa.
The only words I could think of to describe what I was seeing was that WKCL had experienced the “spirit of adoption” and the rest of us knew about it but hadn’t fully experienced it. So we were all, in varying degrees, still dependent on externals such as our “rank” within the team or our tales of ministry and service to God or our accomplishments back home to give us a sense of place.
This is not to say that WKCL doesn’t have obvious human failings or some quirky doctrines. But she seems to know she is absolutely, unconditionally loved by God—and it’s not a head-knowing, it’s a way of life.
We ministered to thousands of people and every one of them was orphaned in some way, either literally or emotionally. They were abandoned, used, mistreated, unloved, and in great need of having it settled in their hearts and minds that they have a heavenly parent who loves them with a love that no one can comprehend, and because of that love they are OK just the way they are and don’t have to be anyone or do anything to be more loved.
I guess I used to understand love as something that was a response—a response to someone that you felt somehow “in sync” with, or a response to maternal instincts being awakened, or a response to the pain of others that makes you want to help them, or the response you have to others who have helped you when you were in pain, or the responsibility you feel when you have something that you know others need.
But that’s an orphan’s view of love because it’s all dependent on responses to things that are external, so its strength waxes or wanes depending on the level of “in syncness” or nurturing or compassion or gratitude that is evoked by the circumstances and the people around you. It’s not coming out of an internal reservoir of knowing that you yourself are loved and loveable and therefore they are too.
It’s not as black and white as I’m making things sound, because all Christians know some level of God’s love, so we all experience a mixture of orphan and adopted child.
The last Sunday we were there, my friend Deborah and I accompanied an American pastor and were his ministry team while he preached in an African church. His message was from I John 2 about the spiritual difference between children, young men, and fathers.
As he talked, I began to think about what it was that enabled children in the faith to become young men/women and then spiritual fathers/mothers to others and I thought about this theme of adoption.
In my last letter I wrote of one thread of thought /feeling around this issue of adoption. A second thread has been along the theme of “rules.”
Last month I went to a business seminar where they made us play a game called “Lifeboat.” In the game I was in a group of 5 on a sinking ship with no hope of being rescued and the lifeboat only held two people. The group had to decide who would go in the lifeboat and who would stay on the sinking ship. It was a very intense game, because you were supposed to play it as if you actually were in a real life or death situation. And everybody did.
So what the game boiled down to was each player had three minutes to convince the others in the group why he or she deserved to be in the lifeboat instead of left on the sinking ship. After everyone had finished his or her three minutes of "persuasion," the group voted on who would be saved. (You couldn't vote for yourself.) The two people with the most votes lived. Every one else died.
This got me thinking about the unspoken rules we live our lives by and judge others by.
Then last week I listened to a review of The Survivor Personality, a book about people who survived incredibly horrendous situations. The author interviewed hundreds of people looking for an explanation of why some were completely devastated by what happened to them and why others were able to not only survive, but had the resiliency to get on with their lives once the traumatic events were over.
He interviewed Vietnam vets, people who had been brutally attacked, people who had been tortured, people who had been kidnapped and subjected to atrocities, war crimes victims, and more. His conclusion was that resilient people are guided by internal compasses that didn’t necessarily line up with external “rules.” They were able to “reframe” the horrific situation in ways that better served them and others and saw the rules merely as guidelines.
For example, people with very strong convictions about telling the truth were able to lie in order to save the lives of others and not feel bad about violating their convictions. (Think Corrie Ten Boom hiding Jews during the Nazi occupation of Holland.)
In the book, there is a chapter entitled “The Good Child Handicap.” The essence of this chapter is that people who have been raised with programming to be “good” wind up with rules that become limitations and handicaps in later life and that may actually threaten their survival and the survival of those around them.
So I began thinking about “rule-based living” and the fact that at the core of “rule-based living” there is a defining of who you are and your worth as a person and the level of "safety" you feel about life by how well you’ve followed the system of rules you’ve adopted from your upbringing and culture.
In this way of life, the rules become measuring sticks for your personhood and in many ways your identity is defined by rules—not only the rules you keep, but also the rules about the way you keep the rules.
So the rules become a double handicap—you’re limited and handicapped when you keep them and you’re emotionally tormented whether you keep them or not, since the very presence of the rules means you aren’t good enough or loveable enough just as you are.
Rule-based living is the opposite of the spirit of adoption, because with the spirit of adoption there is no yardstick of measurement of worth or loveableness toward yourself or toward others—those issues are already settled.
Back to shame
You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with the theme of shame. Well, a lot. The essence of what shame does to a person is twofold. It makes you believe: (1) you have to be different than how you are to be loved and accepted (or even tolerated); and (2) your goodness/value/OKness will be defined by how well you conform to a set of external expectations ("the rules").
In other words, you are neither loved nor loveable just as you are. Because of this, shame creates a sense of self-rejection and self-hatred that makes it hard for you to believe how much God loves you and how valuable you are to Him.
Shame undermines our feeling of being loved, taken care of, and safe. Since God is the only one who can truly love us like we need to be loved, take care of us like we truly want to be taken care of, and make us feel like life is a safe place for us to be, the awareness that I am His beloved child is the only real cure for shame.
Next time…What an Educated Person Knows
The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boom exemplified the love of God. I was fortunate to meet her and sit under her ministry. This is the story of her family's rescue of Jews in Holland during the Holocaust and of the amazing impact that God's love can have on lives.
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