Debunking Shame




Well, this is awkward. This is my first time logging in to my blog in eight months. Literally, the sentence on my dashboard reads “It’s been 8 months since…” It’s tempting to feel all sorts of shame and embarrassment:

  • How could you just not log in for 8 months?
  • What were you thinking?
  • What about your new year’s resolutions?
  • What about your goals?

To top off those questions, I’m reading a few books on shame and how to deal with that emotion, so now I’m shaming myself on feeling shame. Urgh. Where does the cycle begin and end? I’ll continue this discussion on shame, but I want to update you on where I’ve been the past eight months.

Earlier this year, I learned that my mother’s cancer (multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow) had progressed to the point of her requiring treatment. Since learning of this progression, I have been her full-time caregiver. I haven’t had the time or the energy to craft an article on my blog, and I feel terrible about it. My apologies, especially as I endeavored to supply a weekly list of NCE study terms. While I may have my own plans, God has His, too. I moved home at the right time, and I was at a point in my career in which I could use this time to care for my mom.

Returning to the issue of shame, people often ask me if I have a job, and they try to prod me to find part-time work at least. I mean, I’m a year and some odd months out from having graduated seminary and am not working. Talk about shame. It preys on your circumstances and thrives in the shoulds (“This is where you should be,” “This is what you should be doing,” “You shouldn’t be doing that,” and the list continues.) People have dared to tout these shame-laden words, but to that I respond, “What else should I be doing? Should I just go on with my life as if my mom doesn’t have an incurable form of cancer? Should I have pursued my career regardless? That sure is selfish.”

If I didn’t agree to being her caregiver, no one else would be available to help out, and treatment for my mom would not be possible. Patients who undergo the extensive treatments for multiple myeloma must have a caregiver present with them.

However, when people press me about finding a job, they fail to understand that being a full-time caregiver is a full-time job in regards to the time and energy that it requires. During the short weeks in between treatment, you just don’t have the time or the energy to devote even to a part-time job because of the responsibilities you have as a caregiver.

Shame is such a silly, nonsensical contraption. If we’re walking in obedience to God, He’s not going to punish us. When we experience sharp changes in our plans, God isn’t going to judge us for adjusting to those changes. There is nothing shameful about deliberately choosing to follow God in seasons that are different than what we had in mind.

One thing I know for certain, despite what shame tries to tell me, is that God is faithful. He throws us into community with people who turn out to be your saving grace in crucial circumstances. I wouldn’t be able to care for my mom, and my mom wouldn’t be able to heal, without the prayers, faith, support, and encouragement from those in our community.

I don’t know what you are going through, but I do know that God is faithful and that we can trust His lovingkindness, especially in our toughest seasons. If you’re having to make hard choices, don’t let shame ensnare you. Debunk shame by trusting yourself to make the necessary decisions and by listening to what God says about you.

Thank you for reading.

15 Journaling Prompts

   

Journaling is one of the best ways to get in touch with yourself. I journal daily, and it helps me process the events of the day. Sometimes I journal by writing down whatever comes to mind with no filter. Other times I prefer to have prompts to guide my writing process. Here are fifteen journaling prompts to use when you journal. Some are serious, but most of them are fun.

  1. What are your obstacles right now? The things that are preventing you from attaining what you want out of life, what are they? What will it take to overcome those obstacles? Name at least five and be specific with your answers.
  2. Pick one object that inspires you for today. Pick a tangible, meaningful object that gives you hope and write about it. Focus on it for the day.
  3. Suppose that there is a bubble around you that goes everywhere you go. Describe this bubble. Think of what its boundary is composed of, who is in the bubble with you, and the messages you constantly tell yourself or hear other people saying. Is this bubble a positive or negative thing for you? Is it one that you need to get out of or is it healthy?
  4. Write a letter to someone who has offended or hurt you. Don’t send it to them, but write everything down that you would want to communicate to them.
  5. You and some passengers on your cruise get left behind on a secluded island. Write about what you will do during your time in the island, how you will survive, and how you will get off the island. Nothing is off limits.
  6. Design a business plan for a nonprofit organization. What kind do you want to create? How would you secure funding?
  7. When you have bad days, what do you wish people would say to you to encourage you?
  8. What songs would be on your playlist while climbing Mt. Everest?
  9. Write a screenplay about a subject you’ve never heard of or had experience with before. Who would play the leading and supporting roles?
  10. Suppose this wasn’t the last season of Downton Abbey and you’ve been cast in the show. Which role would you play and why? Would you be an existing character or a new character?
  11. Suppose you have an enormous library in your home. How do you categorize your bookshelves? How do you style it?
  12. What needs to happen in your life to make it closer to what you dream about?
  13. Which type of food best describes your personality? What dishes does it contain?
  14. Write a travel guide for your favorite destination.
  15. Suppose you were chosen to speak to a group of college students. What would your topic and outline be for your talk?

Say, What?! 5 Frequently Misunderstood Counseling Terms

  
You’ve likely heard most of these terms. Whether in a counseling session, social media post, sermon, small group, book, journal article, magazine blip, newspaper column, or in a plain ol conversation, you will come into contact with them. We let some of these words fly out of our mouths without understanding what they mean, and we act all touchy and awkward when we hear other terms because we fail to recognize the meaning of these terms in their context. They’re arranged in order of how annoying it is to hear them misused.

Terms

Depressed: People often use this term to mean that they are really sad or that a given situation is really sad. Granted, one can experience sadness as part of depression, but sadness alone is not depression. With depression, you don’t enjoy the things that you have recently enjoyed; your energy is depleted even though you haven’t done anything to drain your energy; you either sleep too much or not enough; you notice significant changes in your appetite. If it runs in the family, you’re more likely to experience depression. It’s not simply a spiritual issue, although a healthy spiritual life can help you overcome depression. Focusing on what God says about you can help fight those feelings when you think mistakenly that you’re a total failure.

Addicted: This one is bothersome. People will say that they’re addicted to chocolate, shoes, coffee, cheese, eating, shopping, or a certain brand of clothing in an attempt to say they enjoy their given “addiction” beyond what is considered normal. However, in the context in which I hear many people use the term, they don’t mean it in the sense of a true addiction, because a real addiction will destroy your life. There are two distinctions when it comes to misuse of substances: substance abuse and substance dependence. The former occurs when a person is willing put himself or herself in life-threatening situations in order to obtain or use the substance. He or she may also put the lives of other people in danger (i.e., drunk driving, leaving needles around the around the house that a toddler can easily pick up). The latter – substance dependence – occurs when a person’s body adjusts to the substance to the point where they need more of it to maintain the same effect or to where he or she has life-threatening withdrawals without the substance.

Anxiety: I hear people use this term when they are referencing Paul’s admonishing to “be anxious for nothing” in Philippians 4:6-7. However, being anxious for something and having anxiety are two different things. Being anxious often is more synonymous with being impatient or worried, as if one cannot wait for a given circumstance to occur. An anxiety disorder, however, is more than mere worry, and there are actually several types of anxiety disorders. They range from specific fears (phobias) to a generalized anxiety. Most of them involve an unrelenting sense of worry despite a lack of any fear-provoking situation. Many of them involve physiological symptoms  such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, muscle tension, etc. In order to follow Paul’s advice, one could benefit from counseling to treat the anxiety.

Codependent: Maybe people who use this term really so mean it in the true sense of the word, but let’s still look at what it means from a counseling standpoint. I hear many people use this term to describe newlyweds who are “codependent on each other,” meaning that they are so in love and both depend on each other for support. They just add the “co” to “dependent” to mean that these are two people who equally depend on each other. However, this is not what the term means in the counseling world. In the counseling world, codependent describes a person who depends on someone else’s emotional stability before he or she will make any personal decision and who has trouble setting boundaries. It is not necessarily a two-way street, and the non-codependent may or may not have expressed his or her emotions about a given situation with the codependent. If you need a good picture of someone who is codependent, just watch a Hallmark movie. Usually the lead female character is codependent. Codependency is an unhealthy type of relationship.

Self-reliant: Any word with “self” in front of it automatically tends to threaten many evangelical Christians before they even take the chance to understand its context, because if you’re a Christian, you should rely on God for everything, not yourself. (Later I’ll address how certain phrases like this are misused.) One of the best ways to make sense of the prefix is to contrast it with codependency. Instead of waiting for someone’s emotional security to approve of the decisions that you have to make for yourself, you need to rely on yourself for that emotional support.

Yes, It is Okay for a Christian to Go to a Counselor

  

  
A colleague of mine recently posted a video of a mega-church pastor who openly shares his opinion of whether or not Christians should go to counseling.

Spoiler Alert: The pastor does not think that Christians should go to counseling. Okay, he thinks that Christians can go to counseling but only under certain unclear circumstances.

The video ruffled some feathers of mine, so I’m going to try my best to articulate my response to it without letting my emotions get the best of me. Oh wait, Christians don’t have emotions.

1. Christians aren’t immune to problems, especially problems that aren’t so easily explained by spiritual responses. Everyone has problems. Just because someone becomes a Christian doesn’t mean that he or she automatically becomes a safe person to talk to, and it sure as anything else doesn’t mean that he or she is automatically a seasoned counselor. Not every problem or emotional wound can be healed by throwing jumbled-up words together and calling it prayer.

2. Licensed professional counselors spend several years of their lives preparing for their careers. It takes several years of education and experience before a licensing board will even consider reviewing a candidate for licensure. Many people think that a counselor just up and decided on the job last minute and, voila, now is a counselor. They don’t realize the extensive training it requires post-graduation.

3. It’s foolish and arrogant to talk about a field of which you have no experience. This whole video reveals the pastor’s ignorance of not only the counseling field, but of the mental health field as a whole. A counselor is not the same thing as a psychiatrist. These are two totally different jobs.

4. The mental health community hosts a range of models for therapeutic care, and many professionals in this community disagree with each other in regards to these theoretical models. One example of a disagreement is that between persons who uphold a medical model of therapy and a person-centered model of therapy. The medical model sees all forms of mental illness as being represented by a diagnosis and points to various treatment options for a given diagnosis. The person-centered model despises the idea of a diagnosis for fear that it inaccurately labels clients and thus hinders treatment.

5. A healthy, Christian community does not in any way replace the years of education and experience that licensed counselors have subjected themselves to. I understand that we all want to make the world a better place and that we all want people to be nice to each other and not talk about each other behind their backs and everyone all be perfect, wise counselors to each other, but that’s not how things are in the world this side of the new heavens and new earth. There is still much work to be done, and it is irresponsible to subject people to more hurt and pain because of your insistence that we live in some alternate reality.

6. Licensed professional counselors are required to abide by a code of ethics that protect the wellbeing of clients, including their spiritual wellbeing. Based on your video, I’m assuming that you didn’t see this part about counseling ethics. Counselors are exhorted to encourage clients to draw upon their spirituality for healing and growth. This means that an atheistic licensed counselor is required by his or her state licensing board to encourage Christian clients to draw upon their communities for support.

7. “All clients must deal with their issues alone in isolation,” said no ethical counselor ever. A wise counselor will encourage clients to look to their communities and the people in their lives for support while in counseling. Counselors don’t use confidentiality in the way that Todd says they do. Confidentiality protects clients from future harm, because while it provides a safe environment for clients to talk about anything without fear of condemnation (which most people in church don’t know how to restrain), confidentiality also has its limits. There are many instances in which counselors are required by law to break confidentiality for the sake of their clients’ wellbeing.

This is the end of the post, but if you want to read further, I’ve included my response to a friend trying to clarify the intentions of the pastor:

I appreciate your attempt to clarify, and I saw in the video what you are explaining, but if the video truly is an exhortation of the church, like you say it is, then they wouldn’t have titled it, “Is it Okay for a Christian to go to a Counselor.”

So many of the statements that Todd makes about the LPC field reflect a lack of understanding on his part of the profession, and what annoys me about his approach to the conversation is how he doesn’t admit by verbal expression that he has no training whatsoever in this field, a field that requires many years of education and experience before one can even be considered a candidate for licensure (Would he be okay with an LPC telling him how to preach when the LPC has no experience preaching?). Todd’s comments show ignorance on his part about how counseling ethics actually work, and he needs to adopt and communicate some humility in his discussion. Yes, I hear you, he may just be the most humble person in the world, but you have to admit that his remarks do not convey humility.

Licensed professional counselors don’t use confidentiality to hide behind it, but so many clients suffer from very sensitive issues that their little small groups just aren’t equipped to handle to the degree that they need handled. You wouldn’t tell someone who had been raped by a pastor to go talk to his or her small group about it. That’s dumb and irresponsible.

Also, an ethical counselor would never suggest to a client that he or she live in isolation. A lot of the work that is done in counseling is to help clients develop healthy relationships so that when counseling is done, they can rely on skills they’ve acquired in session and use them outside of counseling in community with other people.

If in the video they really intend to exhort the church, don’t use the LPC field as “Exhibit A” of how the church has failed.

While failures in the church contribute to many unfortunate circumstances in society, it is incorrect to state, as Todd stated in the video, that the LPC field is a direct result of the church not doing its job. This is an arrogant claim (and in technical terms is a . Has the car repair industry arisen because a person’s small group doesn’t know how to change the oil? Has the fast food industry exploded because someone’s small group doesn’t no how to flip hamburgers?

Yes, I agree with you in that the church needs to be exhorted in how it handles people’s issues, but I also recognize that a lot of people don’t have the luxury of a healthy small group or a healthy Christian community, and even when a person has a healthy small group, that still does not replace the years of education and experience that a licensed professional counselor has subjected himself or herself to.

What I Dislike about Hallmark Christmas Movies

   
If you celebrate Christmas in Amercia, I’m sure you’ve seen at least one cheesy Christmas movie featured on the Hallmark Channel. I’ll start with a list of items that must be present in order for a movie to air on these channels, and then I will begin my rant.
Must-Haves for a Hallmark Christmas Movie:

  • A female main character who lives in a big, modern, progressive city with a high-status job in the career field she’s always dreamed about
  • A male supporting role character who is the romantic counterpart of the female main character
  • A family member of the main character, usually a parent, who passes away and leaves an inheritance in the form of a small-town family business that has supported the emotional morale of the small town for many generations
  • A semi-handsome male main character who knows the family business and has been dubbed the interim keeper of the grounds until the female main character moves back home
  • A visit home that the female main character swears will be a short one but ends up being longer
  • Several meet cutes between the female main character and the male main character that turn into dates and into convincing the female lead that she needs to stay in the small town and run the family business
  • A crisis that separates the two main characters
  • A happy ending that brings them back together
  • So, those are the must-haves for a Hallmark Christmas movie. 

Now I begin my discussion of dissatisfaction with these movies.
1. All of these movies hate on the city life. I know that you aren’t supposed to speak in such extremes, using all-or-none thinking, but I have yet to see a Hallmark Christmas movie that celebrates people who live in the city. What’s so wrong about city life? Is it sinful? Is it unbiblical to live in an urban setting? Why is urban life always portrayed negatively in these movies? I don’t get it.

2. None of these movies address the sinfulness that goes on in small towns. In case you’ve never lived in a small town, they thrive on gossip and as much manipulation as big cities do. It’s not the physical location itself that’s the problem. It’s the people who live in it that make up the issues within it.

3. According to the Hallmark Channel, it’s perfectly fine for a Christian woman to date two men at the same time without there being any consequences or without either of the men getting upset about it. Have you noticed this in these movies? I just can’t. And the female lead is never shown as having a backbone or standing up for herself. If she tries to stand up for herself, other characters call her selfish.

4. The female main character always gives up a career that she is passionate about in the city. This is usually because she feels bad about letting other people (whom she barely knows) down, and she can’t stand the thought of doing so. Why can’t one of these movies show a female main character who is joyful as a single woman and pursues a career that she is passionate about, one in which she can use her many talents?

5. Neither of the two men she dates is willing to move to where she can pursue her career, but both of them usually have jobs that are transferable to another state. Hm.

6. The female main character usually becomes underemployed and takes a job that is well below her intellect and skill level. Then she usually makes a stupid decision that her career should have taught against. Why is the female role shown in this light? Does this mean that a Christian woman has to dumb herself down, silence her visions, and settle with underemployment in order to live a godly life? Unfortunately this is a caricature that is often portrayed of women in the Christian world, but women in the Bible are shown as having more courage than this.

I’m not adding a seventh point to this list because the number seven usually indicates completion, and these movies are anything but complete. That’s the end of my rant for now.

So, you’re going to seminary


How exciting! Since this is the beginning of the semester and since I recently graduated from seminary, I decided to write this with you in mind to provide you with some advice. This is only a small sampling of tips.

  1. Friends. Find them. Find a few people with whom you can share your whole life story and listen to theirs. Start developing your friendship base the first few weeks. These friends will encourage you and walk beside you throughout your journey. You will encounter seasons that are trying on your faith, and you will need those close friends to remind you of your anchor, who is Christ.
  2. From day one, people will ask about your post-graduation plans. I’m not kidding. You’ll hear that the first week, all throughout seminary, the semester in which you will graduate, and obviously the day you graduate. No pressure, right? Exactly. There is no need to feel any pressure. You will experience this question, but there is no rush to have everything figured out, even the day after you graduate. You say, “But, I’m not graduating yet, so how does this apply to me?” It applies to you, because you will undoubtly go through seasons (possibly your first semester) that tempt you to think that you must have everything figured out in order to move forward that semester. However, this is a common temptation, but it is a lie. You just have to take the next step.
  3. Remember that seminary is graduate school, and most graduate schools are expensive (i.e., med school, law school, pharmacy school, nursing school, etc.). Most students who attend graduate school have to take out student loans in order to afford their programs. This is normal, typical, and to be expected in graduate school. However, because you’re in seminary, you might be tempted to feel guilty for taking out a loan. Don’t take the bait. Taking out a loan for school is not the same thing as using a credit card to splurge on a pair of shoes. A loan for school – especially seminary – is an investment in your calling. When you ask God for provision, most often His form of provision does not look like what you envisioned. You ask God for financial provision, and He provides by way of student loans. (Some of you just cringed when you read that.) Why would God provide through student loans? Well, God’s intentions are His own, so I can’t really speak for that. However, what I can speak for are the benefits of taking out a loan. First, if you don’t have any credit, you can’t buy a house. No credit sounds better than bad credit, so you think it will be easy to purchase a house. Not so. The process takes longer, and if you are approved a loan, then you will be required to have a cosigner on your mortgage. What this means is that you are putting someone else’s financial state at risk if you are not able to pay your mortgage. Second, repaying your loan teaches you discipline. If you aren’t used to paying bills, being consistent with loan repayments will help you become disciplined. Third, you will build your credit, which will allow you to purchase a home, a vehicle, and so forth.*
  4. Take. Your. Time. Don’t rush through seminary, p-lease. It might take you an extra year, or seven, to finish your degree. No need to worry. Many students expand their program an extra year.
  5. Ask yourself, “What do I want out of my seminary experience?” Do you just want a job? I mean, you could have already been working somewhere with your bachelor’s degree. Yep, you definitely need a job after graduation, but goodness gracious, don’t pay thousands of dollars each semester just to sit and wait x number of years to get a job. No, take time to feed your academic curiosity. Read and learn as much as you can. Ask challenging, relevant questions.
  6. Please don’t just sit there in class and not ask any questions. Urgh, and don’t be tempted to scroll through Facebook or shop on Amazon the whole time, or at all.
  7. Learn how to debate points with which you disagree. When I took a debate course in college, we didn’t get to pick the side that we would represent. The professor randomly assigned sides, and we had to debate the side that was given to us. The point of this course wasn’t to regurgitate the same information that we already knew about a given topic. Rather, the point was to learn how to craft a sound, logical argument and back it up with clear, concise research. If you really want to engage people who disagree with you, then it will take more than emotional babble to carry on the conversation. You need to learn how to present a sound argument.
  8. Please don’t be the person who asks weird questions in class that have nothing to do with what the professor is talking about. We’re not paying all this money just to sit and listen to you boast about your nuanced understanding of a given subject. That’s great that you have such an understanding about it. Maybe be a little more humble about it?
  9. Be bold enough to see past surface-level differences between you and other classmates. You may not understand another person’s culture, but don’t let that stop you from developing friendships with people who are different than you.
  10. Do fun stuff. (Those are technical words, by the way.) “Fun stuff” is a real serious seminary term that many students have trouble understanding. They hide behind their tall, Jenga-style stacks of books and their scattered piles of synthetic charts, and they can’t seem to find a way out of their mazes of Greek sentence diagrams. However, this serious term called “fun stuff” refers to those activities that are waiting to be discovered just beyond those stacks, piles, and mazes. What are such activities? I’m not going to tell you. Part of the fun is discovering those fun adventures with your God-given friends.

Please know that you have many people who are praying for you. Don’t discount this. You’re starting an amazing journey. Keep your eyes open, and don’t miss all that God will show you along your journey.

*You may experience seasons in which you have no idea how you will pay for your next meal. Please note that in Point 3, I am not telling you to stop praying for provision or to stop having faith. You need to ask for these things daily. What I am saying is that God provides for people in different ways, and His form of provision for you will look different than the next person’s. Let God provide for you, accept the ways in which He provides for you, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for accepting such provision. It’s not their journey. It’s between you and God.

Can You Not?


There’s a whole series of improvements we can make in the Church. Before you read this, please make sure you understand the way in which I’m using the question, “Can you not?” Look it up on Urban Dictionary. The words in this article are meant tongue-and-cheek.

Can you not…

…try to convert me to your denomination, sub-denomination, or non-denomination? I’m saved, and I love my local church community. We’re not trying to compete with you. We’re in fellowship together, and I would love to serve and worship God alongside you.

…use cartoon Bible characters to teach the Bible to adults? This is one reason why the recent Noah and Exodus movies were so appealing and refreshing. They stopped using cartoons and started using REAL PEOPLE to tell the Bible stories. Cartoons and clip art are fine when you’re working with kids, but not when you’re teaching adults in seminary or small groups or sermons. Come on now. Let’s be more creative.

…let yourself get distracted when you’re supposed to be changing the PowerPoint slides during worship? Worship leaders, have you ever wondered why it suddenly gets quiet when you transition to the next verse of a song? You hear the congregation singing loudly, “I want to praise, the wonders of Your mighty love,” and you, so moved by how passionately everyone is singing, burst out loudly, “MY COMFORT,” and you suddenly hear no one but yourself singing. (Ok, granted most worship teams have earbuds in there ears, but just follow along.) Ever wonder why this happens? It’s because your PowerPoint guy or gal isn’t paying attention to what’s going on in the service, so it’s either no one knows if they’re supposed to keep moving with you or that no one knows the words to the latest trendy worship song. You want others to be fully engaged during the worship service, but you can’t expect this from your congregation if your team isn’t modeling it. Plus, it’s awkward. Really awkward.
…regurgitate the same I’m-better-with-faces-than-names line that everyone else says? Have you noticed that everyone else says the exact same thing? Try remembering people’s names the first time you meet them. If you don’t recognize a person’s name, then just say you don’t know the person, because if you really knew the person, you would know his or her name. Don’t try to pretend like you know someone by saying, “I’m sure I would recognize his or her face.” That’s not knowing someone. That’s called LYING.

…scroll through Facebook while you’re in class? First of all it’s distracting to everyone else around you. Nobody wants to see pictures of your breakfast while talking about systematic theology. Second of all, it must be nice to have $100/week to sit through a 3-hour class and not even pay attention to the class lecture. Oh, you’re bored? Well, ask some questions! Third of all, what do you expect to teach others if you never learn anything from the course because you spent the whole class time on Facebook? Would the people who support you be pleased to know that you’re wasting their hard-earned money by scrolling through Facebook all day?

Thank you. You’re awesome!