Tara’s Blog

PCA Women’s Ministry Connection Series – Videos on Key Doctrines and Women’s Ministry Topics

connection series

I am so grateful for the entire PCA Discipleship Ministries team (PCA = my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America)! Their prayerful, sacrificial and wise ministry creates wonderful, biblical, Christ-centered resources and events for our denomination and I thank God for them every day.

This year, the PCA women’s ministry is releasing a series videos to help connect women to key doctrines and Women’s Ministry topics. Each video is paired with questions for your own personal reflection and to encourage conversation and connection among your women’s ministry too. I encourage you to check them all out! I was so honored to get to participate:

To access the other videos and the discussion questions for the PCA Women’s Ministry Connection series, click here. With videos by Melissa Kruger, Susan Hunt, Ellen Dykas, Courtney Doctor (and many more!), you definitely do not want to miss this series. (Oh! How I admire and deeply appreciate these women.)

Sending my love and praying for peace—

Your friend,
Tara B.

I Belong to You and You Belong to Me (And thus, we genuinely care for one another!)

Community Pic

I am truly enjoying Jerry Bridges’ new book:

True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia

Here is a quote from the final pages to give you just a taste of its wisdom:

“The foundation of daily experiential fellowship among believers is found in Paul’s statement that “in Christ … each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). I belong to you and you belong to me, and we each belong to and have “ownership” in every other believer in the world. This mutual belonging to one another is the thread that ties together all the seemingly diverse elements of fellowship.

As we recognize and apply the fact that we belong to each other, we will genuinely love and care for one another. We will seek to build up one another through spiritual sharing, and we will meet each other’s material needs. We will enjoy one another in times of social fellowship, and we will suffer with one another in times of trial. All of these many facets of fellowship are rooted in the concept that we belong to one another.”

Amen! And thank you, Pastor Bridges.

Apart from a miracle, a good relationship with this person is just never going to happen. That’s OK. Grieve it. And LET. IT. GO.

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I once received an email from a friend whose dear friend, an adult Christian woman, was “distraught” and “destroyed” over how her parents treat her. She was “terrified” of this relationship.

Knowing that some of us have these difficult relationships in our lives, I thought I would redact some of the content of my response with the hope that it might be a blessing to you too …

——————————————

Perhaps a starting place would be to consider:

Why does the fact that your parents are so incredibly cruel to you “destroy you” and lead you to the point of “not being able to take it”?

Why does it matter so incredibly much?

Yes, our parents love is important and it does affect us when they treat us horribly. But … everyone has suffering to bear in life and apparently, her parents’ treatment of her is a major “cross” that God has ordained for her to bear.

So what is her only hope? The Lord. The Triune God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ: Who God is and all that He has already done for her in Christ.

But like all of us … in her deep pain, maybe even in the shock of the moment when people she has wanted to love (and be loved by) have hurt her again … she may be forgetting eternity. The pain of today so often blinds us to the Hope of tomorrow (and a million tomorrows once we are Home).

Sometimes, when we are distraught beyond words, that is a clear indication that we are grieving. We need to lament. Throw ourselves into the arms of the One Person who knows our suffering and knows so much more! And Who will never let us down. Never abandon us. Never give up on us.

So your friend may need to weep. Maybe you can hold her as she sobs and help her by your compassionate, steady presence (and multiple handfuls of Kleenex).

At an appropriate time, it may also be that your friend’s strong emotional reaction to this situation has its roots in her demands (James 4:1-3) and her responding in these ways not because of how her parents are treating her, but because of her heart regarding how her parents are treating her.  She’s not getting what she wants (demands/”needs”) regarding a very important thing to her. How does she respond? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control? Praise the Lord! It’s probably not an idol! Anger, rage, bitterness, malice, slander, filthy language from her lips? Uh-oh. Careful. Our legitimate grief sometimes turns a corner into sinful, judgmental, vengeance and demands for “justice” that seed into bitterness in our hearts.

When that happens, we may have what your friend describes as “anger issues with God” and we may find ourselves graceless and loveless toward the people who are hurting us (in your case, your friend’s attitude towards her parents).

(As an aside—your friend describes herself as being “miserable” and “terrified” of her parents. Sometimes, angry and miserable people are actually scared people–and in this case, that sure seems to be possible.)

So what is the solution? Well. Of course. Just like all of us, your friend can’t just choose to “be joyful.” Sometimes we need to lament. Grieve. Even Jesus wept! So I encourage you to be there for her. Love her. Let her make your shoulder wet with her tears as she cries out over her deep suffering in this fallen world. Point her to Jesus–remind her that he knows her pain and he cares. Help her to worship God rightly–because if any of her heart issues are actually idolatrous demands, the only way to displace wrong worship is right worship of God. (I know you know that this is the entire section on “Idolatry” in my video series/standard retreat.)

Re: her “terror” at her parents … you know I write on this topic a lot because just as Dr. Ed Welch describes himself in his wonderful book, Running Scared, I, too, am a “fear specialist.” So maybe perusing some of my old posts on fear would be of help to her. Or would you consider going through with her Ed Welch’s workbook, “When I Am Afraid?” This might be very encouraging and helpful to her. But whatever you do, keep pointing her to God! (I know you do!) Because the only way to get rid of that level of fear is to replace it with a bigger fear—the fear of God.

As she worships God rightly and remembers Christ and reminds herself that God is with her and for her, only then will she be standing on such a firm rock that she will be able to say with confidence, “God is sovereign over even my tragic family situation. I would not choose this for myself, but I know that God is always good. I know that He loves me. And He will give me the grace to wisely and lovingly and mercifully interact with my parents.”

Just like us all, she must begin by running to Christ–the real Christ. Our resurrected Lord and King! Apart from Christ, there is no hope. None at all. Then … to persevere, she will need to be nourished by the feast of God’s grace by willingly and joyfully submitting to the authority of a local church so that she is regularly strengthened by the means of God’s grace: the preaching and study of the Word, the sacraments, corporate prayer and worship, accountability, oversight, etc. etc.

There are way too many enemies that lead us away from Christ (our flesh, the world, Satan). We need the regular, faithful ministry of the Body if we are to remain in the faith and grow in sanctification and conformity to Christ.

Not to say that any of this is easy … I don’t mean to imply that I know what her previous conversations with her parents have been like … but if I were to venture a guess, I would presume that they have been her trying to lovingly develop a real (sincere, open and honest, genuine) relationship with her parents. And probably, she has (rightly) thought that they could never have a true friendship and experience genuine love if all of the past hurts and offenses were not brought up and dealt with through repentance, confession, and forgiveness. Of course she’s right on many levels—true love and friendship requires that we tear down those walls and root out those hurts and angry demands for vengeance or punishment. (This is a lot of what my pastor and I do in our marital mediation cases.)

However, I can’t imagine that these conversations have been anything other than depressing, discouraging, and probably very, very ugly. Why? Well … for one thing, it seems as though your friend (like all of us) has some aspects of her life that are not secure in Christ. Rather than needing Christ alone; she believes that she needs her parents’ love and her parents to treat her well. This means she is living (at least in part) for a good relationship with her parents. To the extent she is investing her hope, confidence and emotions in a good relationship with her parents—rather than in Christ alone—she really seems to be manifesting a heart of wrong (idolatrous) worship. (“If only my parents would love me and stop being so mean to me, then I would be happy.” Really? I don’t think so! That’s not how God created us. We were created to worship God—not people. Not even our parents.)

In addition, it sure doesn’t sound like her parents are very godly, Spirit-directed, biblically astute, wise, generous, loving, mature people. But boy your friend really wants to have a great relationship with parents who are all of those things. But here’s the thing that I really, really, really encourage your friend to just embrace … it’s never going to happen.

Ok, Ok, I’m not God, so of course, I can’t say for sure. But barring a miracle, your friend is never going to have a loving relationship with her parents. It’s just not the family situation God (in his perfect, loving, mercy and care) has apparently ordained for her.

From her parents’ perspective, “everything is her fault.” Yup. “They are never going to hear what she says.” Sure sounds like it. Is this sad? Absolutely! Should she grieve this? You bet. But I truly encourage you to help her to let it go. Grieve but stop pining away for something that is never going to happen.

“In as much as it depends on her” – she is called to live at “peace” with her parents (Romans 12). But she has neither the power nor the authority to change them. And it sounds like she’s been making herself miserable trying to get them to understand her position so that they can be “reconciled.” Again, barring some amazing miracle, I just can’t imagine that this will ever happen in this life. (I will mention that if they are professing Christians and members of a biblically-faithful church, there may be trained mediators and/or ordained leaders who could help. But it sure doesn’t sound like her parents would be open to such a thing.)

Regardless of what her parents do or don’t do, from the security of right worship of God, basking in His grace toward her, trusting in His sovereignty and goodness, your friend can move toward her parents in a new way … needing nothing from them, putting no “good” expectations on them (in fact, expecting them to be cruel and insensitive to her), but blessing them and doing acts of charity and mercy to them anyway.

She is called to love her enemies—who happen to be her parents. (Our closest “enemies” are often are family members—husbands, children, parents—aren’t they?) Not judging them—but instead trusting that either they will suffer the torment of Hell for eternity for their sins OR that Christ’s suffering on the cross and descent into Hell covers their sins. In either case, it is enough. She does not have to poison her heart and soul and mind and life for one more minute over her parents. A) It’s just not worth it; and B) It doesn’t change anything anyway.

Of course I need to point out that being kind and merciful toward “abusive” and mean people can look like different things in different situations. And I do not mean to imply that she is going to be called to sit there for hour after hour while they heap unkind and cruel words on her. She may need to confess her sins to them. She may need to share Christ with them. At times, she may sit through their barrage of meanness.

At other times, it might be OK to (gently, lovingly, humbly, mercifully) say something like, “Mom, Dad, I love you. And I want to have a relationship with you. But right now you are saying some words to me that are not redemptive and I can’t see how this will help us to love God or love one another. So I’m going to go ahead and go now—but I want you to know that I love you and I’m praying for you. OK. Bye-bye.”

But she’s no longer furious at them. She doesn’t leave condemned by their rejection of her. She is not “destroyed.” In fact, she moves on in her day the exact way that she was before their cruelty—secure in God. Secure in Christ. Heart fixed on eternity. Walking her pilgrim days on earth with faith and hope.

(And when she’s too tired or weak to do this, her friends in the Body come alongside of her and carry her for awhile. Just like our home is always open to you my friend.)

I hope this email is even a tiny blessing to you (and to her!). If she’s a visual learner, she could also watch a keynote I did at a Peacemaker Conference a few years ago that I think would be particularly on point to her life situation:

Thanks again for writing! I love you, my friend! So very sorry for your friend’s suffering.

Yours,
Tara B.

The Very People We Are Called to Serve Will Break our Hearts

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“If our ultimate motivation for service to God is simply because we love people, we will never be able to sustain the call to service that God has given to us because the very people we are called to serve will break our hearts.  It is only the grace of Christ that enables us to persevere.” J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church

Church is a Band of Natural Enemies

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Just a few scratchings from one of my many listenings of Pastor Tim Keller’s sermon, The Community of Jesus (taken from Luke 6:12-36). This is a sermon that is worth listening to more than once …

Why do we have the law of God?
To find law and be saved? NO.

Exodus shows that is impossible.
God does not give them the law and then save them from slavery.
He saves them and then gives them the law.

So, if God has already saved them from slavery, why did he give them the law?
Because He is going to make us into a people; a true human community. A new human community.

(It’s as though God is saying …) The reason why human community has unraveled everywhere; the reason individuals are at war with individuals and families are at war with families and nations are at war with nations; the reason all of that is happening is because when your relationship with me unraveled, all other relationships unraveled. And when a relationship with me is restored, that restores all other human relationships. And therefore, I am creating a community in which we show the world that if you restore relationship with me, all of the unraveling is woven again together into a fabric.

I’m going to show that when you relate with me you are brought into a new human community …

… So …

BE PATIENT

The reason there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other other Christians is because the church is not made up of natural friends, but natural enemies.

What binds us together is not common—race, accents, nationality, job, education, etc.
Christians come together not because they form a natural convocation; but because Jesus died for them.

Church is a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

Be patient.
We need it.
Jesus gives us the power for it.

How DARE the pastor say that I shouldn’t take communion! Just because I’m in this big fight with someone in my church? How dare he! (Or. Dare he not?)

fencing the table

I always enjoy Dave’s posts over at our Redeeming Church Conflicts.com site. But this post was particularly challenging and edifying for me:

Fencing Over Fights

I hope you will click through and read the entire post, but for a quick summary, let me just say that Dave reminds us all of the seriousness of coming to the Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner; especially the warning in Matthew 5:23-24 concerning partaking in corporate worship before making any effort to reconcile broken relationships. He then responds to the people who were, shall we say, not pleased with this “fencing” of the Table when it happened recently at his church.

One reason why I think this post was particularly meaningful for me is because I spent my early years in churches that never taught this to me and thus, I have many memories of people (including myself!) taking communion while harboring bitterness and resentment in their hearts towards one another. What a mockery of the Cross! Jesus died to save us from our sin and make us his adopted children; he kisses us through His Supper to grow us all up into him, our Head. And we respond with cursing, gossip, slander, and bitterness? This is surely not the way it’s supposed to be. (And the human wreckage in these churches was great—”friends” who walk away from one another; marriages ending in divorce; even one of my churches splitting due to unresolved conflict. None of this pointing to Christ and glorifying the justice and mercy of God.)

Thankfully, I am now a member of a church that fences the table rightly. And thus, pretty much every time we  share the Lord’s Supper, you see people abstaining. Holding back. Letting the elements pass. It is a normal thing in the culture of our church and if it is noticed, it is only a further call to pray. We pray for our own hearts (when we are the ones caught in bitterness and refusing to even try to be reconciled).  We pray for wise and experienced peacemakers (laypeople and leaders) who are undoubtedly helping in the process. And we pray for “the unity of the saints through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3); that the testimony of our lives would clearly demonstrate to a watching world that we are the Lord’s disciples:

Oh! Those Christians! Look at how they forgive and love one another!

May this be true in all of our churches.

In Christ Our Only Hope,
Tara B.

PS
If you haven’t re-read Bonhoeffer’s Life Together in awhile, I encourage you to do so. Chapter 5 (“Confession and Communion”) is alone worth the price of the book. Spurgeon also has a sermon that is worth the read (doesn’t he always?): Fencing the Table. The Spuurgeon paragraph most on point to this post (my emphasis added) is:

And, dear friends, once more, there is a necessity for us to examine ourselves, because we must know that there are, among us, some who are, doubtless, partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily. We have known, to our great sorrow, of some who have been harbouring an unforgiving spirit, yet who have dared to come to the communion table. When I have really known that this has been the case, I have prevented the wrongdoer from sitting down with us; but, unknown to me, and to other ministers, it must often have happened that persons have come, professing to be Christians, yet all the while not manifesting the true spirit of Christianity toward some offending brother or sister. You remember how even the loving apostle John writes, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

PPS
In full disclosure, I found the link to the Spurgeon sermon and the wonderful graphic at the top of this post on JoeThorn.net. I do not know Pastor Thorn personally, but I am in a writer’s group with his (delightful! wise!) wife. I hope you check out his blog—especially if you are one of my many Baptist friends. I think you would enjoy his “byte-sized experiential theology” very much.

(Still) Recovering from a Lifetime of Disordered Eating

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[This is an updated version of a 2013 post ...]

I have lived for ten+ years now as an obese woman. (With a sweet couple of years in there of making some progress on my spiritual and physical health goals … but then, as is so often the case, losing ground very rapidly. Bummer.)

It’s a very strange thing for me to be so overweight. I didn’t used to be. But most of my current friends have no other picture in their mind of me. And with each passing year, I feel the painful consequences of my unhealthy choices more and more. I also continue to be in the battle of faith’s fight against sin and I am grateful for the blessed consequences of wise choices too.

There are so many things I wish I could discuss at length about this topic (and maybe I will one day), but in the few moments I have this morning, here are just a few thoughts:

  1. I always pray for overweight people who are doing active things–walking, exercising at the gym, riding a bicycle–because I know how hard that must be for them to do. It’s hard to exercise when you are in shape—it’s even harder when you are out of shape. And so I pray. And when I know the person, I also look for intentional ways to encourage and bless them; to cheer them on and build them up because I know the sting of a critical word and I know the sweetness of genuine kindness too. And I want to always be kind.
  2. I would love for some brilliant biblical counselor/CCEF person to write about the role spouses and good friends play when the person they love so dearly struggles with weight gain / disordered eating / lack of health. What a difficult issue! To a very important extent, we must never judge our spouse or friend by worldly standards of “thinness” and “beauty.” At the same time, when we see destructive, enslaving sin happening in the life of someone we love, we have a duty to help to rescue them. And trust me—it is a lot easier to help someone to get on top of a ten or twenty pound weight gain than it is to help them to recover from a 100+ pound weight gain. So what does wisdom combined with love look like in this situation?
  3. Unless you take the time to get to know me, you don’t know me. And if you judge me based on externals and then try to “speak truth” into my life, you may give me the exact opposite of what I need at that time. For example, I may be on the downswing of weight: losing pounds, getting thinner, looking so much “better.” How do you respond? Do you praise me and ooh-and-aah over me and gush about how disciplined I am being and how Jesus is giving me the victory? Careful! What if I am giving myself over to bulimic or anorexic behaviors? Poisoning myself by misusing medicines? Living every day enslaved by my food journal / “weigh-in” / exact calorie count? Does weight loss always equal victory, wisdom, and right worship? By no means! And what if I am giant/huge/you see me and cringe and gracelessly criticize me in my stupid stretchy black pants that are the only things I can fit in right now? What if you confront me and rebuke me? But during that season, I am for the first time in years, eating nutritious food with people (not compulsively in hiding), in moderation and I’m actually exercising daily all while delighting in Christ alone, being washed in His Word and fed by His sacraments? What if I weigh 100+ pounds more than a strong and healthy weight, but that is actually a huge victory because I used to weight 200+ pounds more than a strong and healthy weight? 

These are complex issues, aren’t they?

Sure, there are seemingly obvious answers like, “Eat less!” and “Exercise more!” And for the vast majority of those of us who are unhealthy in our morbid obesity, we probably should eat less and exercise more. That is wisdom and good stewardship! But for most of us, there are also far deeper issues that touch on giant, gaping holes in our spiritual health—damage that has been done to us and damage that we have done ourselves; life in a fallen world; spiritual warfare. To ignore those foundational issues (while only focusing on the surface issues) is like laying down a clean carpet on rotting floorboards. It might get you through a hastily convened dinner party or your 25th High School reunion … but ultimately, it will never last.

So, yes. I continue to be in the battle. Yes, some of my choices are simple choices of wisdom and obedience. But also? I am acknowledging and facing things from decades of pain and shame and hurt. I am seeing ties between my thinking and believing and behaving that I have never seen before. Some of these insights require feeling and grieving and believing and hoping with the confident, biblical hope that we can have in Christ that all of the promises of God really are “Yes!” in Him. So I need to eat less and exercise more—I do! But I also need to remember and repent and believe.

God is at work. I am growing. And I am loved, even while I am in process on this lifetime journey of sanctification.

I wonder: Do the overweight people in your life know this is true of them too? Can you say with confidence that your spouse, parent, child, pastor, friend knows that you are for them even as they tackle / run away from / enjoy blessed growth in this painful, exhausting, oft’ shameful issue of weight gain and weight loss and peace with food? Do they know you love them because you pray for them and encourage them and yes, as appropriate, redemptively confront and advise them? Are they more than just “fat” to you? Do you remember their gifts and beauty and seek out their counsel? Or do you write them off entirely because they have this particular public struggle? Are you reinforcing the worldly messages that only rejoice in external “beauty”? Even if that beauty is enslaving them to a number on the scale and a size in their closet? Or are you a voice for truth and light and loveliness and real beauty?

Sometimes, as I talk withh my children about this particular (obvious) struggle I have, I encourage them to think about all of the sins that people struggle with, but that do not have a clear, obvious, external “announcing” of them: pride. Greed. Gossip. A judgmental and critical spirit that keeps a list of wrongs. A divisive spirit that separates brothers. Haughtiness. Lust. What if every single one of those sins announced themselves by layering extra skin and fat cells around peoples’ arms and thighs and gave them double chins? How “beautiful” would those (by worldly standards) “beautiful” people be then?

I’m not happy that I have this struggle. I wish I didn’t. I would appreciate your prayers, but probably not a list of things I should “do” to “fix this.” (People give a LOT of unsolicited advice when they find out you are struggling with disordered eating/unhealthy weight gain. Oh oh oh. If only knowledge could fix the problem! But lasting behavioral change requires lasting heart change—and that, my friends, requires the Savior … and a lot of good old fashioned hard work and self-discipline too.)

If you or someone you love struggles with this topic, I hope you will check out my other blogs about disordered affections. In them, I link to a number of articles and sermons that have really helped me and continue to help me.

God bless you!

Remember! You are not alone—
Lots of us struggle to recover from a lifetime of disordered eating.

Sending my love and care,
Tara B.

PS
I think it is particularly telling that people, even confessing Christians, can be so ugly and harsh about this topic. The tweets I have seen from (thin / “beautiful”) twenty-something Christians who spew venom about “fat people” as though those people were not people at all—but just objects to be ridiculed? The harsh judgment over what people eat and how people eat—with no patience, no instruction, no compassion towards those of us who grew up in homes where the only vegetable we ever saw was frozen corn. At Thanksgiving. (True story.) Where potatoes came as flakes in a box and white bread and bologna was amazingly “healthy” and “wonderful” because at least we had some sort of food in the kitchen (rather than the terror of a small child facing an empty fridge and absent parents).

For some of us? Just learning that something called “whole grains” existed in the world is a GIANT growth in wisdom; more or less learning that there are stores called “Health Food Stores.” (I didn’t know that until I was in college.) And then to actually BUY something in one of those fancy-shmancy-bins of LENTILS-everywhere stores? That is HUGE! More or less to learn how to cook it and serve it to our families. To many of you, this is no big deal. But to some of us, it’s like climbing Mt. Everest. We don’t know how. We are not equipped. The lingo scares us. It all feels so overwhelming. So be patient with us, please! Remember that you have weaknesses too. Think about how you would feel if your hidden, enslaving sins were worn on YOUR outsides like ours are. Be a friend. Be a part of the solution, not another face of ugliness and condemnation in our lives. And we will try to be good friends to you too.

PPS
I did not plan to blog on this topic today, but I was spurred on to do so by this a article that Challies linked to. I commend it to you:

Health Food Heresy: When Eating Healthy Becomes Your God

One Indispensable Rule for Everything and Anything Online

social media

Kevin DeYoung is right yet again:

The One Indispensable Rule for Using Social Media

(“Oh, be careful little fingers what you type …”)

Remnants of Shame Still Cling to Us—But They are Losing Their Grip

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The number one question I am asked about at my women’s events has to do with shame–that pervasive sense of non-good-enough-ness that keeps us always feeling on the “out”—not safe, not accepted, not wanted, not … loved.

Rich, poor; urban, rural; formal education, no formal education—many Christian women struggle with feeling not-good-enough–at work, in the home, with their extended families, in the quietness of their own hearts. They feel like they don’t fit in. There is no safe place for them. If they were ever vulnerable enough to let someone see their “real selves,” women who struggle with shame feel that they would be evaluated and judged with a resounding: Not. Good. Enough.  

It is because this struggle is so pervasive among Christian women that we have a chapter on Shame in the “Conflicts Within” section of our book, Peacemaking Women. It is also why I was so happy to pray for (and financially support) CCEF for years as Dr. Ed Welch worked on his manuscript on this very topic: Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection.

This is a wonderful book.

“Shame Interrupted” captures the heart of a shame-based person so fluently that it is easy to forget that its author is a professional counselor and theologian. He writes more like a friend and fellow sufferer. I think that is why I have always been so profoundly helped by his books—I never feel like he is talking down to me. (“Here is this great wisdom that I know that you don’t. Receive it. Learn it. Be like me.”) No. Whether the topic is depression, addiction, brain disorders, or fear, Dr. Welch writes with humility, humanness, and a stalwart confidence in the reality of God’s saving, adopting, sanctifying, and one day glorifying, grace.

If you or someone you know struggles with often feeling “not-good-enough”, I hope you will order a copy today. To tempt you to do so, I will leave you with a few of my (random!) notes from my first reading of this book back in 2012 when I endorsed it.

(These are just rough notes—please attribute any strange or confusing language to me and any pearls of wisdom to Dr. Welch.)

Remember! You are not alone.

And you are most definitely, definitely loved

Your friend,
Tara B.

THE LANGUAGE OF SHAME

I am apparently unworthy of love. Real love.
Even the people who claim to love me kick me out. Call me a nuisance.
Can’t stand to be around me because there is something so fundamentally flawed about me—
That I am unacceptable. Bad.

Not because of what I do or say.
(Sin? Guilt? For that I know I can be forgiven! But what about this ill-defined gray blob of …
just me being me and my “just me” being worthy only of rejection?)

Forgiveness speaks to guilt. Great!
But shame is unmoved by forgiveness. 

Like some sort of B-movie horror-show antagonist monster—
People turn away from me and keep me at arms-length.
I am hideous. Scary. Annoying. Overwhelming.

Too Much Tara = Too Much Badness

Interestingly, a lot of the people who judge me most harshly have never even gotten to know me
Never spent one minute with my children and me
Yet they point a finger and say, “Bad Mom!”

(And I can only chuckle and replay The Cross and Criticism in my mind and think,
“If only you knew half the truth! I’m far, far worse than even your graceless evaluation.”)

Still. When line after line of my weaknesses and failures is listed out …
Page after page …
Not metaphorically, but actually written down, by hand or typed up, on paper …

  • As a child (“See, dear, that’s why you can’t live with me any more—you’re too difficult. Get out!“)
  • A pre-conversion teenager living with friends for a few weeks (“We thought we could help/fix you but you’re too much of a mess. (Read list of Tara Badness). You’re bringing down our whole family. GET OUT!”)
  • A short-term missions team member (“See, Tara, here is this actual list—two pages, double-sided—of all of your badness and things you need to FIX. Oh. And here is Matthew 18 too so you can see that this is exactly how JESUS says we are to treat one another.” And the well-meaning baby Christian teenager says, “Huh?! This is how Jesus says we are to treat one another?”)
  • A group of friends in high school explaining why I wasn’t invited to the “cool kids” party (“We love you, Tara, but you’re just too annoying. If you could stop doing THIS and start doing THAT, then we could maybe bear to be around you.”)
  • The dorm room buddy who WANTED to live with me right up until the minute she DIDN’T want to live with me (because I was too, well, ME). One day, she read me an actual list of Tara’s annoyances and the next day she moved out. Yup. That’s friendship for ya!
  • OK. One list was verbal—flung out of a car door window when my best friend in college, without warning, said, “You are just TOO HARD TO BE AROUND, Tara. I love you. But I never want to have any contact from you ever again.” My. Best. Friend. (Or so I thought.) No warning. No Spidey-Sense-Tingling-I’ve-Upset-Someone foreboding of conflict brewing. Just a list. A pronouncement. Tara = Bad. Then complete radio silence. (Well, for 25 years—and then, YAY! YAY! YAY! We were reconciled! One of my most blessed moments in all of life.)

(As an aside, I cannot tell you how tired this makes me to this of all of this. But thankfully, at least, my husband has never made such a list. Not yet and I know not ever, because that’s the kind of man he is. I bet a lot of people wish they could say that about their spouse.)

Still. Shame and rejection sure make it hard to risk, to be vulnerable, and to love. Every time I’m suckerpunched, my instinct is to stay permanently in a defensive crouch, better prepared for the next blow. But that’s not living! And that’s not loving! So I grieve and wail and mourn and try again.

But when my rejection begins to bleed out onto people I love and suddenly THEY are rejected too? Oh man. A truly terrifying death knell that has slowly rung deep in my soul for my entire sentient life starts to grow louder and stronger … this the one dark thought tries to claw itself to the surface of my consciousness and rule my life:

Tara? The lives of the people around you would be better off without you.
Because that’s how bad you really are.

OK. So now we’re in it. In the battle. A lie, clearly from the pit of Hell, fed by the confusions and delusions of my Old Man, nursed by the world and by Christians acting like the world …

To that horrible, deceiving lie that the people I love would be better off without me?
I whisper back with enough strength to win the day: There is a way to be cleansed from shame.

God identifies shame. God experienced shame.
I am not alone.

Through Jesus, there is a way out of shame.
The unclean become clean.
The clean become holy.
The naked are clothed in royal garments.
The outcasts are accepted as children of the honored King.

Contempt says: ‘Stay away from me. I will not even deign to look you in the eye more or less speak directly to you. You are too far gone. Too bad. Too scary. Too annoying. Too unworthy.’

Jesus says: ‘Come to me all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’

I pray: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (He is! He does!) And then he goes even further! He not only saves us and cleanses us, he adopts us as his beloved: ‘See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.’ (1 John 3:1)

The remnants of shame still cling to us, but they are losing their grip.
Adoption is the answer for shame.

People ignore, attack, and discard us. We are the targets of anger, which is almost always demeaning. We are discouraged when people don’t care about us or remember us—but we survive. Why? How? Because we know …

We are chosen. Wanted. Loved.
We are growing.
And one day, there will be no more shame.

Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen.

Who Wants to Mutter Something Stupid at Such a Difficult Time?

fog tree

Today, I tried to reach out to a friend who is suffering. I felt pretty klutzy doing it. I had no idea what to say! And I really kinda just wanted to hang back and say nothing until things were more normal and “settled.” But then I remembered another classic CCEF article (this one by Ed Welch) and after re-reading it, I went ahead and did my best to reach out in love. I’m glad I did.

Here is the article:

Moving Toward People

And here are just a few of my favorite excerpts:

“Consider someone who is going through suffering. Let’s say the suffering is especially difficult – a chronic and dangerous disease in a child, rejection by a suitor, betrayal by a spouse, or a spouse’s death. Here’s the ironic thing. The more severe the suffering the more we feel like we have no words to offer, and when we don’t know what to say—we say nothing. After all, who wants to mutter something stupid at such a difficult time? But when we bring God’s way of pursuing, God’s way of moving toward into the picture, we will find ourselves, right there, in front of the suffering person.

“I just want you to know that you are on my heart. I’m very sorry.”

There you go. If God gives you grace to move toward others he will also give you a few words that will be more precious to the grieving person than you think.”

And one more snippet that is so often on point to our relational conflicts:

“Say you have a fractured relationship with someone. Maybe the other person wronged you, maybe you wronged the other person, maybe it was a complicated misunderstanding that included hurt feelings all around. Whatever its origin, our response needs to be the same: move toward (e.g. Matthew 5:23-24).

But it’s hard to do, isn’t it? I know, because I struggle too. I hate to admit this, but when I have a conflict with someone outside my immediate family, my natural instincts are to let the tension blow over and let a little formality and coolness settle into the relationship. No moving toward there. Even with family members, a.k.a., my wife, I prefer to let her take the initiative, confess her many egregious sins, and propose a long-term strategy for restitution, or something like that.

My instincts, of course, are wretched. When in doubt, I need to move toward others and have confession of my sin lead the way. The process is hard but great and God always shows up to help when our hearts line up with him.”

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