Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Listen to the series "Healing from Life's Hurts."

Leslie Basham: Here’s Heather Nelson.

Heather Nelson: As we are set free from the power of shame, the grace of Jesus gives us the strength to parent in a different way, to ultimately derive our parenting from God the Father. He is the perfect parent—the only perfect parent.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for Wednesday, July 19, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: The last couple of days, Erin Davis and Heather Nelson have talked about how common it is for women to be weighted down by a sense of shame, and they’ve been showing us how to find freedom from shame in Christ.

Heather is the author of Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame. And Erin is the lead writer for the Lies Young Women Believe blog sponsored by Revive Our Hearts.

Erin interviewed Heather at a Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, so you’ll hear some conference noises in the background.

Now, today, these women will talk about how to be free from shame in some of your most important relationships. Let’s listen.

Erin Davis: You dedicate a couple of chapters in the book to shame specifically in marriage and specifically in parenting.

I think as image bearers of God, we women are especially drawn to relationships. All social science, even secular social science, tells us that women draw their sense of worth often from our relationships. And what’s more important to women than those two relationships most often?

Maybe it’s because the stakes are so high that we experience so much shame there, but, let’s talk specifically about marriage. It’s this beautiful relationship. It’s a covenant. But it can also be a source of shame—even in good marriages.

Can you give me some examples of how marriage can be a source of shame for a woman?

Heather: I mean, let’s just put that out there. Your marital status, whether it’s single, divorced, widowed, separated—that in and of itself becomes a source of shame, like, “there’s something not quite right with me unless I am married."

And then, secondly, within marriage, there’s a myriad of ways that it can shame you in imperfections that are inherent with marrying a fellow sinner.

Your husband is not going to fulfill all your needs. He’s not going to tell you, “You’re beautiful,” enough for you to really feel beautiful. He’s not going to love and pursue your heart in the way that you were meant to be loved and pursued, which is by a God who loves and pursues all of you all the time. He’s not going to fulfill all the places that we think that marriage should.

And then, that can bring a sense of shame, or be a trigger of shame.

You look at the worst examples in an abusive marriage where a husband takes this place of great intimacy and actually uses it for destruction. In that sense, there’s tremendous shame there because the place that should be your safest human relationship has turned into the place of deepest destruction.

Erin: Yes. I did a book a couple of years ago on loneliness, and one surprise of the research phase of that was how many women told us their marriage was their loneliest sphere. There were women in good marriages that said that and bad marriages, Christian women married to fellow Christians, and Christian women married to unbelievers.

But there was this sense of, “This isn’t meeting all of my needs.” I think another word they could have used (they were saying loneliness because we were asking them that) was shame. “This is an area of my life where I feel some shame.”

You give us some steps to identify shame in your marriage in your book, which I think are really helpful. Could you walk us through those steps?

Heather: Sure. I think the first steps is to acknowledge that shame is an unwelcomed guest in your marriage. If we all struggle with shame, then that means you have areas of shame in your life, and your husband has areas of shame in his life. So there will be shame in different places in your marriage.

Secondly is to own the ways that you have shamed your husband, that you have shamed your spouse.

And, third is to join your spouse to be part of shame’s healing. And I would say, a corollary to steps two and three is to gently talk about with your spouse, “Hey, here are some ways where you’ve contributed to my shame. And here are places where I want to invite you to join with me to fight shame together.”

Erin: Practically, how do you say, “Shame is not welcomed in this marriage”? Would you say it like that?

Heather: I think so. And maybe you begin by identifying. You’ve got to identify specifics.

Erin: And how do couples do that?

Heather: There’s some great questions you can ask.

Erin: Let’s check them out.

Heather: First of all:

  • Are there some topics that are off limits because you or your spouse get too prickly or defensive or embarrassed?
  • When you share a painful or embarrassing story with your spouse, do you expect empathy? Or would you be more likely to receive further ridicule?
  • Can you talk openly about your failures, past and present?
  • And then, thinking spiritually:
  • Do you confess your sins to one another as needed and as often as sin arises?
  • When there is confession of sin, by either party, is it met with forgiveness? Or is there a sense of, “I need to punish this person first before I forgive them. I’m going to shame them and say, ‘I can’t believe you did that’”? Or is there the forgiveness that Jesus asks of us?
  • When you need to confront sin in your own spouse, are you doing so as a fellow struggler? Or are you doing so from this pedestal of, “I would never struggle with that”?
  • Thinking about this last area of intimacy, being our physical relationship, emotional relationship: How comfortable are you with your sexual relationship? Are you naked and unashamed as the Bible describes marriage sexuality?
  • Do you share your emotions with your husband? And does he share his with you?
  • When conflicts arise between you, can you resolve them? Or do you withdraw indefinitely?
  • Do you share your spiritual life with one another?

I’m not talking about having 30–45 minute devotions every day, although, hey, that’s wonderful. But are you able to talk about what God’s doing in your life? Are these areas of open communication, whether it’s spiritually, emotionally, sexually? That’s kind of the summary of all the questions.

And, of course, there’s going to be areas where you’re going to say, “No. We’re not as open as we should be or as I would want us to be.” That’s a great indication that there may be shame at work, and it doesn’t necessarily come from your husband or from you. It could be from whatever’s in their past, whatever’s in your past that is being triggered by your current relationship.

So, simply just beginning to talk about it and to talk about the way that you would like to be closer to one another and what’s getting in the way. That’s going to begin to reap great rewards in your marriage.

Erin: Yes. How does shame specifically erode a marriage?

Heather: It erodes a marriage because it builds walls. Shame always builds the walls of hiding. So you’re going to hide from each other. Before you know it, all you will be able to do with one another is maybe sit in the same room with a book or watch a TV show, but there will be no true intimacy, no true connection. This can go on for years and years and years undetected.

Over the long haul, if you have believed shame’s message about your spouse, which is that he’s not safe, or if he’s believed this about you, that you’re not safe, what marriage do you have at the end of the day?

Erin: Yes. I met a woman once that said that she built walls between her and everyone because it was the only way she could feel safe. But she woke up one day and realized she was alone in these walls. So maybe she was safe, but she was extremely lonely and isolated. So the trade-off was not one that she was ultimately glad that she had made.

I see that tendency a lot in marriages. Either we fight and we fight and we fight, or we withdraw, withdraw, withdraw, withdraw behind those walls, probably to avoid the shame. And the trade-off is an erosion of intimacy.

Heather: Right.

Erin: You also talk about shame-free parenting. Whew! And you asked the question, and I’m very interested in our answer: Is shame-free parenting possible?

Heather: In theory, yes. And then, in reality, no. So, yes, it’s possible in that I think simply being aware of not wanting to use shame in parenting and seeing the ways that it creeps up. Then, yes, we can move towards more shame-free parenting.

No, in the sense that we are fallen, and we need the grace of Jesus for every part of life, including parenting. And that includes shame-free parenting as well.

So, as we’re sinking into the grace that is ours in Jesus, the hope is that we’ll continue to walk more and more away from shame as a tool of parenting.

Erin: How does shame, either our own shame that we carry around internally, or using shaming as parents, ultimately, how does that impact our children?

Heather: It’s pretty scary, actually. And, as a fellow mom, some of the research that I was reading was pretty scary to read about, to hear about how shame is correlative in later portions of life with addictive behavior, with self-harm, even with suicides. It impacts a child emotionally—shame from a parent impacts them emotionally.

If you think about, again, we think about shame as always dividing, dividing, dividing, disconnecting. And so, if you were getting shame from a parent, who is supposed to teach you about connection and be a reflection of God to you, that’s going to communicate something that’s going to be very hard to overcome.

Erin: Yes.

Heather: Now, secular researchers do not factor in grace, the saving grace of Jesus, into what they’re looking at and observing. So, while I’m saying, yes, the shame is incredibly detrimental, it also is not beyond the reach of redemption.

Erin: Yes. Romans 8:28 comes to mind. There’s nothing beyond what He can’t redeem.

I had an incident just this week with my kids. We were at a museum, and I will spare you the details, but we had a toddler potty incident. And my first reaction was, “Why would you do that? Why would you do that?” And then it occurred to me that it was an accident. He’d had an accident. But I think my immediate reaction was to assign some shame. “Why? Why would you do that?”

That was kind of a benign example—there have been less benign examples—but how have you seen that reaction, that tendency to reach with shame as you parent?

Heather: It’s knee-jerk. I hate to say it. Shame is so effective, which is why it’s really tempting for us as parents to use it. Let’s say the kid literally spills the milk for the fourth time at breakfast, and I haven’t had my coffee yet. My reaction is not going to be really awesome at that point. My knee-jerk reaction is going to be, “Well, if you weren’t so stupid or silly or clumsy . . .” We really shame them so they’ll remember that and tomorrow morning not spill the milk again.

That’s a really silly example, but I think there’s other things. Like, if it were my five-year old who I think should be beyond tantrums—but they’re not. They’re still emotional. They still get tired, just like I do.

Erin: I was going to say, I’m not beyond tantrums!

Heather: I’m not beyond tantrums either! And my tantrums can come out in a really shaming way, and I think that’s the sad thing, that we, as parents, me as a mom, tried to get my kids in line and make me look better—particularly with an audience. If I’m in a public place or in front of someone I really want to impress, or in the front row of church, then I’m, like, “Come on, girls, get it together!”

I’ll use whatever it takes at that point, which is not pursuing or loving their hearts, or even shepherding them in the way that I’m called to.

Erin: Yes. There was a trend recently where parents would make their kids wear signs that would say, “I will never break curfew again,” or “I will never sneak out again.” And they’d stand at a roadside, and they’d take pictures.

Heather: Wow!

Erin: I saw some of these online, and something in my gut just churned.

Heather: Yes!

Erin: I realized what it was: While it was probably effective—I doubt if that child broke curfew again after they had to stand at the side of the road. They were using shame as a weapon. And probably what that child heard was, “Troublemaker.”

I see that. I’ve never made my children carry signs, but I’ve assigned that shame unnecessarily. I still carry some shame from my childhood, so I know how it impacts.

You give this really practical step to this question that I love: Do you affirm your love to your child before, during, and after correction as a way to kind of avoid parenting with shame? What that might look like to show your love during a discipline scenario?

Heather: First of all, you have to get your own emotions in control. That’s really hard for me. I have a pretty strong sense of justice, which means that I can get pretty angry pretty quickly when my kids have done something. I’m, like, “This was just wrong, and I can’t believe they were that disrespectful to me or to someone else.”

What I have to do is calm myself down, which for me usually means stepping away from the situation. If I can do so, and my kids are still safe, taking a few deep breaths, praying, and then coming back and saying, “I love you, but I can’t let you keep doing this because I love you.”

Then whatever the correction is, in the middle of that, “I’m doing this because I love you.”

And then afterwards, “You know that I love you, right?”

They’re five. They might say, “I don’t think you do love me.” Okay, but they’re still hearing me say that, and I’m also drawing close to them in the middle of it, and maybe even giving them a big hug. Physical touch and affection is so big for preschoolers and toddlers. And I have to get my anger under control so I can do that.

Erin: Sure. My husband has been great to teach our boys that verse that discipline is tied to love. I never like to watch my children be disciplined, or to discipline them. It always speaks to my heart when he disciplines them, and then he says, “Remember that verse that discipline is tied to love? So why did Daddy discipline you?”

“Because you love me.”

He’s a lot better at that than I am, but in that way, he’s following Christ so well because Christ disciplines me. I don’t like it. It rarely feels good, but it’s rooted in His love. So there’s a great opportunity to teach the Bible when we discipline our kids.

But you hit the nail on the head. We have to have ourselves in check to think with that clarity.

Heather: Yes.

Erin: How does grace play a role in shame-free parenting?

Heather: It’s there all the way through. It’s what, first of all, sets us free from repeating the shame cycles that we’ve inherited from our parents. Ss we are set free from the power of shame, the grace of Jesus gives us the strength to parent in a different way, to ultimately derive our parenting from God the Father. He is the perfect parent—the only perfect parent.

As we’re connected with Him, as we’re walking that out and walking in the strength of the Spirit, that gives us the grace to parent, that gives us the strength to parent in a different way. When we blow it, which we will—or maybe I’m the only one . . .

Erin: No.

Heather: Okay, good.

Erin: There’s at least two of us mamas out there that blow it.

Heather: Thank you for eliminating my shame mess.

So if we blow it—when we blow it—grace reminds us that at the end of the day, our mistakes are not going to determine our kids’ future. They’re not ultimately determinative. Sure, they shape and they influence, but God’s grace can enter at any point.

Grace allows me to go back to my kid and say, “I am sorry. I should not have yelled at you,” or “I shouldn’t have drawn attention to that childish mistake of yours in front of your grandparent.” That kind of thing. To admit that we’re wrong, that takes a lot of grace, and that communicates probably almost as much as the wrong thing in the first place does to a kid.

Erin: The Bible calls it condemnation. We don’t have shame. We don’t have to carry it.

Heather: That’s right.

Erin: My firstborn is an achiever, like firstborns are. He has a tendency to really want to punish himself when he makes a mistake. So we’ve had him memorize a couple of things from Scripture to help combat that shame. One is that verse that tells us that our sins are on the bottom of the ocean.

So when we discipline him, and then we say, “I forgive you. Jesus forgives you.” Then we say, “Where’s your sin?”

And he says, “It’s on the bottom of the ocean.”

And then we say, “Does God have a scuba-diving suit?”

And he says, “No.” So we talk about the fact that God doesn’t go down there and drag it back up. It’s gone.

And the other verse is that our sin is removed as far as the east is from the west. And the way his little brain can get that is that God throws it in one direction, and then He turns and walks in the other direction.

So we’re saying those things a lot because he’s a little guy, much like his mama, that could just be buried under shame because of discipline. When he gets discipline, he hears, “I’m a bad kid.” We’re not saying that, of course.

Heather: Of course.

Erin: So I think there’s some real moments to teach when we discipline. But, again, it takes us being in control of our emotions, which is hard for me.

Nancy: Heather Nelson will be right back to pray with us. She’s been helping us discover how we can be free from guilt and shame that comes when we feel like we’ve disappointed people who are close to us.

Erin Davis recorded this interview at a recent women’s conference, and to follow up on this conversation, I hope you’ll get a copy of Heather’s book, Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame.

If you feel like you can never measure up, or like you’re weighed down with guilt, this book will help you find freedom in Christ. Be sure to ask for it when you call us at 1–800–569–5959, or visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie: Heather Nelson is back to pray with us.

Heather: Father God, I thank You for each woman who’s listening. And I pray, Lord, that first and foremost they would know that Christ came to set them free, that You came to open the bars of the prison to set them free.

And, Lord, in whatever context shame says that it has a hold on them, and we’re thinking specifically of marriage and parenting, Father, free them from that and give them hope, Lord. Give them courage to begin to own and identify the ways that they have shamed their kids, shamed their spouse. And, also, courage to confront the ways that they have been shamed, whether it’s by parents or whether it’s by their husband.

And, Father, give them the hope of grace and the strength of grace, and the reminder of Your Spirit with them to walk in a new direction, whether it looks like a tiny turn in a different direction or whether it’s a grand, huge, big U-turn.

Lord, You are the one that gives us power to change. I pray that that would become their hope to walk away from shame in these realms that are so crucial, Lord, and so formative for our own hearts and the hearts of our families in marriage and parenting. And it’s in the name of Christ that we pray, amen.

Erin: Amen.

Leslie: Do you ever worry that you can’t measure up to God’s standards and win His favor? Tomorrow, learn how to get free from the pressure to be good enough and embrace grace. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

To close this series on shame, we’re going to revisit a program from the archives at Revive Our Hearts. How do you hear the archives? Easy! Just go to ReviveOurHearts.com.

(Series: Healing from Life's Hurt, with Nancy Rach)

Nancy Rach was sexually abused as a child and struggled with feelings of shame. She talked with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about how to be free.

Nancy Rach: Satan wants us to believe it’s our fault and that we shouldn’t say anything because everyone else will think badly of us. We do a lot of talking about: What is shame? And what is guilt?

Guilt is something that is black and white. You’ve violated God’s law, and you can go in and repent of it and be forgiven.

Shame isn’t as black and white. It’s based on models instead of morals. You have an idea in your mind of: What is a good family? Or, what is a good Christian? Or, what is a good girl? And this is what you’re trying to achieve. And anytime you fall short, you beat yourself up.

What you don’t realize is that’s idolatry. You’ve put someone else in control of who you should be, and it’s not what God wanted for you.

Well, I wouldn’t say something to anybody about what happened to me because they might think less of me. And so you carry all that pain and stuff.

We say that it’s like you have a suitcase. You’re on a journey, and you start sticking things into your suitcase. I like to use visuals with my women, and one of them is to help them understand about the things we hide in our hearts.

I take a mason jar. They sell in plant stores these tiny, little—they look like beads—and you stick them in water, and after twelve hours, they hydrate, and they look like marbles in the water. Well, most people use them that way with their plants, and you can see them, and they know they’re there.

What I do is I put them in the jar, and I cram them in after they’ve hydrated. I put the lid on after I’ve put in a little extra water. You don’t see them because the water fills in the cracks around all the little pearls, the marbles, and it refracts the light the same way as the water. So when you look at the jar, it looks clear.

Nancy: It looks like it’s just got water.

Nancy Rach: If you concentrate really hard, you can see them, but you have to be doing that. Most people just glance at it and think, Oh, Nancy’s got a mason jar of water, or Oh, Nancy’s brought vinegar again, and she’s going to trick us.

Nancy: But it’s really full of something else.

Nancy Rach: It’s full of something else.

So to look at the mason jar, I say, “We are like this mason jar. People are looking at us on the outside, and going, ‘Oh, I know exactly who Nancy is. Look, she is this person, and this is how she is.’ But this is really the mask that I show the world because inside, when you take the lid off, I have all of these things that I have been taking my whole life and sticking them in this jar and not dealing with. But the Lord looks at the heart.”

And when I take the lid off, these pearls, or these marbles, are now free, and they continue to suck water, and they start falling out after you take the lid out because there were so many in there. They’re just pushing against each other, and they continue to take on liquid when you take the lid off.

And they’re falling on the table. It's just like, “That’s my heart. I have all those things that I have been hiding, that I haven’t been dealing with.”

Leslie: To hear more from that conversation, look up the series, "Healing from Life’s Hurts,” at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you know forgiveness is real. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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