Tag Archives: shame

Rescue from Relapse

Relapse is without a doubt the most difficult part of recovery.    The pain it causes not only to yourself, but to those who love you, is torturous.   It’s like ripping a scab off of a wound which seemed to be healing nicely.   The shame, guilt and self-hatred which accompany a relapse is suffocating and nearly impossible to silence.

I know this feeling well, and regrettably, all too recently.   If you are anything like me, after a relapse you want to just crawl into a hole and die.   The sense of profound failure is crippling.  It’s impossible to look anyone in the eye.   Edgar Allen Poe’s infamous, incessant, beating heart beneath the floor boards gets louder and louder in my ears and I’m convinced everyone sees me as not just a failure, but a murderer of all that is good and holy.   It’s how I see myself in days and weeks following a relapse.  It’s how I all too easily assume God sees me, too.

That last bit is the worse, and potentially the most debilitating.   In my experience, how we understand God’s relation to ourselves in our highs and our lows, our recovery and our relapses, makes all the difference in how quickly or how slowly (or if ever) we get back on the horse and the road to sanity.

Understanding God as One who is for you, not against you; who is immovable and unconditional in his love towards you, is essential, in my opinion, to rebound from any relapse.   Holding on to this fundamental understanding of God is difficult to do, however, when the accuser of our souls is working overtime to bury us in shame and despair.   Sometimes this accuser’s voice comes through people we’d least expect, those who hold trusted positions in our lives such as family members, pastors, counselors, and friends.    It might sound something like this text I received from a family member just weeks after she learned of my relapse:

My thoughts today are that you should just be done with God.  Obviously he cannot help you.  He is powerless to set you free so why bother with him?  You cannot serve flesh and God simultaneously and you always choose the flesh! So denounce God and then you can continue your life without guilt. Without the struggle.  Seriously.  Your life is a testimony that God is unable to set the captive free so stop the struggle and just give in.

Yuck.  Even typing that out makes me feel like I need a bath.   The accuser, scripture tells us, will often masquerade as an angel of light.   Sometimes we will hear these lies from people we think should know better.   It’s bad enough that these lies are replaying themselves in our heads like a tape on repeat when we relapse.  It’s almost unbearable when they come at us from people we love and who claim to love God and us.

The best way I know how to defeat the enemy is expose it to light.   If you are hearing the voice of the accuser in the midst of relapse – or any struggle – talk about it.   Share your thoughts with trusted friends in recovery.   I am so grateful for my brothers in recovery who heard these words and graciously spoke truth and love over me.   They helped me start the process of letting go of resentment towards those who know no better and speak from their own places of pain and humanity (still working on this!).  They also reminded me that my higher power is not in those words and to seek out what it is he has to say about me.   Words such as these:

Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light (Micah 7:8).

for though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rise again (Prov 24:16).

The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand (Psalm 37:23-24)

The LORD helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you in hope; you give them their food as they need it. When you open your hand, you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing (Psalm 145:14-16).

“Say to them, ‘This is what the LORD says: “‘When people fall down, do they not get up? When someone turns away, do they not return? (Jer. 8:4)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).

There are countless more truths found in Scripture which reveal a God who does not abandon us in our weakness but who, paradoxically, is made strong through them (2 Cor. 12:9-11).

A relapse is never the result of God’s weakness or inability to save us.  It is always a result of our own frailty and powerlessness, revealing wounds we’ve yet to allow the Healer to touch.  It’s an opportunity for us to learn and grow in our walk not just in recovery but in Christ, and an opportunity for saints around us to practice the art of gentle restoration (Gal. 6:1).

I hope someone reading this finds hope in the midst of relapse.  Know that any voice that sounds like condemnation is not from your Father in heaven.   Run to the One who while we were yet sinners – enemies of God – laid down his life for us that we might walk out of our pit and into the light.  He is always ready and willing to help the downtrodden and the poor in spirit.   He does not grow weary in doing good towards us and his thoughts towards you and I today and always are bountiful, infinitely rooted in love, peace, and hope.

Grace and peace,


Jesus heals more than our shame

The convergence of two events this past week – The special called General Conference of the United Methodist Church and the release of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Shameless, A Sexual Reformationhas me thinking a lot lately about how broken we all are.

Everywhere we turn there is sexual brokenness to be found.     The brokenness is found in the big and obvious ways, like the daily stories of sex abuse we learn about both inside and outside the Church, the 97 billion dollar pornography industry, the ever growing sex trafficking industry, the never ending news of adulterous affairs and sexual deviance among everyone from our highest political offices to celebrities to our neighbors.  And, of course, it’s present in more subtle, less obvious ways, like how it’s getting increasingly difficult to find much that is taboo or blush-worth, or how something so commonplace and celebrated is so difficult to discuss with one’s children or peers.

Many among us today survey the scene of brokenness before us and conclude religion is to blame.   Purity culture, they argue, because it uses shame to toe the line, has created the environment where abusive and illicit, secret sex thrives.   Nadia Bolz-Weber wants to bring a sexual reformation to a broken world by relieving us all of our shame around sex.  The purpose of faith, the reason Jesus lived and died and rose again, is so that you and I would no longer live in shame.   So long as you are not hurting yourself or another, eat, drink, copulate, and be merry.

I am no stranger to shame.  As a recovering addict, washed-up pastor, divorced man, mediocre (at best) father, shame has long been the garment I’ve sewn together and hid behind for many years. Wallowing in my shame was both the fuel and the excuse for my addictive behavior.   As debilitating and harmful as shame is, though, there is something far worse:  The sin beneath it.

Shame, which whispered to me that I am a bad person, that I am beyond repair, that I am unworthy of being loved, that I have gone too far, that I would be more useful dead, is the result of some breaking away from God.   It’s genesis is sin.   Prior to Adam and Eve partaking in that which was forbidden, they were naked – laid bare before each other and God – and knew no shame (Gen. 2:25).   But when they sinned against God, taking a bite from something which in their eyes seemed harmless, good, even desirable, they experienced shame.

Imagine telling Adam and Eve that the problem isn’t what you did (disobeyed God) but the feelings you have over what you did.   That might seem absurd, but that is precisely the argument increasingly being made today:   Jesus didn’t die so much for what we have done (disobeyed God) but to free us from the bad feelings we have over what we do.   Because after all, what we do is good (so long as it’s harmless, good, and desirable (like the forbidden fruit)), so you shouldn’t feel ashamed.

Friends, we are being sold a bill of goods.  The enemy of this world, the same one who deceived Adam and Eve, is a master at presenting us with lies wrapped in light (2 Cor. 11:14).   When I was wallowing in my shame I yearned for a God who would alleviate my shame and make me feel better about myself.  Such a God was very attractive to me.   But what I needed most was a God who, with kindness, mercy and love, brought me to the end of myself, showing me that my real problem was a sin problem, not a shame problem.   I needed to cry out like the Apostle Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death!?” (Rom. 7:24-25).

Jesus didn’t live, die and rise again to make us feel better about ourselves (although we will).  He did all of that to make us new (2 Cor. 5:17).   The good news of the gospel is that the chains of sin and death are broken, we are reunited with God our Father, and as heirs of the kingdom we can now walk in the Spirit, not in our flesh, which God knows will lead to more brokenness, more shame.

May God’s holy Church repent of her designs to rid the world of shame and instead redirect our energies to that which God through the Holy Spirit directs his:  convicting the world of sin and leading them to Jesus, the forgiver of sin.   Amen.




I feel so ashamed…

A friend in recovery, who was, like me, once in a professional ministry position, shared with me today how he’s struggling with some feelings of guilt and shame over letting people down whom he once worked with.   I could certainly relate.

If you have ever been a spiritual leader of any sort, the shame that follows a relapse is immense in and of itself.   Add to that the loss of that job, that position, that “calling,” and the knowledge that you’ve disappointed and even hurt so many, and that shame becomes crushing.

As he was speaking an image filled my spirit which I believe was from God.   It was a picture of Jesus’ disciples huddled together in a dark, locked room following his crucifixion.    During these dark days they all fled from the side of their friend.   I could feel their pain and shame over their hiding.   I could hear them saying to each other and to themselves a number of things, such as

  • How could I desert him like that?
  • Was all that time spent with him for nothing?
  • Just weeks ago I felt on top of the world, like my life had purpose and meaning, but now…?
  • I failed miserably.  I’m obviously not meant to be part of anything important in the way Jesus was.
  • He picked the wrong person to be his friend
  • I’m a bad person

I’ve felt all of these things over the past few years.   These feelings still creep up on me from time to time, as they did my friend this morning.    Perhaps you feel them, too.

But do you remember what happens in that room full of doubt and fear and shame?   Jesus appears to these huddled together and his first words to them all are

Peace be with you.

Peace.  God comes to them, and to you and I and my friend this morning, and says “Peace.”   He knows very well all they and we have done and his greatest desire for us at the time of our greatest distress and shame is that we know peace.

And then, because he knows we may have misheard or misunderstood or mistrust his intent, he says it again.   But he adds something just as extraordinary:

Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.

What’s that, Jesus?   I’m sitting here in a dark room, locked away from the outside, ashamed of myself and my behavior, fearful that others will find me and expose me for the fraud I am, and fully aware of how at your greatest hour of need I scattered to save myself, and you still want me on your team?   You still see me as part of your Father’s plan?

I can’t comprehend the lavishness and indiscriminate grace of God most of the time but I am making progress when I can rest in it or be reminded of it some of the time.    This morning, because of a friend sharing his shame with me over the phone, I got a glimpse of it again and wanted to write it down.

Peace be with you.



One Whom Jesus Loved

This excerpt from Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child is worth reading over and over and over until it gets inside us.  The context of this piece is Manning describing a retreat where he spent 5 days in John’s gospel and was struck by how the disciple came to know himself as the one whom Jesus loved.   Manning wonders what would happen if we became absorbed by that fact and allowed it to be our identity – one whom Jesus loved.   How would that change the way we approach Him, particularly when we fail?

Peter, the denier of Jesus, a failure as a friend in the hour of crisis, a coward in his soul before the servant-girl in the courtyard, jumped into the water almost naked once John told him Jesus was on shore.  “At these words ‘It is the Lord,’ Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water” (John 21:7).  John notes that the boat was about a hundred yards offshore.

These biblical characters, however clean or tawdry their personal histories may have been, are not paralyzed by the past in their present response to Jesus.  Tossing aside self-consciousness they ran, clung, jumped, and raced to Him.  Peter denied Him and deserted Him, but he was not afraid of Him.

Suppose for a moment that in a flash of insight you discovered that all your motives for ministry were essentially egocentric, or suppose that last night you got drunk and committed adultery, or suppose that you failed to respond to a cry for help and the person committed suicide.  What would you do?

Would guilt, self-condemnation, and self-hatred consume you, or would you jump into the water and swim a hundred yards at breakneck speed toward Jesus?  Haunted by feelings of unworthiness, would you allow the darkness to overcome you or would you let Jesus be who He is – a Savior of boundless compassion and infinite patience, a Lover who keeps no score of our wrongs?


God loves you, but doesn’t like you

My last post was a review of The Shack.  I share how the movie spoke to me as a recovering addict, particularly how it addressed two things I have trouble believing about God, one of which is accepting that God loves me, just as I am, not some future, “better” version of myself.

Most of the feedback I got was positive.   A few wanted to argue the theology of the book or movie.  And one comment broke my heart and revealed what I really mean to say when I say I struggle with accepting God’s love.   He wrote,

“God loves me completely just as I am” does not mean that God likes you.

I responded by thanking him for his encouraging words and added, “God loves you, but doesn’t like you” would make a great bumper sticker.

My sarcasm was meant to shield me from being vulnerable.  It was meant to protect me from saying the truth which would sound like this:

You know, much of my life I have believed that God doesn’t like me.  It’s hard to imagine why He would.

See, it’s easier for me to accept that God loves me because it has been ingrained in me that this is God’s job.  It’s what God does.   I often imagine God loving me with the same enthusiasm with which I wake up on Mondays.   God can be expected to show up on time and put in a good day’s work because, well, He’s God.   God is supposed to love everyone.

But no one ever told me that God likes me.

Think about it with me.  How many times have you heard it said, either directly or implied, that as Christians we are called to love everyone but it doesn’t mean we have to like them?  I have heard countless messages about how I’m called to love my neighbor but it doesn’t mean I have to have them over for dinner, or go to a movie with them, or for that matter even acknowledge their existence.   Just love them in my heart (what does that even mean?).

So should it come as any surprise that I assume this is how God views me?   God loves me, but that doesn’t mean he wants to have dinner with me.  God loves me, but that doesn’t mean he wants to hang out at Starbucks and listen to my fears about the day.  God loves me, but he never laughs at my jokes.

The stranger who told me that God doesn’t like me in response to my movie review unwittingly revealed to me what is at the root of my biggest hangup.   In my heart of hearts I don’t believe that God likes me.

Why do I have a hard time accepting that God likes me?  My addiction makes it hard to believe anyone could like me.   Especially after a relapse or a slip.  In those dark moments I don’t even like myself.  In fact, I hate myself.   It’s hard to imagine that when I am at my lowest that God would want to laugh at my jokes or share a coffee with me.

But God not liking me is a lie, straight from the mouth of the enemy who loves to accuse me and keep me entombed in shame.  

When I read the gospels I am met by a God who seemed to not only love sinners but actually liked being with them!  Jesus appears to prefer hanging out with messes like me, those of us who are poor in spirit, more so than those who have no trouble believing – whether it be because of their good fortune, their perfect church attendance, their superior morality – that God likes them.   Jesus actively sought out those who believed they had good reasons to doubt God loved them, let alone liked them, and befriended them.

Matthew’s gospel tells us the Son of Man came eating and drinking and those who prided themselves as God’s favorite teammates derided him, saying “He’s a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19).   Apparently Jesus liked hanging out with sinners so much that it offended the church folk of his day who, like us today,  loved the sinners but hated the sin.

Perhaps it was in the actual liking of sinners that set Jesus apart from all the others who merely “loved them in their hearts.”   And even knowing it would get him killed, he kept liking them anyways, to the very end.

I think Jesus would pick the addicts first- sober or not – to be on his dodge ball team. I think Jesus would choose to have coffee with a codependent and hang on his or her every word.  I think Jesus would give a prostitute a rose and tell her how beautiful she is before embracing her in a hug.   I think Jesus would love taking a walk with anyone depressed and start skipping rocks over the pond.   I think Jesus would have us all over for dinner and laugh at our jokes and tell some of his own.  I bet he’d be the last to fall asleep.

It’s important for me to get to a place where I can believe that God doesn’t just love me, but likes me.  God is, has always been, and will always be, my closest, truest friend.  It’s important because when I stumble and fall, I won’t run to the person who I believe loves me because it’s their job to do so.  I’ll run to the one I believe likes me and whom I believe missed me while I was absent.

I’ll close with a question from Brennan Manning, from his wonderful book Abba’s Child, which is teaching me a lot about how much my Daddy in heaven likes me.  He writes,

How would you respond if I asked you this question: “Do you really believe God likes you, not just loves you because theologically God has to love you?” If you could answer with gut-level honesty, “Oh, yes, my Abba is very fond of me,” you would experience a serene compassion for yourself that approximates the meaning of tenderness.

I want to get to a place where I can answer that way.   By God’s grace, I believe I’m on the right path.  What about you?