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healing shame in the thoughts of a grown up kingdom kid

Updated: May 30

Editor's note: This article is reprinted, with the author's permission, from Women's Today International. Lauren is a member of the Dallas Church, I happen to know her very well, and am so proud of her for telling her story. She also exemplifies the heart of being Biblically Resilient. Many people wrestle today with anxiety or other mental health issues, and Lauren's story shows us not simply how much we need to take seriously those struggles, but also the kind of freedom that can come as a result of using God's word as the foundation for processing our thoughts, experiences and emotions.


Daren Overstreet



Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.


What a beautiful, yet challenging Scripture! To take my thoughts, and make a choice to change them, did not come easily for this kingdom kid. Before diving into the challenge of this Scripture in Philippians, I want to define what I mean when I say, “kingdom kid.” It was (and probably still is) a term used for us “kids” who have grown up surrounded by the kingdom of God, whether through our parents or someone else. If you wanted the poster child of a kingdom kid, I fit the requirements: I went to every church camp, every teen retreat, every conference, and even a HOPE Youth Corps here and there. I grew up in a household of deep faith with two incredible parents who loved God, and my little sister and I grew up knowing about God and watching our parents genuinely live out the Scriptures. 

 

“I am inherently flawed”

I have always felt things very deeply and would describe myself as a sensitive person. At an early age, I must have learned to deem this part of me as “bad,” since it led me to act out, and thus began the cycle of shame that I’ve only recently begun to unlearn. Shame, which is different from guilt, tells me I am bad. I am unworthy. I am a mess. I am not a good disciple right now. I am so fake. I am too sensitive… I am… (fill in the blank). Do you ever notice how easy it is to get up in front of your brothers and sisters at church to talk about communion and the cross and easily exclaim how wretched you are? “Look who I am without God! I’m a hot mess!” How easy it was for me to dwell on the things that are “bad” or “sinful” about me, as if dwelling on those shameful thoughts would allow me to atone and finally “repent.”


Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform to the pattern of this world,but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will.”


For the last three years, God’s gentle hand has been guiding me through one of the most transformative times in my faith. I want to call attention to the word “gentle” because this was not something I believed about God’s character as I wrestled with him in my mid-to-late twenties. To be honest, I was so deep in my own shame, that I expected God to beat me into submission with rebuking and correction. What a terrifying way to live! And yet, this was what my walk as a disciple had become – a never-ending spiral of shame that existed within my thoughts. 

 

How could a spiral of shame exist when I had grown up surrounded by the kingdom of God? Wasn’t life and faith supposed to be easier under this privilege? Unfortunately, I’ve had to come to terms that life isn’t easy, even if you’re a kingdom kid. During my early twenties, it was easy to place blame on where I was at spiritually on others around me – my church leaders, my ministry, my friends, anything and anyone that had said a hurtful word to me in the past fourteen years. In reality, I was keeping myself in this “woe is me” mentality, and then beating myself up for playing the victim. It was a lose-lose situation, but when you’re in the midst of a shame spiral, everything is so distorted that finding healing feels impossible, so you begin to look for it elsewhere. 

 

The beginning of healing

 

The beginning of my story to healing began in January of 2020 when anxiety began to loom over me every Sunday on my way to church. I was really wrestling with my faith and who God was. I had made sinful mistakes, I had suffered through some intense and hurtful conversations with other disciples over the years, and I just felt alone in my struggle to see God and trust the kingdom. Without really being conscious of it, I was waiting for this imaginary “ball” to drop, where my heart would be exposed to the world and to my church family. I truly believed that I was inherently not good (a classic shameful thought) and if my church found out that I was struggling in my faith, I would get kicked out. Even though shame was hurting me, it was also this prison that I felt like I had to keep myself in so that I could atone for my imperfection and my perceived inauthenticity as a disciple. This shame spiral that began in my early teen years had, unbeknownst to me, turned into a constant battle to prove to God I was worthy of his sacrifice. 


Philippians 4:8 dives right into our thoughts. Romans 12:2 calls us to renew our mind. Why does God even bother with our thoughts? I know for me, I used to believe that my actions were what were going to get me to heaven, not my thoughts. I can go back through most of my teen years and pick out pivotal moments where I was discipled or rebuked harshly for something I had “done” or “said.” There were times where I was hurt by a leader assuming my intentions. There were times where my sisters in Christ gossiped about me or left me out. There were times where I was sternly talked to about my modesty, when I was trying really hard to be wise with the body God had given me. But there were most certainly times where I also did and said these same things to my fellow Christians. Maybe I’m not alone in these experiences. For a long time, my thoughts surrounding these memories were filled with deep emotion. How could I think about what was lovely when those who were in the kingdom could hurt me? How could I think about excellent things when I lived in constant fear of being rebuked? 


To be honest, how does one stay faithful to God when their view of him and themselves is distorted by shame? 


This is where I see God’s gentle hand in my life over the last three years. For the last five years, I served as a high school teacher in Texas. In the beginning of this journey to renew my mind, I thought that my job was what was contributing to my anxiety. I began to seek professional counseling in September of 2020, after I was required to return to work in-person (we had gone virtual the year before due to the Covid-19 pandemic). I was balancing my young marriage, teaching my high-school classes of teenagers virtually and in-person, and now suddenly comes a fear of attending meetings of the body. I remember asking my counselor at my first session to help me understand my thoughts (the Holy Spirit must have a wonderful sense of humor – Philippians 4:8, anyone?). I remember telling her that I just wanted to be real, but I still thought that this was something that would only be fixed by “doing” and “saying,” rather than thinking. I felt like confessing all my sins and thoughts to this person who didn’t know me or go to church with me would allow me to finally be the disciple God wanted me to be. God used my counselor to begin my healing process through showing me the weeds of shame that existed in my brain.


When my counselor started having me dive into my childhood and my teenage experiences, shame reared its ugly head. Up until this point, I didn’t realize that I fundamentally (and really deep down) believed I was flawed, and that God had messed up somehow in his creation of me. My counselor had me try and understand the difference between my shame and my guilt. It all came down to my thoughts! Being guilty or being ashamed started in my brain – not in the world around me. No wonder I became such a performer at church! I thought true repentance could only be achieved by “doing,” not the literal transformation of my mind.


So we return once again to the fall of 2020, where I am practicing self-compassion and trying to rewire my brain to give myself grace and “think about what is true,” as the Scripture states. For a while there, it really worked. Telling myself, “You are not bad for this mistake. You are not defined by how you reacted to your husband today, etc.” allowed me to slow the rising emotional panic occurring deep within me. I wish I could say that healing came as a result of practicing these self-compassion statements to myself --  but my mind had still not been renewed.


January of 2021 hit and one of my students is murdered. This is my first encounter with sudden grief, but I’m still required to “keep going” and keep teaching the rest of my students in the middle of an incredibly divisive pandemic. I was being told by the school I worked at to “just keep going for the kids.” As one’s nervous system would do in this situation, I suffered my very first anxiety attack while skiing with my family (thank you to my father for just waiting this out with me on the top of a random mountain in Oregon). I began to spiral back into anxiety and shame. I am not a good teacher. I am horrible at everything I try. I am a bad wife. I am a bad daughter. I am not strong enough to deal with my anxiety. I am overreacting and too sensitive. 

 

Mind change

In 2022, I had reached my thirteenth spiritual birthday and was asked by someone I trusted deeply to join a book club for The Metanoia Method by Kent and Heather McKean (https://www.mindchange.com). I won’t take the time right now to summarize everything I’ve learned from this book because it’s one of those special treasurers that I think everyone, especially kingdom kids, should read at some point in their spiritual journey; but I will tell you that this book dives deep into how the Bible, our brains, and our bodies all work cohesively together, just as God created them to do. The Bible, this book on metanoia, meeting with my counselor, and a lot of wrestling with God have all worked together to lead me to this long-awaited point, where I am able to write about what I finally got to experience what Paul writes about in Romans 12 – a true renewal of my mind, and freedom from this never-ending spiral of shame.

 


Remember how earlier I mentioned how easy it is to talk about how much of a “wretch” we are without God? Look at these Scriptures:


Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”


Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."


Genesis 1:27 ESV “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."


Does this look like we are inherently flawed? Were we created to be imperfect? No! In fact, the McKeans challenged us in their book – “What if we truly believed this?” What if we truly believed that we were fearfully and wonderfully made and… GOOD? I am made in the image of God! I am his workmanship and the sensitivity, the deep feelings, all these uniquely woven parts of my personality were formed after God and by God. I know I’m not doing the metanoia book justice in my description earlier, but being told I was… inherently good, and was created to live life to full? This felt like I was looking at the Bible and God for the first time. Of course, I had heard that I was fearfully and wonderfully made! I had it on a plaque somewhere in my bedroom growing up. But you know what was overshadowing that Scripture every time I read it? A deeply shameful belief that I messed up God’s creation with my imperfection and that I was a victim to the hurt caused me by people in the church. 


In my wrestling with God, He gently led me beside quiet waters as I sought the truth. When I imagine finally standing before God, which used to be a profound source of fear for me, I realized that I could not throw anyone else in front of me and say, “See, God? They’re the reason I disobeyed you. They’re the reason I wanted to live life apart from you and your church. If they hadn’t hurt me or treated me in this way, I could’ve been a better disciple!” This was humbling. It was just me before God. No one else had a say in my walk, but me. Oddly enough, that ignited a spark of power that I felt myself beginning to take back.


I know that for me, I could sit down with any sister in the church and highlight all the messed up things about myself that I was “working on” and needed prayers for. How sad it is that for most of my Christian life, I was constantly looking for the flaws in myself, thinking that it would somehow help me change into a better disciple. This was how I connected with people – through our mutual shame. Even studying the Bible with women, I found myself trying to share all of my shame so they would feel better about “repenting.” Rarely do I see people go up to the pulpit and exclaim how powerful they are in who God made them to be! We might think that as prideful or foolish, but isn’t that how God wanted his people to be? Confident in the power that we receive from being with Him and made by Him?


I decide what I think

I write this reflection with full glory to God because I feel no shame as I look at this part of my journey, which is a victory. Before, I could easily sit here and beat myself up for thinking of God in such a distorted way. Shame still tries to creep in: “Thirteen years of a flawed view of God, Lauren?! You could’ve been so much more spiritual and impactful! Why did it take you so long to learn about repentance?” As I began to read Scriptures about how God made me and noticed the shameful thoughts that freely existed in my mind, I started to dismiss them and take back the power that I had freely given to shame.

 

No longer will I let those thoughts take me captive. What is true, what is pure, what is noble, what is praiseworthy? I get to decide what I think, and therefore feel. God made me good and in his image. Although imperfect, I was made to be perfect and righteous and capable of doing every good work. That should give us immense power!


Was I hurt by others and leaders in my life? Yes. Will I probably face hurt in the future as well? Probably. Do new memories pop up that make me feel deeply hurt? Yes! Am I stuffing those hurt feelings down and choosing to ignore them? No, but to take the shame out of the last thirteen years and just see it for what it is, I feel a new sense of healing. Paul’s command in Romans 12:2 used to mean that I would shame myself into submission. Now, I finally understand it as a freedom Scripture – we have the confidence and power to take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and change them! I no longer must live in such a way where I am a constant slave to my shame, mistakes, or memories. 


I am excited to raise my own “kingdom kids” one day and instill this power within them. I am so thankful that God gave me my parents, such pillars of the faith, to make our home a safe place for me to really explore who God is. I’m thankful for every leader I’ve ever had, who instilled deep convictions within me. I’m thankful for my husband, who challenged me to think about the world outside of my “kingdom kid” bubble. I am thankful for many women in the faith who have let me pour my heart out to them to find healing. I’m thankful for both of the Metanoia Method book club groups that have listened to me cry and celebrate with me my mind changing. And I’m thankful for my counselor, Annie, who has spoken nothing but truth to me and has provided me with amazing tools to heal. 


After fourteen years and a lot of shame spirals and hurts, I haven’t gone anywhere. I stayed rooted in the faith I sometimes had to borrow from others. I knew, despite all the murky waters in my head, that God would come through for me. He always does and continues to do so. I’m so thankful I learned how to take my power back and look forward to being gently led by God wherever I need to go.


Romans 8:1 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”


I pray for all kingdom kids, past, present, and future; that they find healing from any shame or hurt that might exist, and they can be set free because they know who God created them to be. To God be the glory!


Lauren McLaughlin

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