DAY #10

Matthew 11:28-30

Momma said not to pick up the baby bird she’d rescued from the cat. She had tucked it into a box in its little nest. But curiosity got the better of my five-year-old mind, and I snuck in to hold the tiny, featherless creature. Suddenly, the unthinkable. I dropped it. Carefully picking it up and replacing it in its nest, I prayed for a miracle, only to see momma a few hours later holding a dead baby bird. 

I never confessed. 

Fraternal twins guilt and shame tend to hang out together, with slightly different influences. Guilt pertains to feelings of remorse for things we do; shame is regretting who we are. Guilt says, “I did badly.” Shame says, “I AM bad.” Research shows that people with guilt responses to wrongdoing are healthier and less narcissistic than people with shame reactions. They also tend to repeat the behavior less. Think about it: If you ARE bad, how can you do anything BUT bad? 

Those of us who want to take reasonable moral responsibility, but not become overwhelmed, say, “Guilt is okay, but shame is bad.” Things get tricky here. Some conscientious types, after disallowing shame, will still feel it. Then they become ashamed about being ashamed! Emotions are notoriously uncooperative. Willing them away doesn’t work well. 

Here’s how to break that cycle: Think process, not product. In other words, don’t concern yourself with whether or not you feel or have shame. Concern yourself with what to do with it. Shame will come. We broken, sinful human beings will at times feel ashamed of our condition. What process to follow when feeling, “I am bad”? Take those feelings of shame to Jesus and let Him carry them. They weigh but a feather compared to the load He bore to the Cross. He will gladly lift them from you, giving you a new sense of self anchored in Him. 

Recall the feelings of shame you’ve carried. Imagine them as a heavy burden upon your back. See yourself trudging along, becoming more and more exhausted. Imagine yourself nearly falling. 

Then imagine Jesus standing before you with His arms open wide. Imagine His kind eyes. Imagine Him lifting the heavy burden from you. Then see Him placing a light burden upon you, His yoke of service. You breathe a sigh of relief. 

Fix in your mind three people you can serve today. How can you, though some small act, lift the burden off weary shoulders? 

Dear Rest-Giver, thank you for lifting the heavy burden of shame from our shoulders. Lead us to be burden-lifters through acts of service woven into our everyday lives. When we start bearing our own shame, remind us where we can find rest. We pray in the name of Jesus, amen. 

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

DAY #9

Psalm 91:1-3

I mistakenly gave away a test answer in front of a class once. What followed has seared itself into my memory. The teacher shouted at me in front of the whole class, severely and loudly shaming me until I felt two inches high. 

We’ve all experienced it—a shame wound inflicted by someone’s harsh censure. The result, for me at least, is predicable. During the recovery period my mind naturally drifts toward all the things I’ve done right—my virtues, my assets, my righteousness. It’s as if a huge draft has been taken from my righteousness “bank” and I feel driven to replace it. 

Sociologist call this phenomenon “licensing effect.” We often attempt to “atone” for our shame by performing or rehearsing good deeds. We feel unconsciously driven to say, I’m not as bad as they say I am. I have a full catalog of goodnesses. 

Religious practices, from weary pilgrimages to fasting and prayer as means of self-purging, have been used to placate inner shame and replace moral “credit.” Such practices flow out of our basic false belief that we can generate self-righteousness. 

We cannot. But we can accept Jesus’ righteousness in place of our own, and then stand boldly before those who would condemn us to hell. 

Instead of trying to appease God through your own righteousness, thank Him for His. Say out loud, “Thank You for saving me when I could not save myself.” Now say it again, thinking carefully about that truth. Let it seep down into your heart. 

Now imagine the enemy setting a trap for your feet. Imagine yourself nearly walking into it, then God lifting you above it. Imagine a terrible disease spreading in the world. Now imagine God wiping out the disease. Imagine yourself in searing heat, and God inviting you into a shady place with a cool breeze. God does these things for us gladly. Thank Him for it. 

Dear Most High God, we come now into your secret place. We walk out of our place of shame into Your righteousness. Thank You, thank You, thank You. 

“He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust. Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence.” Psalm 91:1-3

DAY #8

Psalm 94:17-19

I had a recurring dream as a child in which I arrived at my elementary school, took off my coat, and found that all I had on was my underwear. Yet I could do nothing about it. I stood there, in the midst of fully-clothed classmates, effectively naked. 

We’re told that after they partook of the forbidden fruit “the eyes” of Adam and Eve “were open and they knew they were naked.” They knew shame for the first time. Because this shame is now part of our nature, it sits, fat and ugly, in our souls, too heavy to move, too large to ignore. 

While shame is unresolved, it drives us to seek resolution through compensatory self-righteousness. We will mindlessly try to be “good enough” to quiet the pangs. Or we will numb it away with various addictions designed to kill our moral sensibilities. Sin created a worthiness vacuum. Having collectively lost our sense of God’s approval, we reflexively stave off our feelings of unworthiness through various devices. 

Humans fall into one of two shame ditches—the narcissistic and the codependent type. Either we stifle shame through feelings of superiority, pride, and entitlement, or we cherish feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem, and unworthiness. The foundation of these two states is the same—the hope that through something we have, something we are, or something we can do, we will be able to take away that fat, ugly core of shame. 

The gospel’s answer to the shame dilemma is a new Source of righteousness. Jesus is reaching out constantly, wanting to lead us to a new foundation, a foundation built on his lacerated back; a foundation of His righteousness in place of our own. 

Confess your sins honestly to God, as to someone Who already knows, and forgives you still. Tell God right now what you’ve thought, cherished, and done out of sinful and self-centered greed, pride, lust. As you speak, He looks at you with mercy. Imagine how His face reflects that mercy. Picture Him looking at you with tenderness in His eyes. Imagine Him saying, “I forgive you.” Then believe that He has forgiven you because He has promised. 

Oh, God of grace and comfort, You love us with an everlasting, unfailing, and unfathomable love. While we have thrashed around, looking for a human solution to my sin, You have stood by with the only solution, Your own righteousness, woven on the loom of heaven. We finally see it, but we want to see it more. We want to receive your mercy and comfort more—immediately and ongoingly. Teach us how. Amen. 

“Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul would soon have settled in silence. If I say, ‘My foot slips,’ Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:17-19

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DAY #7

Isaiah 41:9-10

As a teen, my doctor discovered a curvature of the spine, prescribing yoga as a treatment. Yoga lessons strengthened my back; they also opened my mind to eastern thought. I learned the idea that I could achieve enlightenment if I made enough effort. 

All world religions teach a similar idea. In Buddhism, the eightfold path leads to Nirvana. In Islam, adherence to the five pillars means reaching Jannah. And the list goes on. World religions present an opportunity for humans to attempt to generate righteousness. This is one area where the gospel of Jesus differs. It says that God generates righteousness, which He then gives to human beings.  

The first thing Adam and Eve did after sin was to make fig leaf coverings. But those scratchy fig-leaf bathing suits didn’t work. When God came into the garden, they dove behind the bushes in fear. Where was their confidence? Their attempt to resolve shame through their own righteousness? Epic fail. 

Then God did something epic in response: He made garments of skin for them. Imagine the scene: The shivering pair stand by as God euthanizes their precious pets. Out drains the blood, as divine fingers cobble together a garment so sturdy it will ward off cold and rain. Then those gentle hands don them in the masterpiece symbol of His own righteousness. God made the garments, God clothed the humans. Every part came from God. They stood covered because of His righteousness, not their own. But in order for them to stand covered, someone they loved had to die. 

Trembling in shame? No need to fear. Righteousness comes from God, and He has your back.

Imagine yourself cowering in shame, naked and frightened. You know that your sin has brought condemnation upon you, and that your fig leaves have failed to cover it. Then imagine God clothing you with a sturdy, warm robe made of His own righteousness. Now imagine yourself straightening up and standing tall, justified rather than condemned. 

Throughout the day, as you lapse back into feelings of unworthiness, say out loud, “I stand in Jesus righteousness alone.” Say it right now with me: “I stand in Jesus righteousness alone.” 

Let’s talk to the Source of our righteousness now. Jesus, just like those animals died to cover Adam and Eve, You died to cover all Your children. Thank you for that Gift, Lord. We can scarcely comprehend it, but as we stretch our minds to try, we know that our righteousness comes from You. Amen. 

“You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away. Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:9-10

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DAY #6

John 14:27

I drew back in fear from reporting a sexually-harassing boss once. I knew I’d lose my job if I pushed my agenda. Watching the boss go on to harass several others, I came to hate my cowardice. 

Many Greek words translate into “fear” in the New Testament, but three appear most frequently: eulabeia means reverence, phobos means anxiety, and deilos means cowardice. God does not condemn feelings of fear, but He does call us away from cowardice. Cowardice is allowing feelings of fear to drive our choices. Cowardice leads to a lifestyle of avoidance. While God understands our weakness, He knows this basic law of human psychology: Avoidance increases fear. 

All of the anxiety-related disorders, including PTSD, OCD, social anxiety, specific phobia, and the rest, involve patterns of avoidance. The flawed reasoning goes like this: If I’m afraid of something, I avoid it, and the fear goes away. End of story. But fear doesn’t work that way. The truth is that each time we avoid something out of fear, we imply to our own unconscious minds that it is dangerous. And fear increases.  

Now, there is a place for avoidance. If I DON’T avoid ACTUAL danger, say, a dog who happens to be foaming at the mouth, or an abusive spouse, or a gun-toting racist, I have another issue. But avoidance of non-threats—a problem with most anxiety disorders—reinforces the irrational fear residing in the substrata of my psyche, and puts me out of sync with reason and reality. 

Every treatment for anxiety involves facing triggers. Through structured, graduated, collaboratively-planned exposure, individuals raise their trigger tolerance. They stay in their triggering situations long enough for the nervous system to habituate. In other words, anxiety treatment is, at its core, courage training. As the person faces fears, their self-respect returns along with their sensible, rational approach to life. 

But we can’t face these fears on our own. Think of a fear you’d like to face, and imagine yourself taking the hand of Jesus and walking toward that fear instead of away from it. Now do the same with another fear. Imagine yourself having courage, hand in hand with Jesus. 

Pray with me. Oh, courage-giving God! Thank You for helping us sort out our fears from the useful ones to the fears that keep us from living fully and freely. And thank You for then filling us with your power to walk toward, instead of away from, the phony fears based on the lies of the enemy. Keep the power flowing! In Jesus’ courageous name, Amen. 

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27

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DAY #5

DAY #5

I lived in ignorance of God until I met Jesus on my own personal Damascus Road at 19 years of age. Being in a very irreligious collage environment, following Jesus led to the loss of just about every friend I had, some of whom mocked me cruelly. I was cancelled. But for the first time in my life, I came to know God’s approval, and it gave me the courage to face the loss of human approval.  

My initial response to God had been fear. Now, we tend to eschew the fear of God these days, but the experience actually ends well. The fear of God gets our attention, leading us to focus upon Him who is love. Seeing His goodness, we find repentance. Then He applies the balm of forgiving grace to our sin-scorched hearts. Once we feel secure in His approval, we face social disapproval with courage, knowing that we have a Friend in high places. We can face being cancelled because we know He will never cancel us. 

Jesus said not to fear Satan, who could only destroy the body, but fear Him, God, who could destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28). Could it be that fearing God first and foremost, above all other things, can actually make us healthier by killing our inner coward? And specifically, the part of us that fears social shame? Our inner people-pleaser?  

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be liked. But human beings have a robust history of desiring social approval to an extreme, amounting to idolatry or what we call codependency. Social approval is what drives social media and our obsession with “likes.” Fear of social disapproval can lead people into pathologies like social anxiety disorder or avoidant personality disorder. Fear of social disapproval kept people from defending the oppressed like the Jews during the Holocaust and African Americans during slavery and Jim Crow. If you’re like me, you’d like to place principle above human approval. You’d like to kick the approval addiction habit. 

Somewhat counterintuitively, a reverent fear of a holy God can be a first step. 

Scroll back in your life to a time when you felt the approval of God. If you don’t have such a memory, fix your mind right now on the fact that God receives you in Jesus, and that the approval He bestowed upon His Son, embraces you. Thank God for that gift. 

And pray with me.  Dear, loving, holy, Sovereign. How can a Being so powerful as You be so safe? Knowing that in Jesus you accept us fully, and that the “well done” you spoke to Him applies to us, makes us secure. It fortifies us against the condemnation that the world sometimes brings against us. Thank You. 

“He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So, we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5-6

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Day #4

John 16:33

My father was six-foot-two-inches-tall man with a big, deep voice who, when I misbehaved, would glower a bit, then simply boom out my name. According to my mom, I’d burst into tears, run toward him, and throw my arms around his knees, sobbing. He would melt. I later wrote a poem about it: 

My brothers would run away

Bold and defiant

But I knew much better 

How to handle the giant

We don’t have to appease God in the same way. He doesn’t need convincing to be merciful and gracious. But a similarity lies in the fact that I knew Dad to have a soft heart under the authoritarian manner. Do we similarly know the heart of God? Does our attunement to His true character push us toward Him when we feel like running the other way? If not, we may be looking at the wrong source of evidence.

God never tells us to base our assessment of His character on the fortunes or misfortunes of this random, chaotic world. If we do this, our sense of God’s approval will wax and wane with our fortunes. Reasoning from the false premise that the events of life constitute evidence of God’s approval or disapproval, we come to a false conclusion.

God never said things would go well on earth. In fact, He promised they wouldn’t. He said we would have tribulation. But then He said, “Be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.” How did He overcome? By conquering sin fully on the Cross. God presents the Cross as the primary source of evidence of His love for us. On the Cross we see that there is nothing He wouldn’t do to bring us into His circle. Keeping this in view, we can push through to the heart of God. 

Imagine yourself walking toward God as He towers over you. Lightning flashes, thunder rolls. Angels gather around singing holy, holy, holy. You cower, but you walk forward anyway. He reaches down and you see scars in His hands, knowing He died for you. He takes you joyfully into His warm, safe arms. 

Pray with me. Dear Heavenly Father, Life is hard. But You, oh, Lord, are good. We see the evidence of that goodness first and foremost in the fact that You were willing to give Your life on the Cross. Through that we have unfailing, irrefutable evidence that You love us, deeply, personally, and completely. Thank You, Lord for that Gift. 

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

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Day #3

Romans 8:31-32

My job required me to leave my small children at times. I recall one particular moment when my husband held our one-year-old baby on his hip, her sister by his side, waving me off through security. When the baby realized they weren’t coming with me, she burst into screeches, reaching out her chubby little arms for me. Her father said she sobbed all the way home.

Abandonment. It’s a horrifying spectacle to be left behind by someone you love, whom you thought loved you. Akin to rejection, it puts us outside the circle of acceptance, in a cold, bleak world of worth-crushing inferiority. I call it “social death,” and I believe it to be the index fear of the human heart. 

The disciple Peter pulled his sword before fully armed Roman soldiers. He feared not physical death. Yet only a few hours later when facing the social death of ridicule and rejection, he denied Jesus to protect Himself. 

Jesus faced social death on the Cross–rejection by the One with whom He’d been bound in love for all eternity. In our behalf, He felt the horror of an abandonment so traumatic that it physically broke His heart. And He did it so that we could have the assurance of acceptance and the warmth of inclusion. 

We can know, right now, that God accepts us in Jesus. We see in the fact that He endured the Cross, despising the shame, that He holds nothing back. The priceless Gift of His Life reveals His utter generosity toward us. If He would sacrifice His secure bond with the Father, why would He not freely give what requires no sacrifice at all–a place in His circle of love, where He can enjoy our fellowship forever? 

Feel the arms of God around you right now. He accepts you with all your flaws and problems. He says that He will never cast out the ones who come to Him. Human beings will not always meet our needs for inclusion, but we can know we are always included in God’s circle of love. Thank Him out loud for His love. 

Let us pray. Dear Father, thank You. Thank You that no matter our past mistakes, even grievous sins, no matter our present weaknesses and flaws, You receive us as we are. Take us as we come to You today. Heal and transform us. We pray in the name of Your Son, Jesus, Amen. 

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32

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Day #2

1 John 4:18-19

I stumbled in the dark one night toward the bathroom. Suddenly, a manly figure loomed before me in the shadows. I gasped, preparing for a blood-curdling scream. 

Zoom in on my face at that moment: eyes wide, pupils dilated, nostrils flared, brows lifted, and mouth in a perfect, terrified “O.” Adrenaline has opened up every orifice in my head for one simple purpose–to help me take in as much information as possible about the perceived threat in front of me. 

It turned out to be my husband. I hadn’t seen him get out of bed at the same time as I did. 

The fear response makes us hyper-perceptive for survival reasons. If my wide eyes saw the glint of a knife I’d know to run. If I felt a hand close around my arm, I’d fight. Fight or flight can keep us alive; I thank God for it. 

But what about when we have that fight or flight reaction to God? After all, He’s quite powerful. And it’s clear in His Word that He’s not very happy about sin. Isn’t fear of God rational on one level? We’re told the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. 

It isn’t the end of wisdom, though. 

That initial rush of adrenaline humans feel when encountering a holy, sin-hating God makes us hyper-perceptive. Our wide-open eyes search for signs of anger. Our ears listen for words of condemnation. We wonder if we will live through the encounter. Fear of God arrests our attention. It focuses us on Him for perhaps the first time in our lives. And what do we find as we focus? Love. We learn that the one we fear may take our lives, actually laid His life down so that we could live forever with Him. And that perfect, self-giving love displaces fear. 

Think of how, in perhaps small ways, God has shown up in your life. How has God revealed His love to you? Perhaps a close relationship, a memorable experience, or a moment in nature. Speak out loud three ways in which you have felt God love you. 

Let us pray. Dear God, we are beginning to see Your love. Help us see more. Give us wide-open eyes to Your great sacrifice, and to all the small ways You tell us how much you love us. In the name of the Jesus Who gave all, Amen.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:18-19

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Day #1

Philippians 4:6-7

I’m much better these days, but I once struggled with anxiety so severe that I’d go for days hardly sleeping. I remember reading some of the over 300 times God says in His Word not to fear. It bumped my fear up several more notches. I was afraid of being afraid. 

Secondary disturbance occurs when we become disturbed, then disturbed about being disturbed–afraid, and then afraid of being afraid. There are two forms of secondary disturbance: Moral and pathological. Moral secondary disturbance says, “It’s wrong for you to be afraid. You’re a failure;” pathological says, “This fear will kill you. Order your coffin.” I think I had a little of both. 

Counterintuitively, the first step in resolving primary fear is accepting it. Yep, I said that. In other words, address your secondary disturbance first. It forms something like a hard psychological shell cutting off access to your primary disturbance. Dissolve the shell, and gain free access. 

So let’s resolve secondary disturbance: When God says not to fear, He does NOT say, “Don’t FEEL afraid.” You cannot control your feelings of fear directly any more than you can stop the sunrise. Accept those feelings as part of your humanity. They come from a mix of genetics, trauma history, learned behaviors, current circumstances, and bad habits. With God’s help, you can resolve trauma, and learn new ways of thinking and functioning, bringing more peace into your life. 

Redirect your thoughts now to some safe things in your life. Do you have a favorite person, pet, or place? Take a moment and thank God out loud for three of the safe things in your life. 

Let us pray. Dear God, You have called us to a life of courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to do what is right even though feeling afraid. You yourself know what fear is like, as you feared separation from God. But you gave Your life to save us; that is, to make us safe for eternity. Thank You, Jesus. Thank You, God. 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:6-7

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