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Thoughts on Love, Fear, Shame and God – Part II

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By: Robert Gottlieb

rgottleib-frameFor Part I of this article, click here.

When I was younger, I had a difficult time comprehending many subjects in school, especially math and science. Coming from a family in which my grandfather is a chemical engineer, my oldest brother a meteorologist, my other brother a civil engineer and my father gifted in black arts of electrical engineering, I sort of expected I’d at least be able to do fractions.

As it turned out I wouldn’t.

I was never judged for not being gifted scholastically, never made to feel as though I was less of a man because I didn’t (and still don’t) know what a logarithm is and was never excluded from activities or conversations despite my lack of comprehension.

Yet despite all this, in MY mind, I was judged. I wasn’t good enough, and I wasn’t an equal. Even now, having a BA in Psychology and a MA in Counseling, I can still slip into feeling inadequate and as though I’m not as good as the other men in my family (despite only one of them having a masters degree and one working in a field completely unrelated to his major).

When we judge ourselves and make our self-worth or value conditionally-based, we never measure up, we’re never perfect and what we end up with is feeling of shame regarding our perceived inadequacies.

But it doesn’t stop there. Shame festers in us and grows up to rear its ugly head in the form of self-image issues and fear. In my story, the shame I felt in regard to my perceived scholastic inadequacies lead to feeling as though whatever I did scholastically or professionally wasn’t really enough, wasn’t anything of which I could be proud and, because of that, no matter what I did, I was never enough.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who has never worried about other people seeing what they are ashamed of. If we aren’t enough in our own eyes, then how can we ever expect to be seen as such by others– especially if they know the truth?

This belief creates a spirit of fear and anxiety within us.

Fear is not an easy feeling with which to cope, so we do what we can to skirt around it. We do this by trying to become “enough” externally in order to keep people from seeing us as we see ourselves. And maybe… just maybe, to convince ourselves in the process.

The problem is that this never works. We can paint our faces with vibrant colors so we’re smiling for the world to see, but the truth of the matter is no matter the paint job, the eyes of a clown are naked.

If we cannot accept ourselves as we are and truly believe that we have value and are worth love and acceptance from ourselves right now, then we will never be able to truly accept those affirmations from others. It’s impossible to have true connection and closeness with another individual when we don’t believe we’re worthy of such feelings.

As a result, no matter how much affirmation we receive or how much love we are offered, unless we believe that we have self-worth and value in spite of our imperfections, we cannot accept it.

Our relationships, then, become stunted in their growth for fear of the closeness/love/value offered us by another person, because that which is offered is in direct opposition to that which we believe to be true about ourselves. Fear destroys our joy and makes God look small, while it makes our circumstances appear larger and permits them to defeat us.

The decisions we make in fear are those we regret the most. We cannot defeat fear by denying its existence or by running away from it, instead we must move past our fears and lean into Christ Jesus. He alone can rescue us from ourselves.

But how do we move past our fears of rejection and towards being truly known in spite of our flaws?

Carl Rogers writes “What I am is enough; if I would only be it openly… the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

What this means is that we must first be able to accept ourselves despite the extra 30lbs, dead-end job or rejection from those  we care for if we are going to be able to feel value, self-worth, belonging, love and acceptance.

We are all a mess, and we all struggle (Romans 7:15, 18); but, again, why should we believe that we need to be better before we love ourselves if God already loves us where we are?

Continued in “Thoughts on Love, Fear, Shame & God – Part 3″, coming soon.