Wash Guilt and Resist Shame

I recently stumbled upon a book called, The Power of Vulnerability by Brene’ Brown.  It seems that everyone else found out about her before me and evidently she is a beautifully strong voice in the public sphere.  As I was listening to this “shame researcher” unveil her findings, many connections popped up with things I’ve heard in the Confessional.

A message I hear over and over again is the truth that you and I, as children of God, are lovable.  We are wonderfully and fearfully made.  Who we are is not equated with what we have done but rather it is equated with the love of the Holy Trinity.  The best thing I can do for myself, for my children, for the politics of our country, for the thriving of our community is to walk around remembering with comfort, that I am God’s child (and that you are too).

The alternative to this, is shame.  In shame, I equate myself with sin.  Instead of admitting that I have done ugly, horrible and lame things, I believe that I am ugly, horrible and lame.  With shame, I am paralyzed and condemned.  With guilt, I can be forgiven, make amends or set free.  Guilt doesn’t have to stick.  Guilt can bring about change where as shame paralyzes.  Guilt is incident related, not internally related.

A few points that Brene’ mentions:

Shame breeds in secrecy.  It turns into anger, depression and bitterness.  It is contagious.  People who live wholeheartedly are able to speak openly about shame since it has little power in their lives.  In her research, again and again, Brene’ found that people who can successfully resist being caught by the power of shame believe that they are lovable and they have a place of belonging and acceptance.  

This goes hand in hand with our Catholic faith!  We are loved children of God.  We have a place in the heart of the Trinity, in the Body of Christ, in the house of God, among our fellow brothers and sisters, here and now and in heaven to come.  

Brene’s work which highlights the difference between shame and guilt partially shows why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so powerful.  Our loved nature never is changed.  Even in the midst of sin, are still his children.  We are loved.  Period.  In guilt (not shame) we are free to take an experience of something bad that we have done and say “I did that.”  I’m sorry.  And its done.  Free.  Openness, peace, confidence.  In Confession, we say this to our loving Father God through the Church (who is our understanding, relating, human family).

One of my newly favorite saints, St. Josemaria Escriva, believed that the core of “Opus Dei” (the work of God) that was taking place in his midst was regular everyday people’s deep understanding of being a child of God.  It is only from there that we are free to look at our sin and say, I’m sorry.  Our guilt is washed away.  It is from there that we can serve.  It is from there that we can play. 

So, let’s consider to day- who are you?  Shame or Child of God?  God knows the answer.  Will you let Him speak it to your heart?

God Melted my Anger

Judging from my smile, you would never have guessed that I was burning on the inside but, there were a handful of years in my life when vicious words swirled in my mind and anger took the place of peace.  Disappointment, lack of sleep, failure and chaos certainly contributed to this mental/emotional state but years later, after coming out of that fog, I am amazed to see that the things that really made a difference were small things that God gently fostered which bought me to a place of greater ease.

Have you ever felt seething frustration that you can’t seem to shake?  Or do you know that you love others and that you and yours are in God’s hands but there are poignant moments when you can’t seem to act like it or feel that trust?  It can be incredibly devastating to a daughter or son of God to go through these emotions and yet be incapable of consistently living up to the deepest baptized part of self.  For you, I’d like to share the ways that God melted my pervasive anger and replaced it with a steady ease of faithfulness.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have quite a pop.  I still am irked by things and real problems still trouble me, as they should.  But, the looming anger left me. His steady love reigns more securely within me and I travel through ups and downs as one who is closer to whole.


Here’s how:

1.      Solitary Prayer.  I had been praying while I did this or that.  I had longed for God all day long.  I went to church on Sundays and wished for more.   I volunteered for church.  I served the poor.  I gave my life over to God again and again.  But I hadn’t been praying quietly consistently.  Then I made a commitment.  10 minutes a day.  Then 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening.  Pretty often, I would set a timer and just sit there.  Sometimes I’d write.  Sometimes I’d read the bible.  Sometimes I would look a pictures of holy saints or scenes of the life of Christ.  Mostly I just kept glancing at the clock.  Still, it was good.  Very very good.  My time was often interrupted and I would just say, “I’m praying.”  I would close my eyes.  I’d pull the kid close to me.  “You can pray silently with me if you want.”

2.      Sacrifice.  Years previously I had read Story of a Soul by St. Therese.  With a little spiritual direction, I was much better able to apply the revolutionary way of love that had stirred my heart by that spiritual master.  I tried every day to make a tiny mortification of my senses that took very little time.  Sight – I would intentionally not look at something beautiful – Christmas lights on a house, a pretty advertisement.  Speech – I would refrain from speaking one story swirling in my mind.  Taste – I would forego one thing I wanted to eat.  Leisure – Playing a board game became my relaxing time instead of that book I wanted to read.  This was the toughest one for me, especially since all of my time seemed to belong to someone else.  Giving up what little I had did me good.  Sometimes, it wasn’t the best though.  Comfort – For one minute, I would go without a sweater.  Or I’d not use the back of my chair. All these mortifications, I would offer up as a prayer for my family, or children in a hospital, for world peace or for my husband.

3.      Spiritual Direction.  Having someone listen to the beat of my heart for God, know the deepest and worst part of me and still have hope and joy for me was and is… well, let’s just say even writing these words brings me to tears.  It is like having the Holy Spirit whisper directly into my ear.  If I didn’t have a spiritual director, I would go to Confession monthly or twice a month and receive similar inspiration.  I think that this saved my life.  It saved my soul.

4.      Secret Visitations to the Tabernacle.  When I had just dropped one kid off at an event and was on my way to pick up another, if I happened to drive by a church, I would run in for 1 minute of prayer before the tabernacle.  Sometimes the doors were closed and I would kneel on the steps.  This did me very much good.  Occasionally, I would haul a kid with me and we would both blow a kiss to Jesus.  It was good.  It is good.

5.      Whole Life Confession.  During Lent, I got the crazy idea to confess everything I’d ever done.  I had heard about some saints doing it and nuns or monks before they entered a monastery.  It took a long time.  An hour, to be precise.  The poor priest.  He said it was the longest Confession he’d ever heard.  Obviously, I didn’t just show up at the confession line and start with day 1 of my life.  I made an appointment ahead of time.  I think this was a specific calling to me at this specific point in my life.  I don’t think everyone is called to do this so, don’t feel bad if it is not your inclination.  If it is, go for it!  This really helped me to see Jesus loving me in the midst of every stage of my life. 

6.      Praying the Rosary.  I didn’t feel like I had the time to stop my work and pray the rosary so I decided to pray it all day long.  Sometimes I prayed the first mystery at 1 o’clock, then the second at 2 o’clock, etc.  Sometimes I prayed the rosary only when I was driving.  Other days, I prayed when I did menial tasks like the laundry or mowing the law.  Often, I only did 3 Hail Mary’s for each “decade.”  I struggled to get the whole rosary in each day.  I would wander and return, wander and return.  This struggle saved me.  Instead of dwelling on my sadness or anger, my thoughts were always rallying back to be with Our Lord alongside Mary.

7.      Crying Boldly in Prayer.  After many months, or even years of carrying on in the above ways, I had experienced much growth and freedom.  However, I was still grieved that a few things could still set me off deeply.  One day, I was kneeling before the tabernacle and I was so frustrated with myself and with the anger that I felt that I bawled and bawled before the Lord in His tabernacle.  Then, I got the courage to ask boldly for healing.  I think I got it.  I don’t think I could have asked at any old time in my life and gotten the same gift.  I think God brought me to that point over time and then led me to ask boldly.

So, that’s my story.  Or a bit of it.  God has been good.  Perhaps God wants to use one of these modes in your life too.  What do you think?  What direction is God moving you to find relieve from frustration?

Surrender your dreams for your family? No way.

At a soccer game this weekend, I listened as a lady and her husband lamented that they could not turn back the clock to a few months ago, before their son began playing Fortnite.  They wished they could do it differently.  These parents longed for the old productive good fun their son had and they felt a bit mournful and defeated amidst his new addiction to the game.  However, they were wearing a chipper attituded in the midst of their “defeat” because they love their son no matter what and figured this is the way it just had to be.  At least it wasn’t worse, they thought.  We traded stories.  At first they were surprised at my family’s stringency however, by the end of the soccer game (which we won), the mother was ready and energized to restore the order she and her son once had.  The only thing that my stories really told her was, “you can do it.” Continue reading “Surrender your dreams for your family? No way.”

Is Everything the Will of God? -part 2 (a slight pause for humility)

Serendipitously, yesterday morning, I was able to go to Mass.  Since I had begun writing about the various challenges to the concept of accepting everything as coming from the Will of God, it was on my mind.  My buoyant spirit upon embarking this endeavor was slightly checked by a memory of the end of the book of Job when he actually encounters God.  Job puts his hand over his mouth and basically says, “You are God and I am not.  You do whatever you want to do.  I’m just going to be quiet now.”  Well, guess where the first reading was from today?  Yup.  The book of Job.  It is in the middle, before the aforementioned hand-over-his-mouth.  Although some pretty rough things are happening in Job’s life, he says of God, Continue reading “Is Everything the Will of God? -part 2 (a slight pause for humility)”

Is Everything God’s Will? (part 1)

I think often about the “problem of evil.”  Probably everyone does.  Usually my thoughts are not very clear and I always give up, holding out hope for some future in-depth conversation with a wise friend about it all.  In my fantasy, we’ll have the Bible in one hand and the Summa Theologicae in the other, then after tears and sweat and hours of cross referencing, prayer, fasting, arguing and synthesizing, we’ve got it!  Doesn’t work that way?  Are you sure?  But wouldn’t it be worth it to have that conversation?  Well, maybe, since I’m feeling less inhibited than usual, with your permission, we can engage in a tiny bit of that life long debate here. Continue reading “Is Everything God’s Will? (part 1)”

Deliver to Heaven

While trying to explain the “thees”, “thous” and “arts” of the Our Father, my daughter murmured something about a mailbox.

“What did you say, Sweetie?”

“Does God put us in an envelop and send us away from evil?”

“Oh, right.  The Lord said, ‘deliver us from evil.'”

“Yes, deliver us.   The address should say, ‘heaven’.”

Oh, kids!  You’ve got to love their perspective.  But as cute as that is, it is hard for my adult mistrusting brain to really take in the message of God’s loving deliverance from evil.  Continue reading “Deliver to Heaven”

Give from God’s Strength

I’ve found myself feeling pulled in a million directions and failing people at every turn.  People who have a legitimate right to my love and attention- friends, parents, children, spouse, neighbors, school administrators… are often cut short and do not get what they deserve from me.  This is true also of the orphan, the widow, the poor, the sick, the friendless – people who I read about, who I pass on the street, who I know are out there.  Like everyone else in this world, I need to learn that I am limited.  Yet, my own smallness enables me to humbly tap into God’s eternal love. Continue reading “Give from God’s Strength”

High Five the Runner

This morning on the last block of my run, I saw an old Japanese man shuffling toward me on his own exercise endeavor. Ask just about anyone in this neighborhood and they will know who I’m talking about since he evokes quite a bit of admiration and perhaps even worry.  This beautiful man has unmistakably hobbled through these streets for years.  I’ve never seen him anywhere else- only pounding the pavement- one noisy foot in front of the other.  His body is inclined in a mix between an Olympian track star who is using gravity to propel him faster and an arthritic patient who has just gotten up from a soft chair. Mouth gaping open, the gnats flee from his presence as he laboriously sucks in gallons of air.  I wish he were my grandpa.  Continue reading “High Five the Runner”

We Are Lifeguards

About three years ago, my little kids are with a babysitter and I fidget, half naked on the bleachers, waiting for this life guarding course to begin.  The blue bathing suit just purchased on Amazon feels a little tight around my 40-year-old flab.   Quickly looking around, it is obvious that no one else here has nursed four babies.  Goosebumps already forming, I’m afraid of being cold from nine-five for a week straight.  And I’m really worried I can’t hold my breath long enough at the bottom of the diving well. Continue reading “We Are Lifeguards”

You Are Not Strong Enough

“You who so praiseworthily wish to lead an apostolic life, each according to her individual situation, know well enough the world of today to realize that in your battle against unbelief and immorality, natural resources and all purely human means are radically insufficient. What you absolutely need is an intimate union with Christ, and that intimate union absolutely presupposes prayer and sacrifice.”

Papal Directives For The Woman Of Today, Pope Pius XII – 1947

In this quote I stumbled upon, I realize the enormity of the endeavor that we are taking on when we try to witness to Christ (whether it be by raising good children, teaching high school, keeping peace among relatives, stay ethical).  I am not enough.  What this pope, speaking right after WWII, says is the answer is actually what we all probably long for the most…