It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Hannah Anderson’s writing. Her book, Made for More started an important conversation for me, one that began to expose the ways I defined myself in relation to people and responsibilities and expectations. She took me back to the beginning, to that moment God breathed life into humanity, and dared me to see myself as created imago Dei first and foremost. She gave me permission to consider who God created me to be, to shed the shackles of expectations and performance and to live in the freedom of the imago Dei redeemed.
She’s basically my B.F.F.
This conversation about life lived from a place of wholeness has been joined by other great authors since then. (And a really great therapist, because it turns out, when you open the door to living courageously, it’s like opening the door to an overstuffed closet: junk starts to fall out.)
When I joined Hannah Anderson’s launch team for her latest book, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul (Moody Publishers, released Oct 4, 2016), I expected to love it. But despite reading her intention to continue the conversation she began with Made for More, I wasn’t prepared for it to further the conversation I’ve been having in my head. (And with my husband, because I’m not completely crazy.)
I had just returned from two weeks in Nepal. Two weeks of dream-following without kid-smothering. Two weeks of reading books and actually hearing myself think. Two weeks of intake without much output. So naturally, I arrived home with no luggage in sight but with plenty to unload on this husband of mine.
I was telling him about something like self-compassion or healing or something equally self-helpy, ideas that would have always made my stomach turn. He responded with raised eyebrows. I could tell his stomach was turning, too. I attempted to explain:
I’ve spent the past couple of years gaining a familiarity with shame and its resulting codependency, trying to understand the pathway to emotional, relational, and spiritual health.
That sounds all clinical, so I’ll spell it out like this: I’ve known for awhile that I live plagued by shame, constantly beating myself up for my perpetual not-enoughness. And I know I’m not alone. Brene Brown’s TED talk on shame has been viewed over 6 million times. She calls shame an epidemic in our culture, thriving in secrecy, silence, and judgment. The antidote, she proposes, is empathy. When we vulnerably take the risk to share our imperfections, and we are met with empathy–someone saying, “Me, too”–shame will begin to lose its power over us. And the way we will find the strength to be that vulnerable is by living from a place of worthiness, by believing we’re enough.
The trouble with this solution and others from a secular or generically spiritual perspective is that they neglect to address the problem of sin. Rather than looking outside of us for a Savior, they point us within ourselves for acceptance and worthiness. The problem is, If I try to convince myself that I am worthy, I know it’s crap. It’s like I’m back in the garden, suddenly aware of my nakedness. I’m exposed as the fraud I am. I can tell myself that I’m enough, but I know deep down that I am completely unworthy. Not enough, never enough. And so the shame continues.
The solution to shame is not believing that I’m enough, it’s believing that Jesus is enough. If He really took all my sin and shame upon Himself to the cross, then there really is no need for me to carry it around now. On my own, I am unworthy, but now I’ve been ransomed with something more valuable than silver or gold–with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). I am declared worthy; Christ in me is enough.
If God is the only one who can condemn me, and He doesn’t because I am hidden in Christ (Romans 8:33), then the problem of shame has been dealt with completely. I am free to be vulnerable about my weaknesses and failures because my acceptance is not dependent upon their approval. (1)
This is just bringing you up to speed. Despite landing here last year, these truths have been slow to get inside of me. I find myself living for the approval of others, desperately trying to keep up with their expectations and demands, real or imagined. I’ve sent my representative (2) out into the world, living life the way others think I should. And when I prove that I cannot live up to the impossible standards set before me, the cycle of shame continues.
And despite knowing that Jesus bore my shame, I continue to try to live life without Him. I am running ragged, trying to be all things to all people, exhausted, anxious, and weary.
But enough is enough.
So I’m trying to explain all of this to my husband who is patiently trying to follow the stream of consciousness of someone who has been traveling for 48 hours and is unloading two weeks worth of thoughts. Understandably, he’s struggling a little. He understands the need to release the expectations of others and to live before the face of God. But what about when we don’t live up to God’s standards? Aren’t we to take our sin seriously? How can we #embracetheimperfection, when the imperfection is our sin?
I think it’s more like embracing our humanity, I said. It’s acknowledging the reality that we are human and we are going to fail, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we do. It doesn’t mean sin doesn’t matter, but it does mean that because we are fallen, our continued struggle with sin keeps us dependent on grace. We don’t get to outgrow our neediness.
And, let’s be honest: the shame we feel isn’t always related to sin. It’s often over the fact that we can’t do it all. This flies in the face of our prideful self-sufficiency. We are ashamed of our limitations.
This is where Hannah Anderson enters the conversation. Her book, Humble Roots invites us to consider our human limitations as an invitation to humility and, ultimately, an invitation to rest from our frenetic lives. She contends, “Humility frees us to flourish as the human beings we were made to be: to celebrate the goodness of our physical bodies, to embrace the complexity of our emotions, and to own our unique gifts without guilt or feeling like an imposter” (12). These frequent sources of shame and unworthiness become unlikely places where dependence, gratitude, and worship can grow.
She writes to help us learn to humbly accept our human limitations, and this brings us full circle to what Brown calls the antidote to shame: vulnerability and empathy. We despise vulnerability, because it exposes our weakness and failures. But when we embrace our human limits, Hannah writes, we don’t have to pretend to be like God. We can vulnerably allow ourselves to feel the breadth and confusion of our emotions and experience grace there (114). We can vulnerably enter into the uncertainty of our limited knowledge and understanding (131). We can vulnerably risk using our gifts and sharing them with the world (152). We can vulnerably pursue dreams that may never come to fruition (165). And as we do that, we will experience freedom and rest in the One who humbled Himself for us (57). We will be free to stop hiding and will be able “to say to God and others, “I am not enough, I need help” (186).
I’m sure it’s not the end of the conversation, but Hannah’s voice is an important addition.
As part of Hannah’s launch team, I received two copies of Humble Roots in exchange for my honest review. These thoughts are my own. I highly recommend her book and have a copy to give away! To enter, just leave a comment below. The winner will be selected and notified on Monday, October 24th. [[The giveaway is closed. The winner is Emilie!]]
(1) Heather Nelson’s book Unashamed is an excellent companion to Brene Brown’s work and Hannah Anderson’s book. Highly recommend!
(2) I first heard this language from Glennon Doyle Melton’s book, Love Warrior. While I wouldn’t endorse her theology, her writing is refreshing.
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