Designed: Experiences and Memories

experiencesShe was abused and that’s why she….(fill in the blank).

What did you choose to fill that in with?  That’s why she hates men.  That’s why she advocates for others.  That’s why she doesn’t trust anyone.  That’s why she clings to people.  That’s why she keeps to herself.  That’s why she looks for attention.

How you chose to fill in that blank may have more to do with your own personal experiences then with the actual truth.  As you looked at that sentence and filled in the blank, how old was the girl you pictured?  What type of abuse did she endure?  Who perpetrated that abuse?  How did she handle the abuse?  None of that information was provided in the question, yet you came up with an answer.  How you came up with the answer probably has a lot to do with your personal experiences and memories.

Each person is comprised of a unique set of experiences throughout their lifetime.  Even though we may go through similar things, how we process the information is based on our individual personality, our genetic make-up, and our environment.  All of these things combine to mold each experience into an intensely personal unique event.  From those series of events we create a lens through which we predict outcomes, view the world, and see other people.  Throughout your life time these views and expectations are subject to change because you are always acquiring new information and assimilating it through your own unique way of viewing the world.  This is why two people can experience the same exact event and recall it differently.  Likewise people who experience the same event can be affected or be changed in different ways.  One example would be of two twin children from the same family, treated in the same manner who grew up in poverty.  One of them may continue the lifestyle, being trapped and bound by the circumstances he was brought up in and attribute it to the fact that he was raised in poverty.  The other child may break out of that cycle and become a wealthy person and attribute it to the fact that he was raised in poverty.  Both would honestly be stating their experience, their memory, and their reasoning; as well as correctly attributing the outcome in part to their previous experiences.

QUICK DEFINITIONS:

Before we dig too deeply into the subject, let’s quickly review what each of these words mean.

World View: a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.

Belief: an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.

Values: a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life

Expectations: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

KEY THOUGHTS:

Our experiences shape our world view, beliefs, and values.  What you experience in your lifetime will effect how you see people and what you treasure.  You may see people as primarily good or as primarily bad.  Perhaps you believe that people are usually out for themselves, or perhaps you believe that everyone really is looking out for each other.  Maybe you have taken great risks and it has turned out well so you continue to take big risks believing it will work out.  Or maybe you have been very careful throughout your life and that has helped you to always be prepared for events that have come your way.  There are many things that have gone into creating the unique person you are with the unique way of looking at the world that you have.  This is part of the treasure of who you are and what you have to offer the world.

Our experiences shape our expectations.  If every Christmas since I was born I would wake up Christmas morning to a happy family and bunches of presents, it is safe to assume that I will probably expect that the next time Christmas comes I will be anticipating a good day.  On the other hand, if Christmas was always a time when my family members fought, there were no gifts, and people were miserable, it is likely that I will expect that on the next Christmas morning things will not go well.  Both sets of expectations are shaped by previous experiences.  We all have expectations, bias, and values that are a result of our experiences.  Often times they are so intrinsic, so woven into who we are, that we don’t even realize they are there until someone does or says something that we would have never expected or anticipated.  In that moment we struggle through confusion to understand their way of thinking or defend our way of thinking.

Not everything that happens to you is your fault.  Sometimes our memories and previous experiences create a scenario in our minds that we are to blame for the bad things we have endured.  While it is true that sometimes our poor choices have led to specific consequences,  it is also true that we sometimes have negative experiences through no fault of our own.  If your parents divorced, you suffered abuse, you were neglected, you were abandoned, you were the victim of a crime or some other trauma it did not stem from your own doing.  However, it is still true that it is a part of your experience and will still undoubtedly shape your your expectations, beliefs, world view and values.  Children are especially prone to magical thinking in which they will believe they are the cause of many of life’s bad experiences.  That type of thinking can easily follow a child into adulthood keeping them in bondage to a faulty belief system about who they are and what they are worth.  These experiences will also effect how you see and experience other people in the future.

Not all memories give a complete picture.  As humans we are limited to our own experience.  We can empathize with another person’s experience, but we can not 100% experience things they way they experience them, and we can not process they events exactly as they process them.  Even if we experience the same exact experience we will each capture, internalize, and assimilate different aspects of the experience.  For example a husband and wife may have a child who gets into trouble with drugs, yet each parent will experience that struggle differently.  They will each highlight different parts of that struggle. They will each respond in their own unique way to that pain.  In later years when asked to recall the event it is likely that they will each have a slightly different version of the story because different things stood out to them.  This is one of the reasons that collateral testimonies are collected.  Not necessarily because people are lying, but simply because they are remembering different parts.  So, when you are rehearsing your memories remember that there is room for other vantage points that could still be true even though different, of the same event.

Your experiences help shape you, they don’t define you.  Your experiences are part of who you are, but they are not the sum total.  If you have suffered with addiction, depression, divorce, infertility, abuse (the list could go on forever!)….YOU ARE NOT WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU!  You can only be defined by your creator! He has the final say on who you are. (Review the article on Designed: Identity at   https://confidenthope.blog/?s=identity)  Never allow your experiences to decide for you what you will become or accomplish.  You are substantially more then all of your experiences.  You exist outside of them.

You can choose differently.  One of the great things about being human is that you can make choices.  You can choose to acknowledge some of the things that have happened to you and decide how you want to respond in the future.  It may take some practice, especially if you have been responding one way for your whole life and now you are deciding you will be doing things differently…BUT IT CAN BE DONE!

You can allow other people to be different than you.  Once you are aware that your experiences have shaped your world views, expectations and values you can allow other people to have their unique sets of values, views, and expectations.  You do not disappear simply because other people exist.  Their experiences have helped them become the people they are today.

Own your experiences and memories.  Good or bad your experiences happened.  They were real.  You lived through them.  Be honest with yourself and others about what has happened to you in your lifetime and how you recall those events and how they shaped you.  They are a part of you who you are.  Wear your physical and emotional scars with dignity because it is evidence that you survived and that gives hope to others.  Be aware that those experiences will color how you see other things.

Fault and responsibility.  While you may not be at fault for everything that has happened to you, you do bear the responsibility to manage those experiences and how they play out in your everyday life.  For example, if I were to step on your foot and break it, that would be my fault.  However the responsibility to get medical treatment for healing would be up to you.  Even though I would be at fault I can not see the doctor, get the x-rays, wear the cast, or do the physical therapy needed to recover.  Only you can do those things.  Many things that happen may be the fault of someone else, they may not be fair, they may hurt, and you may have every right to all the thoughts and feelings that go along with the experience.  Just bear in mind that you also have the responsibility to acknowledge what you experienced and how it has effected you.  You can take responsibility and use your experiences to help you into the kind of person you desire to be or you can allow those experiences to shape you into their mold.

DEVOTION:

I can’t help but think of the women at the well.  The fact that she had gone to get water in the heat of the day seems to indicate that her experiences had taught her that she would be ridiculed by the other women, so she learned to adjust her behavior to avoid their scorn.  She had learned to value hiding who she was and possibly had secretly accepted the truth of their accusations into her heart.  Initially she seemed to respond to Jesus with suspicion asking questions and giving limited answers.  Perhaps through her experiences with men she had learned to be cautious with men. Or maybe she had learned that men were deceptive, not to be trusted.  Either way in her limited time with Jesus it appears that her previous expectations, beliefs and views were challenged and possibly changed.  When Jesus asked her about her husband and she gave him a veiled answer. Jesus spoke truth to her, He challenged her, He treated her with dignity and offered her hope.  I believe through her experience with Jesus her views changed, and from there her life changed.   Just think….Now her story is one of hope!  She is included in the Bible, not as a shame filled, disgraceful woman, but instead as someone who carries the light and hope of Jesus.  Her past experiences led her to the one who could redeem her!

That’s what Jesus can do for us too.  He can heal our past experiences.  He doesn’t make them disappear, but He can redeem them for good.  He can use every single thing that you have ever been through to His glory.  None of you pain will ever be wasted when you put it in Jesus’ hands.

SCRIPTURES

 

Story of the woman at the well.  (John 4:4-42)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  (Genesis 50:20)

You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.  (Psalm 56:8)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. (Revelation 12:11)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

You have seen me on my darkest days.  You know of all the things I have done wrong.  Every. Single. Thing.  Still you choose to use me.  You seek me out.  You pursue me and allow me to be a part of your master plan.

You also know of the pain I have suffered at the hands of others.  You have seen every tear I have cried…and your heartbreaks  under the weight of the pain I have endured.  Even in my darkest hour You never abandoned me.  Even when I was filled with bitterness, resentment, and hatred toward those who had done me wrong, You didn’t turn your back on me, or hide your face from me.

Help me to allow you to shine through all of my experiences.  Redefine how I interpret all of my memories and experiences so that they are in perfect alignment with your truth.  Help me to think with your mind, with your spirit, with your heart.  Heal me in ways that will bring Your hope to others that they might know that you are God and an ever present help in times of trouble.

Thank you that you are my Redeemer!  

In Jesus Name- Amen

REFLECTIONS:

1.)  Think for a moment on the events from your childhood.  Remember some of your greatest, most fond moments.  What did they teach you about yourself?  What did you learn about the people in your life?  Now think about some of the lowest, saddest, most hurtful times.  What did they teach you about yourself?  What did you learn about the people in your life?  Now, think about the truth and hope of Jesus.  Allow Him to shed light, love, and truth on those experiences.  When you look through His eyes how do you see yourself?  How do you see others?

2.)  What values and world views do you hold?  How did you come to those conclusions?  Why are they important to you?  Compare them to scripture.  What does the Bible say?

ACTIVITY OPTIONS:

1.)  In your journal draw a line through the middle of one of the pages.  Below the line write your most memorable negative experiences.  The more negative they were the lower you write them.  Above the line write your most positive experiences.  The more positive they are the higher you write them.  Write them in chronological order.  Journal what you learned from each of those experiences?  How do they still affect you today?  Take them to the Lord in prayer.

2.)  What are some things that bring back strong memories for you?  Ex. a certain song, a certain smell, a specific place.  Recall the memory in detail.  Try to get a sense of what other people in the memory may have thought, felt or experienced.  *Do NOT do this with any memory that is specifically tied to abuse or trauma.

3.)  Ask a someone about their personal experiences, memories, values, beliefs.  Learn about their values and world views.  Try to listen without defending your own position.  Try to understand their experience from their perspective.  If necessary allow yourself to disagree without needing to vocalize your disagreement.  Process your own feelings about the conversation in your journal after the experience.

Let’s Talk About Shame and Guilt (Designed: Emotions)

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Dark, wet, cold, and heavy…perfect words to describe those guilty shame filled feelings that linger making you wonder if you will ever again feel the warmth of hope, the joy of freedom, confidence to pursue people and things you once loved.

Guilt and shame are two words that are unfortunately, intimately and personally familiar to me.  I have been guilty of wide variety of offenses and have felt ashamed of my actions more times then I care to remember.  Sometimes the reminders of my wrong doings are from people who were hurt by my actions.  Sometimes it’s from lingering consequences that I face.  Most frequently the shame and feelings of guilt arise from within.   On my worse days I rehearse my flaws and failures and use it as a form of self inflicted torture to feed what feels like the insatiable appetite of shame.  If that weren’t enough I also listen to the enemy as he hisses deep into my being “With all that you’ve done wrong you’ll never be good enough, you can never measure up.  Who do you think you are?  Get out now before you are humiliated!” or  “There you go again, screwing up like you always do.  You’ll never get what you want because you always mess things up.  You don’t deserve those good things.  You should stop now before you make an even bigger fool of yourself.”

If this sounds familiar to you please know you are not crazy and you are not alone.   Many of us struggle with this particular battle.  In the heat of it we long for the false security of being alone, hiding from people and relationships, yet in that isolation the “proof” of how awful we are is magnified and screams in the silence.  The answers for victorious healing can only be found in the things we most dread doing….to gain true victory there needs to be acknowledgement/confession, acceptance, repentance, restitution, forgiveness, grace and confident hope…all of which can only be found in the light of relationship.

I hope you will have the courage to continue reading to discover practical tools to help  you secure victory in this battle.

Let’s first make sure we have clear definitions and understandings of the words guilt and shame.  Guilt is “the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.”  This means it is tied to something specific you have done that was wrong, hurtful, mean, immoral, illegal, or unethical .  If I have told a lie, then I am guilty of lying.  This is true and legitimate guilt. I did something wrong and I feel guilty about it.  In a healthy environment this kind of guilt should help prompt me to move forward to make things right.  The unpleasant emotion may also help keep me from making the same mistake again.

There is also such a thing as “false guilt”.  This occurs when I feel guilty over something I have not done wrong. Here is an example of false guilt.  Let’s say you are invited to go out to work with friends but you decide you really don’t have the energy to go out so you decline the invitation.  Afterwards you feel guilty because you said no.  This is false guilt because you didn’t actually do anything wrong, you simply enforced a boundary around your time and energy.  In this example your guilty feelings are not tied to a hurtful, mean, immoral, illegal, or unethical action so therefore it must be tied to something else.  We will explore that in the next section on shame.

Shame is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”  Feeling ashamed goes deeper than feeling guilty or embarrassed, it touches the core of who you are as a person.  It makes you doubt your goodness, your worth, and your identity.  It leaves you without significance or security.  This type of shame typically comes when you have committed some serious offenses or suffered serious or continuous  injury to your emotional self.    When you experience this type of shame you have difficulty validating your own worth which in turn can cause you to become hypersensitive to situations in which you feel you may loose the acceptance or admiration of other people.  In a mild sense you can become hypersensitive to guilt.  In that scenario you would tend to perceive that you have done something wrong when you haven’t, like in the situation previously discussed above.  In a severe cases it can lead to codependent or narcissistic tendencies.  Both feed off the fear of loosing other people’s validation, approval, and acceptance.  Shame thrives on fear and in isolation.  It makes it difficult to give or receive love because it places you in a mode of self protection that is not easily penetrated.

A good way to tell the difference is simply this:  Guilt says I did something bad, shame says I am bad.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE POTENTIAL INDICATORS OF GUILT AND SHAME:

Physical response:  covering ones face, looking down, avoiding eye contact, a sense of heat that radiates through the body, making your body become small, hunched shoulders, head down, tightness/heaviness in chest, upset stomach, crying.

Thoughts about Self:  I am bad.  I am worthless.  I always mess things up.  I was wrong.  It’s my fault.

Thoughts about God:  God couldn’t love me.  God can’t forgive me.  God won’t save me.

Our action/tendency/response:  Hide, place blame, avoid

Communication: “I did wrong.”  “I am bad.”

Guilt and shame indicate different needs: Guilt indicates a need to make things right.  Shame indicates a need for inner healing and forgiveness.

So what can I do? 

1.) Find the source of your true hope and identity.  It will always be difficult to overcome shame if you don’t have your source of identity secure in an unshakable, unchangeable source.  As Christians we know that source is Jesus.  There is nothing that you can do that will ever make you unlovable to Him (Romans 8:38-39). There is also nothing you can do that will make you more lovable to Him (Ephesians 2:8).  His love for you simply doesn’t depend on you.  He has said you are valuable and has paid the price for you with His life (Colossians 1:14). We have covered this topic in more depth in the following article:  Your True Identity: Your Roots (Designed: Roots) https://confidenthope.blog/2018/06/25/your-true-identity-your-roots-designed-roots/

If you are not a Christian, or you are not sure if you are a Christian, I beg you to please take the time to explore this.  You can reach out to your local church or other believers r you can follow these links:  How To Become A Christian http://www.sbc.net/knowjesus/theplan.asp  or How Can I Be Sure I’m Saved? https://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/advice/faithdoubt/how-can-i-be-sure-im-saved.html

2.) Confession.  You know how it feels when you have done something wrong and it eats at you.  It gnaws away at your heart making you feel guilty.  Here is how you get rid of that feeling…CONFESS.  Go and admit you did wrong.First and foremost confess to God (1 John 1:9).  Admit your wrong doing and ask for His forgiveness.  You can also ask for His power in helping you continue with the rest of the confessing.    It is incredibly difficult to swallow your pride and admit wrong doing, but there is something freeing about humbling yourself and owning your mistakes.  Your confession is the first key to unlocking your freedom.  It may surprise you to know that your confession isn’t really about the other person.  It is something you do for yourself.  It is coming out of hiding, taking ownership, and regaining freedom and power.  Sometimes you are able to go to the other person directly and tell them you were wrong.  In those cases be prepared that your apology may not be met with kindness.  They may still respond out of hurt or anger.   Sometimes you won’t be able to confess directly to the person, it may be the person is unknown to you, passed away, or it may simply put you in a very dangerous situation.  In those cases my suggestion is that you symbolically do a confession (example write a letter to the person and then destroy the letter) or offer your confession to a trusted friend or pastor.  We are always to confess our sins to God but the bible is also clear that there is healing power in the act of confessing one to another. (James 5:16)

Just to be clear….confession and apology are not the same thing.  A proper apology includes a confession and is delivered for the person who was injured by your offense.  There are many people who are willing to confess to an offense, but remain unapologetic.  The reasons behind this are typically because the person was directly caught, they believe they were actually in the right or justified in their actions, or they are trying to avoid a stricter punishment.

3.) Repentance.  In Christian terms repentance is defined as “turning around”.  What this means is changing your behavior, trying to not make the same mistake twice.  When we repent of a wrong doing we agree that it was wrong and we desire to do right.  You can repent of your wrong doing and still fail again.  We are not perfect.  You do your best.  If you fail again, you go through the process again.  Think about what went wrong,  what is needed to do better, put new safe guards in place and try again.

4.) Forgiveness.  When dealing with our own personal shame and guilt we often have to examine forgiveness from a variety of angles.  First, we can go to God and seek His forgiveness.  He is faithful to ALWAYS forgive us and cleanse us no matter what our offense was He will forgive us (1John 1:9).  Next, we may need to forgive ourselves.  This can be a hard step to take.  You may feel that what you have done is so awful, so shameful that you do not deserve to ever be free from it.  Let me ask you this:  If a perfect, holy and just God, is willing to extend forgiveness to you as a GIFT what right do you have to harbor unforgiveness in your heart toward yourself?  His sacrifice was enough for you and whatever sins you have committed past, present and future.  It is His desire that you live in freedom from the bondage of your sins, He died to give you that freedom (Romans 8:1-4).  For more information on how to forgive yourself you can review this previous Confident Hope article Forgiving Myself  https://confidenthope.blog/?s=forgiving+myself

5.) Make things right (restitution).  We are a people who typically like to “do” things.  We like to have some type of evidence that we have repented and are trying to be better.  In some cases you are able to make things right through an action.  For example if you have stolen something you can return it with interest, or if you have lied you can tell the truth and allow others to check/verify the truthfulness of your statements until their trust in your words has returned.  The process of restitution can be painful, but it will often produce a sense of setting things right, and can go along way in restoring a relationship.

6.) Acceptance.  Some times we are not able to make restitution.  Some times we simply have to accept the fact that we have done something wrong and try to move forward.  Acceptance can be a hard thing to obtain.  When dealing with the emotions of shame and guilt you may need to accept the fact that you will sometimes do things that will cause you to feel guilty or ashamed.  Part of acceptance is allowing yourself to identify and feel the emotion in a non-judgmental way and then release the emotion.

If you try to work through these steps and are continuing to struggle with these emotions I suggest you seek out trusted friends, a small group, a coach, a pastor, or a professional counselor.  There is not a medication that will “fix” this for you.  These emotions are a common struggle and part of being human.  Healing and victory are something that has to be done in the context of healthy relationships.

Dealing with GUILT and/or SHAME?  Here is your challenge:

Think about where you are at with guilt and shame.  Are there things you need to do in order to relieve those painful emotions?  Review the steps outlined in this article.  Review some of the other resources that are listed.  What are the steps that you need to take?  Do those steps!

As we draw to a close, I am reminded specifically of two passages of scripture.  One is the story of Adam and Eve in the garden.  After they sinned they felt shame and tried to hide.  They longed for isolation because of their sin…BUT GOD CALLED OUT TO THEM!  He drew them back into relationship with him so he could restore and redeem them (Genesis 3:1-9).  There were still consequences that needed to be faced, but they no longer needed to hide in shame.  The other passage and scripture talks about how darkness cannot hide in the light (John 1:5).  It reminds me that when we shed light (truth, forgiveness, love, grace, mercy) on those shameful places those feelings will disappear.  As we bring them to the forefront and deal with them they become less powerful and sinister.

PRAYER: 

Heavenly Father,

This is such a painful subject.  It hurts my heart as I remember the things I have done that have caused me to feel ashamed.  I think of other people who are also currently struggling under the weight of poor decisions and hurtful words.  I know that you are the one with the power to heal and forgive and restore.  I ask that you strengthen me as I pursue freedom from shame.  Give me courage to face my fears.  Grant me grace to forgive others and myself even as you have forgiven me.  Let me not run from relationships, but instead help me press into them so that I may find healing for myself.  And also so that I may provide a place of healing for others. 

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—(Ephesians 2:8)

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:14)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our  purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. CH shame and guilt.

ADAM AND EVE IN THE GARDEN:  Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:1-9)