American culture seems to be obsessed with diet and exercise. Daily, my morning news program seems to have a segment on the newest nutrition craze or the workout routine that will get our bodies in peak condition for the next upcoming season or holiday.
Why is it then that obesity rates continually climb and diabetes seems to be the modern disease epidemic? Do we actually want to live healthier lives or do we just like the idea? Are we really into fitness or do we just want to pretend by wearing the workout gear that makes us look like we are fitness buffs to the world around us and even ourselves? Something seems to be missing between the desire and the reality.
As I have been looking at the subject of authenticity and connecting on a deeper level with others, I have wondered if I don't find the same disconnect.
In this strange, new world of social media, I wonder if we seem to have the illusion that we are connecting but are actually focusing more on the image we are trying to portray instead of feeling safe enough to be our true selves. We like the idea that we have a lot of "friends" or followers, but do we really?
Social trends seem to be pointing to an actual decline of true interaction with others, as pointed out in the book "Bowling Alone" by Robert D. Putnam. Putnam points out that over the past 20 years the number of friends getting together to play cards is down 25%, an evening with neighbors is down 33%, family dinners are down 33%, and having friends over is down 45%.
Most of us could argue the point and it just comes down to the business of everyday life but it seems to be more serious than that. The American Sociological Review reported on a study that showed that in 1985 Americans claimed to have three close friends to confide in. In 2004, the number dropped to one, with 25% of those questioned admitting to having no one to confide in. This decline could explain why studies are showing an increase in feelings of loneliness, isolation and alienation.
Just as we are learning more and more about the positive physical effects of proper nutrition and exercise on our bodies, more and more studies are showing the positive effects of close relationships. Some are suggesting social connection increases our longevity by 50%, strengthens our immune system, and lowers rates of anxiety and depression.
So, if we understand why deep personal relationships are so important, what often keeps us from them and why does this seem to be a concerning trend?
In my last blog, I wrote about what Brene Brown discovered in her studies of connection and vulnerability. To recap, she found that those who embraced vulnerability felt worthy of connecting, while those who resisted deep, authentic relationships did so because of their own sense of shame and feelings of unworthiness.
This unworthiness seems to be the problem that can cause a lot of the disconnect between the illusion and the reality.
The idea of shame is certainly nothing new. Adam and Eve felt it for the first time after eating the fruit that they knew was forbidden. Their reaction to the shame they felt was first to cover themselves or to try to compensate somehow for it, and then they hid. They tried to hide from the relationship they had with God because of this feeling of unworthiness, just like Brown talks about.
What I am intrigued about is why Eve fell for Satan's trick in the first place. Could it be that when he suggested that she could have more (the knowledge of good an evil), she felt for the first time that perhaps she was inadequate? And not only that, but could it be that this God who told her that she had everything she needed and that she was everything she needed to be, wasn't really telling her the truth?
As we read through Genesis ourselves, we would readily admit to the fact that God loved she and Adam immensely, that He placed much value on them, and that what He wanted most of all was to have a close relationship with them. What seemed to get in the way is that she fell for the con that these things were not actually true. Why do get it when we read about them, but miss it when we think about us?
Could it be that falling for a lie is causing the problem with our own courage to be vulnerable? The lie that says that even though God places value on us, we can't really believe it or accept it as the truth. I know that I have fallen for the lie. Most of my life I have kept people at arm's length emotionally due to these exact feelings of unworthiness. the feeling of being invisible.
Since we were designed by God for a relationship with Him and with others, this causes all kinds of problems. Brown says that we try to numb the feelings of loss by distracting ourselves with things that will never fill the void. I have experienced this exact phenomena in my own life and it has been extremely destructive.
She also says that we become very black and white in our thinking, with no room for differences, we try to perfect things in order to feel better about ourselves (such as overachieving in our own lives or our kids'), and we underestimate the affect our behavior does have on other people. We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that we simply don't matter so why try.
All of these things are damaging to ourselves and to those in our lives. But, we don't have to give into the lie. Here are some of the things that I have had to learn to do in order to combat it:
- Some have described the Bible as God's love letter to His people. Discover how much God loves you and how valuable you are to Him as you read His Word. Remember that for some reason He thought that we were even worth His Son's life . Now that's something.
- Believe that God finds us valuable. It's one thing to read it but ask Him to help you believe it and not fall for the lie.
- Confess the feelings of shame and worthlessness as sin. This one is a tough one but anytime we choose to believe satan over God, we have chosen to follow the wrong god. Who we follow, we worship. Just remember that confessing sin doesn't bring us more shame but frees us from the bondage the sin puts us in. We can fall right back into the relationship we were made for.
- Be aggressive in fighting the lie. Pray for help to see when you have been trapped because sometimes it's hard to see the lie for what it is.
- Accept imperfection. We are all imperfect and even though we all have things we need to work on, we need to accept our humanity.
- Start finding ways to connect, even it's hard. Look for safe people to start practicing your vulnerability and begin to let people get glimpses into the real you.
Satan is tricky so be careful. He will try to trip you up however he can. A few years ago I was seeing a counselor during a traumatic time in my life when behaviors used to compensate for the very disconnect I have been describing in a close relationship had been exposed,
He helped me to see that I had allowed a couple of key people in my life to deflect the shame they had felt for things in their life onto me and I readily accepted the blame. I not only carried the responsibility of my own sin, but I felt responsible for their's as well.
Later that night, I was having quite a pity party. My sense of worth was at an a time low when I heard myself telling God that of course I'm worthless. In fact, I am so worthless that I didn't even have a middle name.
Saying that out loud caught me by surprise. I didn't have a middle name but I had fooled myself into thinking that it didn't bother me. My mom told me that she simply couldn't come up with one that she liked, but now I see that it had only been one piece of the evidence that I had used to prove that I had little value. Everyone at least had a middle name!
That is when God spoke to me directly. The Bible says that when the Shepherd speaks, we will know that it is His voice and I surely did. He said that He that would give me my middle name. I was afraid to even dare ask but I asked Him what that name would be. He said..."Beloved".
Now, I could come up with a lot of names that I could use and "Beloved" would not have been on the list. But, it was the name He chose and I need to accept the fact that it is the way He sees me.
I've had a hard time accepting this truth because the feelings of shame and worthlessness run deep. But, I need to believe it and you can too because He sees you the same way. When we believe it we can live the way He wants us to live; in obedience to Him and in relationship with Him and others.
Hopefully this will help you. If it does, let me know! Blessings