7 Ways to be a True Friend to Someone in Sin and Shame - Kris Vallotton

January 11, 2019

The day before this past Thanksgiving I had a very intense prophetic dream that awakened me to the fact that some of the people I love are being pushed away by my own sense of accomplishment.

In the dream, which felt so real that I woke up thinking it had actually happened, a giant boa constrictor was after me. In a panic, I cried out to my close relative who was nearby (we can call him John), “Save me! Help me! Save me!”

With a racing heart, I awoke from this nightmare to the sound of those words trailing out of my mouth and found myself grasping at any thread of reality.

“Save me! Help me! Save me!” echoed in my soul.

After getting up later in the day, I called John on the phone and invited him to
Thanksgiving because he hadn’t been at family engagements in three or four years. He told me he couldn’t come because he had to work. So, I asked if he could join us for Christmas, to which he tried to find the words and give other reasons for not being able to come.

After some back and forth he finally said, “You know, I smoke and I know it bothers the rest of the family.” He continued, “I hate my smoking too! And I feel really bad because every time I go outside to smoke it’s kind of a problem…”

I was surprised and responded, “It’s not a problem! My mom smoked all her life and I sorta liked her…I love you much more than I hate your smoking. You’ve been welcome at my house forever, and we would love to see you.”

This interaction brought my dream into a place of clarity. In the dream, I was calling upon John to help me with the snake. However, in reality, he was the one who had the problem with smoking and didn’t want to participate in our family. I realized that it was John who was supposed to help ME to understand how people who don’t feel like they measure up can be welcomed into belonging.

So, I asked myself: How do I get people who I love, who are in shame, to get close to me?

I know that you probably relate to this dilemma. In Matthew 28, Jesus said to make
disciples and teach them all that He taught us. And as I live my life, one of my core values and passions is to bring morality and truth to culture, communities, families, and children… At the same time, in my quest for righteousness, I’ve inevitably and unconsciously shamed people who feel they don’t measure up.

How do I say, “This is ‘right’ but I love you more than being right”?

Our 21st Century Righteousness Crisis

Sin kills us! Resisting it yourself, and encouraging others to do the same, is a good idea and I would even say is a GOD idea! However, in a world that is driven by political correctness, it can be tempting to partner with this spirit and join in its polarizing effects by treating those in sin as if their behavior is “totally okay.” Or, on the other side of the coin, you may find yourself trying to create a culture of righteousness and in doing so shame the people that you love.

The truth is that shame will never lead to true righteousness! Furthermore, making people feel guilty for their actions will push them away.

This poses a specifically sticky situation in today’s culture! Isaiah said that in the last days people will say good is evil and evil is good (Isaiah 5:20). We see this happening all around us as things that are obviously wrong are being argued as right in mainstream thinking.

So how do we walk the proverbial line of purity? I propose that it IS possible to both inspire a standard of nobility while also relating, loving and truly connecting to people who don’t live this lifestyle themselves.

You may be thinking…“Okay, Kris. You’re an old man who lives in a small, conservative city. How would you know anything about this?!”

As I shared before, my recent dream truly did awaken and bring light to this struggle. I may not fully relate to your specific situation, but I believe God revealed this to me for a purpose.

Through my conversation with John, I learned that often people who have shame about a certain area of their life hate their behavior but feel powerless to change it. Many times they feel like their faults, frailties, and sin make them unwelcome…and I wonder how our attitude or actions play into their unwelcome feeling. And here’s perhaps my biggest takeaway—people can’t break free of sin alone, and yet their sin often separates them from the people they need! If we’re going to truly love people unconditionally, we must learn to create spaces where shame ceases to exist!

7 Ways to Connect with Someone in Sin or Shame

One of my favorite teachers on connection, shame and vulnerability is Brené Brown. In truth, her message has had a HUGE impact on me. If you haven’t yet seen it, you can check out her powerful Ted Talk on this subject here.

As Brené explains, no matter who or where you are, you need relationships! As humans, we are all wired for connection! And the greatest enemy of life-giving, whole-hearted and vulnerable connections is… you guessed it, shame.

Shame seduces us into secrecy, insists on silence, and results in judgment. When we begin hiding, and are afraid to be vulnerable, we begin blaming others and ourselves for the disconnection that we feel. Instead of pulling people towards us, we push them away, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that we are not worthy of love and acceptance. So then, disconnection is the result.

What can we do to help people who are stuck in this cycle?

Here are 7 ways to connect with people who are in shame:

1) Be humble by remembering where you came from. The truth is that I grew up in the same place that John was in. I know what it feels like to be away from God and not feel “good enough” or like I don’t measure up. Bringing those memories and feelings to mind helped me connect with John’s current reality and know that I’m not any “better” than Him outside of what God has done in my life.

2) Love people for who they are and not for who they could be. Sometimes, especially in our movement and out of our prophetic nature, we unknowingly put pressure on people for who they should be or the vision we see God has for them. It’s important to let people know that they are loved not because they change or perform but simply for who they are. This is something we can’t just say but must also communicate even in our feelings that we love them not because of who they can become, or what they can do for us, but because of who they are in this very moment.

3) Don’t parade your accomplishments in front of the broken. I didn’t even know I was doing this but in my efforts to encourage John, I actually brought my shiny and flashy stuff to our relationship, which made him feel like he didn’t measure up. For example, in good intentions, I gave John some of the books I’ve written. I’m sure it could have come across as: “I’ve written books and you haven’t really done anything with your life.” The truth is God doesn’t value us for our accomplishments. He didn’t love me less when I was broke and hadn’t done much with my life. The same is true for all of us. Money and things are nice but they don’t take the place of people that we love.

4) Give people hope without requiring them to change. Often times when we try to give people hope, we’re saying “I believe you can change!” which actually says, “There’s something wrong with you because you have something you NEED to change in your life!” Sometimes in our zeal to encourage people into hope, we tell them that at this moment they do not measure up.

5) Be empathic; listen from the heart without feeling the need to correct their opinions. When people say it’s a dog eat dog world, or that they’ll always be struggling to survive, it’s tempting to correct that thinking. When we jump in to try and fix their outlook it’s like saying, “You’re stupid. Let me tell you the way you’re supposed to think about that!” However, true empathy, and listening without jumping in to preach, invites connection. Empathy is ultimately other-focused. True love that breeds connection cares about what others are feeling. The Bible says, “Love is not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5). When we are able to understand someone else’s feelings and perspective, then we are able to connect in healthy, whole, ways.

6) Show an interest in their lives. Sometimes it’s hard to find interest in someone’s life when they’re not motivated. For example, what interests John may not interest me, but I’m interested in HIM! So what are we all to do? Figure out a way to be interested in what they care about!

7) Often people in shame live in fantasy to numb the pain of reality and give themselves hope. For as long as I can remember, John believed that he would one day win the lottery. And at first, I thought this was just playful but then I realized that every time someone won the lottery, he took it as a testimony of what was sure to happen in his life. He actually believed he was next, and that his winning ticket would bring him out of poverty and shame. I used to have long conversations with him about how stupid this was. But then I realized, this fantasy gave him some level of hope that he would eventually escape his current life status.

Sometimes we take away people’s fantasy before they have the reality of truth. We pop their bubble without giving them a solid foundation to land on. How do we choose connection in this situation? It’s important to understand that when you live in shame, fantasy is where you sustain yourself until you find a place of truth and walk out. Find a way to give people a sense of hope before you destroy their fantasy, as fantasy often numbs the pain of a terrible reality.

Fellowship with Each Other is the Pathway to Purity

I’m not saying that these 7 keys are a sure-fire way to guarantee connection with that friend, family member or coworker who is isolated and struggling with shame. I understand that these situations are often personal, complicated and challenging. And the truth is that we all face both sides of the wall of shame, depending on who we’re presently with.

1 John 1:6 says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the
darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Fellowship with each other is the pathway to purity! The catch 22 is that the fellowship destroys shame but shame keeps people from fellowship. But when we take heart, choose courage, and powerfully lean into relationships, shame will lose its grip on our lives!

If you’re struggling with shame then hold onto this promise—Isaiah 61:7 says, “Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, everlasting joy will be theirs.”

I’m praying for you today. If you’re personally struggling with shame and disconnection then I pray that you would find grace in this time of need, and comfort in knowing God is with you. May shame be removed from you as far as the east is from the west! I pray that God will give you tools the next time that shame comes against you to take down this stronghold! I’m praying that God will bring you community and fellowship with people who accept you as you are now!

If you have someone in your life who tries to disconnect from you because of their
shame then today I bless you and pray for wisdom, mercy, and insight on how to break down walls of shame with the ones that you love!

Can you relate to my situation with John? What do you find helps you break through the wall of shame? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments!

Topics: All TopicsCurrent EventsFreedomMorality