Healing•Recovery • 4 minutes to read
Have you ever felt that every part of who you are is truly welcome? Not just the you that does things right and is polite and feels positive feelings, but also the parts of you that mess up, say the wrong things, and feel lonely, afraid, and ashamed?
And by welcome, I don’t mean that those difficult aspects of you are tolerated until you get your act together. No, I mean accepted, received, and valued—exactly as you are.
If you answered “yes” to that question, you are a rare and fortunate person. For most of us, the answer to that question is “no.”
The truth is that in our families, communities, places of worship, schools, workplaces, and relationships, it’s often not safe to be our authentic selves. We may not even be safe for ourselves within ourselves. When we mess up, say the wrong things, or feel difficult feelings, we may judge and shame and harshly criticize ourselves. We may believe God does that to us too.
Maybe this is why we love our dogs so much. Regardless of what we’ve done or how we feel, they are always happy to see us, waiting at the door when we come home. They don’t judge us. They just want to love us. And isn’t that what we all need more of?
The common experience of not feeling fully welcome and having to disown parts of ourselves brings untold suffering, hiding, and shame. It keeps our relationships shallow and drives our addictions and pain. It’s the thing that happened (allegorically or factually, whatever you prefer) in Eden the moment things went south. When we felt exposed and ashamed, we started sewing fig leaves to hide from each other and from God. But it’s hard to find fig leaves big enough to cover all the stuff we’re ashamed of. So, we disown our inner worlds and keep things on the surface to stay safe, while addictions, spiritual emptiness, and shame grow in the dark.
I spent much of my early life hiding behind leaves. I’m an only child who grew up in a military family, and doing things “perfectly” felt important to me. We moved so frequently I never quite knew where home was. Thankfully, I had loving, caring parents. But life still delivers its share of pain and hurt, and when I didn’t do it all perfectly, I started to hide the real me.
I tried to overperform my way into feeling okay. I tried staying so busy that none of those yucky feelings could get to the surface. I thought if I could keep people around me happy, I would always feel worthy and safe.
Not surprisingly, I became a therapist. My job as a therapist is to focus on other people’s feelings and needs and make other people okay, so that was a pretty familiar role for me. Because I want to be a good therapist, I’ve done a lot of my own healing work. On that transformational journey I was introduced to the model of therapy that my keynote is based on: Internal Family Systems (IFS). And for the first time, I had the felt experience that all parts of me were welcome. That I could drop my leaves. That I didn’t have to achieve and perform and get all of the parts of me to “do it right” before I could be my authentic self without fear of judgment. I experienced the reality of grace.
That’s when I realized this secular therapy was actually helping me experience my Christian faith more effectively than sometimes even my faith community did. For me, the IFS model paralleled, in surprising ways, the gospel of hope and grace I had been acquainted with in the well-loved pages of the Bible on my nightstand—the hope and grace I had always longed for, but rarely actually experienced. It allowed me to drop below the surface to the deepest parts of my exiled soul and find healing, love, and peace.
My prayer is that you will experience this same hope and grace, as we dive together below the surface of our lives into the inner spaces of our hearts and find God’s arms outstretched with joy at our arrival. If you’re tired of having to pretend and cover up, if you’ve tried to change and failed, if you are disillusioned, stalled, questioning, or exhausted—welcome.
I want you to know that you are safe, and you are welcome. All of you. Exactly as you are. Every part of you is welcome, not just tolerated until you get your act together and stop doing and feeling yucky things. As Brennan Manning wrote,
You are loved just as you are. Not as you should be. Because you’re never going to be as you should be.Brennan Manning
I can’t wait to be together soon, my friends. With much love!
P.S. Jenna Riemersma will be speaking at the Pure Desire Summit, September 10-11, 2021. To hear her and other great speakers, register now!