4 Ways to Keep Chasing Grace in an Ungracious World

I replayed the conversation in my head, over and over again, wishing I could go back to change my words and attitude. My stomach twists and twirls like a tornado is whipping around inside, my head cycling the lies I’m tempted to believe about my whole self: I am ignorant, I am arrogant, I am prideful, I don’t know what I’m talking about, I am a burden, I am not of value...in fact I hurt others so much I shouldn’t even have a voice.

Somehow I’m shoved straight back into multiple conversations that happened on the weekly years ago. We were on staff at a church at the time—my husband the Youth Pastor, me the Outreach-Hospitality-Youth Ministry-Office Assistant—and our pastor frequently reminded me of my pride. His words pierced into me in ways that altered me forever, compounding the lies I already struggled with.

Prideful. Arrogant. A burden. Worthless. Entitled.

These are the identities I’ve battled for years, walked through entire days-turned-weeks covered in shame. At times they’ve won, silencing me into depression and doubt, crippling my daily life and productivity. At other times I find strength to speak Truth over myself, to combat the swords of words turned into identity.

Recently it’s been a fight with the former, using every ounce of excess energy to not fall into the drought of doubt and depression. Discouragement is defeating when it nags at you all day every day.

It’s exhausting, warding off the lies and false identities that like to attach themselves to our souls and selves.

It’s easy to be bogged down with the inner voice demanding: who do you even think you are? You deserve desolation and depression.

Once in a while I wonder if I’m the only one. The only one wondering about myself, believing the absolute worst, listening to the lies threatening to defeat me.

But I’d bet you struggle with doubt and false identities shoving their way into your head and heart.

I’d bargain shame tempts to creep in and cover you, becoming all-consuming, debilitating your every move because you cannot shove the lies from your mind.

I don’t know about you, but once in a very rare while I’ll catch myself protecting my heart by hardening it, writing off other people or putting the blame somewhere else, using every effort to avoid feeling the shame or lie pushing itself in.

But usually I find myself sitting so deep in shame, I am buried beneath it. False identity and lies heap shame on me, forcing me to own the shame instead of the Truth.

In the deepest parts of me I want so badly to share with others the grace that Jesus continues to drench me in. And grace is for the messy, right? His grace is scandalous and unending. If it wasn’t, none of us would need it.

I continue to uncover that I have no way of sharing something I don’t actually have. I cannot release and hand someone something I am not holding onto for myself.

If my greatest goal in life is to chase grace and drag people along with me, then I must intentionally sit in it for myself. Embracing grace for myself is where it all must start, but doing so is stupidly difficult at times.

In order to actually grab ahold of the grace being handed me, I have to actually acknowledge my actual need for it. This only happens when I have the courage to be gut-wrenchingly honest about my mistakes, missteps, faults, and false identities.

I have seven questions I walk myself through when I find myself bogged down with shame and false identities. I’m not a fan of formulas and strategies, but this is something I have done time and time again and it has yet to fail me.

Chasing Grace In An Ungracious World was created initially for myself, printed out and hung in my office, where I often journal and find myself face down crying into carpet fibers of the mess of brokenness I often find myself in. I turned it into an official document for anyone who wants it, walking through the very questions I answer with utmost honesty, as I wade through the trenches of shame.

Honesty is often scary, entirely vulnerable, and sometimes feels ugly. But it is the avenue to wholeness, to healing, to grace.

Let's shed your shame and walk in grace.

Here's 4 Ways to Keep Chasing Grace:

    1. What lie are you believing about yourself? “I am worthless,” “I am not good enough,” “I am a burden,” “I am prideful,” “I am annoying,” “I am nobody.” You are _____. Sometimes you'll know this immediately, other times it'll take a few moments of intentional processing. Try a naming few things if you’re unsure; when you speak the one you subconsciously believe, you'll know. You'll be overtaken with emotion and possibly shed a few tears.
    2. Speak the lie out loud. Speak it. Say it. Notice it. Grab it.  You cannot empty your hands of something you are not holding.
    3. It's heavy, isn't it? That lie? The shame?It's so, so heavy. Too heavy to hold for very long. Allow yourself to feel the weight, the emotion, the heaviness. Where did the shame come from?  This may be a voice in your head that began as someone else’s voice. Where is your lie coming from?

Download the rest of yours free here.

We have to process our brokenness so we can be whole, grab ahold of grace, and share it with every person we encounter.

Offering ourselves space to process our shame and our pain helps us become better parents, better spouses, better friends, better employees, better employers.

When we know where our shame stems from, we can fight the walls we are tempted to build. We can push back against hardening our hearts, and in doing so, we can love others far better.

When we aren't all about protecting ourselves, we are able to see the world more clearly. When we see the world more clearly, we are able to have true compassion and empathy.

I believe there are oceans of grace waiting for each of us, ready to swallow us whole so the shame doesn’t have a chance to.

So much love to you, dear friend. I hope to see you around.

Natalie Brenner is a wife, mom to virtual twins, and photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the best-selling author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Like you, Natalie is a fierce believer in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty. You can love Jesus or not, go to church or not: she'd love to have coffee with you. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a lover of fall. Connect with her at NatalieBrennerWrites.com and join her grace-filled email community.

Follow Natalie:

Check out more of Natalie's story and details about her new book, This Undeserved Life, on Episode 42 of The #AskSteveAustin Podcast:

This Undeserved Life with Natalie Brenner

Last Thursday on the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, I had the honor of talking with my friend (and best-selling author), Natalie Brenner about her fantastic new book, This Undeserved Life: Uncovering the Gifts of Grief and the Fullness of Life.

Natalie has served alongside her husband in ministry, been wounded by the church, had a miscarriage, and so much more. She knows a little something about grief and looking for life in the midst of hard times.

From Amazon:

Is it okay to grieve? What about loss other than death? Can I be sad and still trust God?

Have you ever had the walls of your life shatter and feel you weren't allowed to be upset? Me too. The phrases, "This must be God's plan" and "It was meant to be this way" are often thrown around as encouragement but only deepen the wound.

Loss after loss, I felt these fix-it phrases stripped my consent to grieve and acknowledge sorrow.

This Undeserved Life invites you to honestly grieve your losses. You will recognize loss and brokenness are not a part of God's plan. It isn't weak to grieve; it takes courage and strength to choose to give loss the space it demands.

A few questions from this interview:

  1. You talk about Jesus in a very genuine and loving way – but your heart at times has nearly been crushed under the weight of grief. How do you reconcile the two? And what the heck do you mean when you say the gifts of grief?
  2. Can we talk about the struggle with church hurts when all you really want to do is love Jesus and his people?
  3. Who is Jesus?
  4. Why is it so important to create a safe space for others to be vulnerable?
  5. What’s it like to parent a child of a different race?
  6. Autographed book giveaway! Retweet this week’s pinned post on twitter @iamsteveaustin for your chance to win a personalized, autographed copy of This Undeserved Life by Natalie Brenner
  7. Compassion means to co-suffer. OMG. Yes, she said that.

Following Jesus Out of the Evangelical Church

In Episode 41 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Steve Austin talks with David P. Gushee, author of the brand-new book, Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism. Tony Campolo says, “Still Christian takes us on the journey of a Christian leader who endeavors to maintain his integrity while navigating his way from a rigid fundamentalism with its right-wing political agenda into a progressive worldview.” Listen now at AskSteveAustin.com or on your favorite podcasting app!

A piece of my journal from March of 2016 says this:

I’m too liberal for the Republicans and too conservative for the Democrats. I’m a 30-something Southerner, born and raised in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I was dunked by the Baptists, spoke in tongues in the Assemblies of God, went to a Church of God college, returned to my Baptist roots as a youth pastor, became a Methodist, and now agree with about 80 percent of the Catholic Church’s teachings. I attended George W. Bush’s first inauguration as a senior in high school but have voted Democrat in the last election. I study the King James Bible with a concordance but I read The Message on my iPhone for enjoyment, while having a glass of wine and smoking a cigar.

I’m a walking contradiction.

Maybe there was once room for people like me. Maybe everyone is like me, if we’re all honest with each other. But our culture no longer allows contradictions. I run from discussions with other Christians because it almost always ends poorly. A loss of friendship, a loss of faith, a loss of fervor. I’m tired of being burned.

When many people of faith force it to be an either/or battle of choosing sides, how do you find your voice without losing your soul? This is what today’s episode with David Gushee, author of Still Christian, is all about.

Some questions from today’s conversation:

  • What’s it like to become a born-again Christian in 1978, during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter and the formation of the Religious Right?
  • How has stepping away from American Evangelicalism impacted the way you pastor and parent?
  • What is life like for you, as a pastor or Christian leader, when church life in America seems to be on the decline?
  • Do you have any advice for folks like me, who are in the midst of a personal deconstruction of faith…on how to hold onto their faith, while not abandoning their intellect or ignoring the questions?
  • Is the Bible literally true?
  • How similar were the religious wars of the 1980’s to whatever we’re experiencing today with the marriage of President Trump and the Religious Right?
  • If we look at life through the lens of American Christianity, politics, and culture in 2017 – when do we compromise, and when we do we stand our ground?
  • Do you have any advice for Evangelical Christian pastors who feel stuck, Sunday after Sunday, with the obligation to support their family pressing right up against their secret affirmation of the LGBT community, or their support of women, or their disdain of the President?
  • You have been described as “every liberal’s favorite evangelical” and you have also been described as “every liberal’s least-favorite evangelical”. Which one would you rather be, and why?
  • You are an anti-torture, pro-environment, LGBTQ-affirming, academic…and yet you seem to still consider yourself a Baptist? If so, how and why?
  • After all that you’ve been through, how is this not just a book about a disillusioned ex-Christian?

Favorite quote? “I’m disillusioned. But I’m not an ex-Christian.”

Music: BenSound.com

“Hey Jesus” by Trey Pearson

You can also listen on iTunes.

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STEVE AUSTIN IS A LIFE COACH, SPEAKER, AND AUTHOR OFSELF-CARE FOR THE WOUNDED SOUL. STEVE’S GOAL IS TO HELP YOU CREATE A LIFESTYLE OF FOCUSED EMOTIONAL HEALTH AND CLARITY. LOOKING FOR MORE WAYS TO CREATE SPACE? SUBSCRIBE TO STEVE AUSTIN’S FREE WEEKLY NEWSLETTER BY CLICKING RIGHT HERE.

Do you feel hopeless? Listen to this.

In Episode 40 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Steve Austin shares some encouragement from his own life for folks who feel hopeless. If you’re ready to give up, tired of running, or feel like you’re drowning, please listen to this very personal bonus episode.

3 Simple Ways to Start a Sabbath Practice

I am a fledgling sabbath-keeper. Though I’ve written a book about it, embraced my 52 chances per year to practice it, and have even preached it, I am a less-than-perfect sabbatarian.

And that’s OK.

But Americans think we have to be the best at everything. As my friend Rev. Elizabeth Hagan writes, “I’m a better do-er than rest-er.” Like her, we thrive on the “go big or go home” mentality. “Good enough” equates to mediocre, which is why our bookshelves are lined with tomes on mastering a craft and becoming our best selves.

I’ve spent the last two years trying to perfect the art of shabbat,or “ceasing” from labor. I researched it from both a scholarly and lay perspective; I interviewed countless clergy and a rabbi on scriptural wisdom and sabbath theology. Combining all the knowledge I gleaned, I wrote a 144-page how-to guide on keeping the fourth commandment. When For Sabbath’s Sake headed to print, I was confident I had mastered this spiritual practice.

But then it came time to talk to real-life folks about how to (realistically) keep sabbath in a noisy, 24-7 world. I had to boil down two years of research and writing into bite-sized bits of “be still” that a frenzied culture and community could digest. Nobody had time to hear me pontificate about how to “master” or “become” a sabbath keeper. In truth, I realized I hadn’t “mastered” or “become” a perfect sabbath keeper, anyway.

So instead of becoming, I decided to “be.”

I decided to invite others to catch glimpses of sabbath rest, devotional practice, and community whenever, wherever, and however they can. I call these “sabbath moments.”

We don’t have to wait for the calendar to bestow these “sabbath moments” upon us. We only need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s movement, and be willing to “see” the sacred among the ordinary. God has given us all the tools we need to catch eternity in a minute (or 15). Here’s how:

  1. Put away your phone. Research indicates that having a smartphone within sight drains your cognitive capacity. Stowing it for even 15 minutes gives you the opportunity to just sit, think, and engage your brain (and soul) in a meaning-making or thoughtful ritual.  
  2. Get more sleep. There’s no shortage of data on how sleep deprived we are. A delicious 15-minute sabbath nap can feel like an entire night’s sleep. Remember: “resting your eyes” on the couch with People magazine also counts. The point is that you lie down and relax sans screens.
  3. Talk with someone. I mean really talk—like face-to-face. When’s the last time you attended a community gathering (worship, civilian club, or activism event) and chatted with someone you knew or didn’t know well? Scientists have uncovered the correlation between increased social media use and loneliness. Being online tricks us into thinking we’re connecting in meaningful ways, but it actually leads to FOMO (fear of missing out) and the feeling of being alone.

That’s my 1, 2, 3 broad-strokes key to keeping sabbath: think, sleep, connect. Repeat.

There is a right way to observe sabbath—Jesus taught us this. Christ fought against the legal fiction that declared folks needn’t be healed or fed on the holy day. Instead, Jesus was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He worshipped, he prayed, he gathered people, and he served. Each sabbath looked a little different, but the core themes remained: rest, worship, and community.

If we follow his lead, we would be wise to try these baby-steps. Then, we just might catch a glimpse of eternity in the ordinary moment.

Think. Sleep. Connect. Repeat.

Rest. Worship. Community. Repeat.

The Rev. J. Dana Trent is an ordained Baptist clergywoman, award-winning author and World Religions faculty member at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, NC. Her work has appeared onTime.com,Religion Dispatches,Religion News ServiceThe Christian CenturyandSojournersHer second book,For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community,is available now. She loves naps with cats, vegetarian food, and teaches weight-lifting for the YMCA. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @jdanatrent on Facebook.

Interested in a deeper conversation about sabbath?

Listen to Steve and Dana on Episode 36 of The #AskSteveAustin Podcast. Just click the "play" button below:

TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS

“I believe that the greatest truths of the universe don't lie outside, in the study of the stars and the planets. They lie deep within us, in the magnificence of our heart, mind, and soul. Until we understand what is within, we can't understand what is without.” ―Anita Moorjani

*To listen to this post, click the play button below.

The God Nobody Knows

Do you ever have those moments where your skin tingles a little extra, like someone else’s guardian angel just whisked by in a hurry to get to their next assignment? Those moments where you’d swear God was sitting right next to you, be it in the car, at the office, or the coffee shop? It doesn’t have to be for any reason in particular, and the space doesn’t have to be particularly sacred, but do you ever have those days where it seems like God is whispering things - yet unknown - to the deepest parts of your soul?

Your ways, O Lord, are higher and

Your knowledge is immense;

So give us strength to trust You when

Life doesn’t make much sense.Sper

Logic might say it was just a strand of hair that tickled my neck. Or the air conditioner being turned on in the office. It could have been a nerve-ending gone haywire. Or a random case of goosebumps.

Maybe so. Maybe not.

The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit—God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion.

- 1 Corinthians 2: 14-16

These rare and precious moments happen to me from time to time, and all I can say is that they feel like God. I can’t argue it with logic. I can’t explain it away with science. I can only tell you that in those brief moments, time stands still, and I sense the embrace of God. Those silent few seconds, when no words are audibly spoken, deep things are being written on my soul.

In the silence, I’m transported to another dimension. I close my eyes, and I feel grace washing over me. I know it’s grace, and not just a whiff of the honeysuckle outside my window because the honeysuckle has never given me eternal hope in the midst of trying times. This silence - this washing - the Comfort belongs only to the Holy Spirit of God - an invisible Connector between my soul and my Creator.

In Acts 17, some Greeks inscribed a message TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS, but the greatest mystery of faith is that this seemingly unknown God is intricately familiar to every woven fiber of my soul.

THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS isn’t a human-made statue. It’s not an idol, carved by hand. God doesn't equate to dogma, devised by the imagination of those who hunger for power. The God of Mystery is thicker than the incense that fills the altar. And in that Mystery, I store up hope for future days when my heart is overwhelmed.

So to whom will you compare me, the Incomparable? Can you picture me without reducing me? I am God, and there is none like Me. - Isaiah 46:5-9

It’s easy for me to get caught up in trying to answer all of life’s big questions. In this season of my life, there seems to be a new existential crisis at every turn. Should I take the Bible at face value? Is the Jesus of the Bible the only way to God? Can I embrace my faith without abandoning my intellect? While the old me sought solutions for these and many more stumbling blocks, the new me is learning the power of the pause.

As I slow down and seek stillness, God whispers truth to my soul:

Breathe in: I love you.

Breathe out: I am here.

Breathe in:I will never turn my face from you.

Breathe out: I am more than your wildest dreams.

For in Him we live and move and have our being. - Acts 17:28

I’m leaning in. I’m taking deep breaths. At this point, I’m not even asking what God is saying. Instead, I am embracing Divine Mystery. My spirit is being cultivated by The God Who Sees Me. I have a deep inner-knowing that the Source of Love is here with me, breathing life back into my dry and cracked lungs. And that is more than enough for me.

Steve Austin is a life coach, speaker, and author ofSelf-Care for the Wounded Soul. Steve's goal is to help you create a lifestyle of focused emotional health and clarity. Looking for more ways to create space? Subscribe to Steve Austin's free weekly newsletter by clicking right here.

If you have a suggestion for this weekly feature, please email Steve at steve@iamsteveaustin.com today. If you’d like to suggest a topic or request Steve’s perspective on a particular word, please reach out!

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Music Provided by BenSound.com

Who Are You? Find Out Here.

Who are you?

Isn't that the question you've been asking all your life?

Who Are You? Podcast

Who are you? Deeper than the color of your skin, your denomination, political convictions, or even your outward behavior - who are you? At the core of your being, below the noise and distractions, underneath the busyness and unrealistic expectations - who are you?

I'm thrilled to launch, "Who Are You?", a new feature of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast. This weekly affirmation podcast is designed to help you discover a sense of wholeness, emotional clarity, and purpose. Each Sunday morning, I'll be releasing a new 10-15 minute podcast episode to help you dig deeper, and cultivate your prayer, contemplation, and meditation practice.

Paul Young said:

Wholeness is when the way of your being matches the truth of your being. That’s authenticity. That begs the question, what’s the truth of your being?

"Who Are You?" will encourage you to get silent, plumb the depths of your soul, and remind you of the truth of your being. If you're looking for a weekly soul shift, this is it. Through a combination of fresh perspective, powerful quotes, Scripture, music, and silence, this sacred space will allow you to connect with your true self.

Week one's theme: love.

If you have a suggestion for this weekly self-care feature, please email Steve Austin directly at steve@iamsteveaustin.com. If you'd like to suggest a topic or request Steve's perspective on a particular word, please reach out!

Music for "Who Are You?" is graciously provided by Tony Anderson, from the score of "The Heart of Man". Tony says, "What I write is simply an overflow of interactions I have with my own brokenness. Some of it comes in dreams - other times it emerges from seasons of sorrow, humiliation, warfare, joy, and pain. In each piece, I am audibly sharing my heart, and it is the highest privilege to hear from people who resonate with it." Check out Tony's website here.

Are You Scared of God? Me too.

“When you are fully known and loved you have a home.”

-Joel Ansett

“...known and loved.” The words make my stomach twist and knot. I cringe and my insides curdle at the thought of being known. I shrink back in fear of being seen as I truly am. I've been scared of God for years. And yet, somehow, I feel drawn to the concept of being loved by this same God.

Are You Scared of God, Too?

Are You Scared of God, Too?

Fear tells me I could never be known and also loved. Guilt says they are mutually exclusive for someone like me. Someone with a past. Someone with dirt under his fingernails and cracks in his armor. Shame says there is no way Love could ever know me.

After a few deep breaths, choking back tears that I fear might drown me, I hear the words of my friend, Ed Bacon. On today’s episode of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Ed says,  “I’m an atheist to that kind of God”. The “kind of God” who sits upon a throne of power, controlling His minions with fear, shame, and guilt. My friend said he is an atheist to the God of such toxic theology.

  • “That kind of God” tells me I couldn’t possibly love Jesus, and also margaritas.
  • “That kind of God” only demands 10% of my money, but 100% allegiance to dogma.
  • “That kind of God” appeals to straight white males who were born with power, but thirst for more.
  • “That kind of God” says you can either be Christian or crazy. Not both.

But the truth is, “that kind of God” isn’t God at all. An idol, maybe. It looks a lot like a golden calf. A man-made power structure. The Christian Machine, for sure.

Anne Lamott says it like this, “You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

It’s “that kind of God” I shrink from. And that kind of toxic theology wounded me deeply. I was judged by the followers of “that kind of God” for growing tired of performance-based Christianity. The Church of “that kind of God” excommunicated me for my questions and lack of faith. It’s “that kind of God” who told me that to be known wasn’t possible, because a perfect God couldn’t get near my dirty secrets or dare fellowship with the kind of company I keep these days. “That kind of God” couldn’t allow me into even the outside of the circle, much less love me as I am.

If Jen Hatmaker is right, and the Christian Machine isn’t the body of Christ, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. And if that’s true, then who is the body (or family) of Christ? The Bible says we’ll be known by “...compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and discipline.” It goes on to say that we’ll be “quick to forgive” and “clothed in love”.

If so, I have found the body of Christ in unexpected places and in the faces of people who have been hiding in the shadows for a lifetime. I have broken bread and sipped wine with those who wouldn’t dare darken the doorways of traditional churches. I have found God in the middle of a gay bar. I have formed beautiful friendships with people who felt they had to move away from America in order to live their best life.

And in every story and situation, I have tasted and seen that God is actually good.

To be known and loved used to frighten me to tears. I was constantly scared of God, but these days, I am experiencing the Light and Love, the Peace and the Presence of God on a deeply personal level. It happens in ordinary conversations with people who are anything but ordinary. I am learning that to be loved is to be known - one doesn’t happen without the other. Each day, I am allowing myself to be more fully known by people who find my faults to be flawless and love me without condition.

[embed]https://youtu.be/rqyvyuMO5m8[/embed]

I'm No Longer Scared of God

Do you want to be known and loved? If so, join me. Consider this your invitation to pull up a chair and sit for a while. The table is larger than we ever imagined and there is room for everyone. Please, I beg you, come out of silence and secrecy. Being known and loved is possible and wonderful. It’s a place that feels like home.

Like this post? Check out these powerful resources:

  1. The Wonderful Truth about Heaven and Hell (with Ed Bacon) on the #AskSteveAustin Podcast
  2. MoreThanLeftovers - A Safe Online Self-Care Community
  3. Subscribe to Steve Austin's free weekly newsletter.

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