About Ascent to Grace

Healing the Wounds of Shame

Through the Power of God’s Grace

Fresh out of seminary, new degree in hand, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of shame. When Dally, a mid-thirty woman, walked into my office, sat down and began to tell me her story, I hoped my shock and recoil didn’t show. I was about to take a lesson on how little I actually understood.

That night at home, I pushed my dinner aside; I couldn’t eat. Although client confidentiality prevented me from talking to my wife about what I had heard in my office that day, this new information churned around in me like a small tornado. I tried to watch TV for all of ten minutes and failed. Still recoiling from Dally’s horror story, I went into the other room and sat in the dark and thought about her, what the monsters – her family – had done to her.

No one should ever be treated that way – yet throughout the world, boys and girls, men and women are denigrated and violated and abused every day. Evil knows no limits.

In my years as a Christian therapist, I have witnessed the wreckage that abuse and its resultant shame produces too many times to count. This kind of shame – toxic shame – is evil. There is no other word for it. Toxic shame takes the human spirit in its jaws, chews it, mauls it, grinds it up, and spits it out. Toxic shame cripples. It kills. It is relentless; it is without mercy. It crumbles hope to dust, leaving boulder-sized illusion that there is no cure.

Shame murders the spirit in much the same way as a gunshot or a knifeblade murders the body.

Don’t believe that shame’s murder of the spirit is forever. There is a cure – but it doesn’t come easily. Healing from toxic shame takes time. It requires work, hard work. Diligent work. There may come a time when that work is so daunting, so painful that you want to quit.

Don’t give in to the pain. Stay the course. It’s worth it.

Ascent to Grace is about shame, the damage it does, and its polar opposite, grace. In short, shame wounds and kills, grace heals and restores.  Because I want Ascent to Grace to be accessible, open, and easily comprehensible – to be genuinely helpful and a real and practical way – I have decided not to belabor the book with footnotes that authenticate the points I’m making, citing the findings and opinions of therapists and theologians (while I acknowledge the importance of footnotes in scholarly works, too often, I have found these to be more distracting than helpful). Instead, I have cited Scripture … a most reliable source.

Ascent to Grace is largely anecdotal and experiential, based on what I’ve learned toddling along at Jesus’ side, and by serving as a pastoral counselor in the Kingdom of God.

That is not to say a truckload of research did not herald Ascent. Indeed, the product of hours, weeks, months and years of reading, researching, exploring, thinking, praying and distilling has finally landed on these pages. Just check the bibliography. And yes, I did read them all, and more.

The seeds for Ascent to Grace were planted in 1955 when one of my high school teachers handed out a list of books. “Pick one, read it, and write a book report,” she said. One title beamed. I checked out the copy of Robert Lindner’s The Fifty-Minute Hour from the library. Like bait on a hook, Lindner’s account of case studies from a psychologist’s office caught me. This aspect of human behavior – why people do the things they do – was fascinating. The flame of my lifetime search for understanding shame and grace was ignited then and there and I wanted to know more. During my four years of undergraduate study in college, I gobbled up every course on psychology that was offered.

In 1980, I became a Christian, as did my wife and children. Six years later, I caught a PBS program: John Bradshaw on family dynamics. Like an overdue wake-up call, Bradshaw’s series ripped the cover over my own burden of distorted shame. Hooked, I wanted to know: is shame a permanent condition? Can shame actually be healed? How is it that faith in Christ and the human spirit intersect?

I was in my second year of seminary when Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, was published. I got it, read it and was again encouraged by the idea of healing shame – but only in part. While Bradshaw’s excursion into Eastern philosophies as his preferred venue where shame finds healing, this was not the road I traveled. What I wanted, needed, was something that spoke from the Christian perspective.

How is it that faith in Christ – how Jesus himself via the Holy Spirit– heals us from the afflictions of sin and abuse, from the wounds inflicted by the shards and shrapnel of evil. What is there in the Bible that we can rely on – specifically – to address our wounds of shame? My years-long journey of exploration and research began. Ascent to Grace is the result.

One more note. My citations from Bible verses are personalized and paraphrased to capture the essence of the verses in fresh language yet remain germane to the topic. The actual Bible citations are cited as footnotes should you care to check. I have relied on the NIV, ESV, The Message by Eugene H. Peterson and The New Testament: An Expanded Translation by Kenneth S. Wuest as the bases.

Throughout my practice as a therapist, I have honored the confidentiality of clients. While Dally (not her real name) embodies a number of exemplary counseling issues, she is an amalgam of issues rather than persons. While Dally is a fiction, the issues of toxic shame and the healing of it very definitely are not.
Bottom line: I’ll keep it simple:

Shame wounds your spirit.
God’s grace heals it.