Fulfilling the Longing for Belonging
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Do you struggle with being honest about your weaknesses? Sharon Hersh talks about the freedom of walking in the identity God has for us.
Fulfilling the Longing for Belonging
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 19th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. How can we have the confidence and the courage to live authentic, transparent, honest lives? We’re going to talk more about that today. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re talking about how messed up all of us are. [Laughter]
Ann: I was going to say we’re going deep today.
Bob: We are; this week we are exploring this reality that all of us are flawed.
Ann: —and have unprocessed wounds.
Bob: Yes; and damage and trauma. I’m not trying to get into a whole bunch of psychological jargon here; but it’s the reality of our lives that all of us have dysfunctions.
I remember my mom, years ago—she was watching afternoon talk shows; she was in her 80s at the time—she goes, “What’s all this talk about dysfunctional families?” [Laughter] She said, “Isn’t every family a dysfunctional family?” I said, “I think you know more than you’re letting on to there, Mom.”
Ann: So you would say you have dysfunction; like, people can look at you [and] Dennis Rainey, and think, “Oh, those guys are perfect. They—
Bob: —all of us!
Ann: —“can’t relate to my mess.”
Bob: No; all of us have dysfunction.
Dave: And it is not easy to talk about; it’s easy to try and cover it. Who wants to talk about it?—I’d like to talk about your dysfunction. [Laughter] Never turn it and talk about mine, because we want to sort of cover it up. It comes out of this whole root of selfishness; right?
Bob: It does. We’re talking with our friend, Sharon Hersh, about this, this week. Sharon, welcome back.
Sharon: Thank you.
Bob: Sharon is an author; she is a speaker; she is a counselor. She is a longtime friend. She has been a guest on FamilyLife Today a number of times. She has just written a book called Belonging, and we’ve been talking this week about how all of us long to belong.
I’m thinking about people, who are listening, who are going—well, like a friend said to me; this was six/seven years ago. We were talking about his life, and his life was in crisis; he had made a lot of bad decisions. We were kind of probing at some of this; and he looked at me, and he said—“There is stuff in my life you and nobody will ever know anything about.”
I let it go at the time; but what that said to me is: “There is such a deep sense of shame; and he thinks, ‘The only way I can cope with this shame is by making sure I manage it and nobody ever knows.’” That’s not a winning strategy for the shame that you are trying to manage—is just to say, “I will bear this alone, and not let anybody know. Then, I’ll make it,”—it’ll eat you alive from the inside; won’t it?
Sharon: It will; yet, Bob, most of us believe that:—
Sharon: —“If you really knew me, Sharon Hersh…” I think this book, Belonging, has been a great risk for me; because I have told stories—that I’ve never told publicly—and that have carried me to this place that I don’t want to live in anymore; it’s not a place of freedom.
I love what Henri Nouwen said; he said that: “The hardness of God”—which is something we kind of feel when we tell the truth about our lives—“The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, because His compulsion is our liberation.”
Ann: That’s good.
Sharon: I know I have been compelled to tell the truth about my life, because I want to be free.
Bob: So the person, who is listening to you say that—and saying, like my friend—“There is stuff about my life that nobody will ever know. I’m not telling my husband; I’m not telling my kids. If I knew/if this came out, I would be destroyed. I could not go out the next day into the sunlight for fear everyone would be looking at me and going, ‘Oh, you’re that person.’ It would so become a part of my identity that I could not/I couldn’t be in public anymore.” What do you say to that person?
Sharon: Well, the last time I did treatment—and I’ve done it a few times for my alcoholism—was in 2009. I woke up in the hospital with the elders and my pastor surrounding my bed. If you want to experience—
Ann: Was that your lowest point?
Sharon: No; it was not my lowest point, but it was a come-to-Jesus moment. [Laughter] They escorted me, when I was released from the hospital, to treatment. I thought my life was over; I thought my ministry was over; no one would believe me. Then, over the
30 days there—first of all, they had to put a limit on my visitors—because everyone from my church came to visit me.
Dave: Were they coming to help?
Sharon: Yes; they were.
Ann: Were they kind?
Sharon: I think that’s a lie the enemy tells us that: “If people knew about you, they would hate you.” When, really, what I have discovered is: “As people know the truth about my life, they want me more,” which is so surprising to me. My dear pastor came to visit me; and I said to him, “You know, I just don’t know why I am this way: why I am the vulnerable, afraid, relapsing sinner.” [Laughter] He said, “Sharon, that’s what we love about you.”
I did not believe him; but since that time, I have come to believe—not only is that what people want in relationship—now, we don’t just stay in the muck—because that’s not hopeful to anyone; but it is saying, “You know what? I need help. I need people in my life.” The pastor of my church has a key to my house! I need people that can come in at any moment, and wherever they find me, believe that they want to be there to help me/to support me.
I know this program is about marriage and family, and I want to say that nothing will harm your marriage and your parenting more than living the secret life. It is, as we are open about our struggles—appropriately at times in our children’s life—I mean, my children will never write a book saying: “My mom was perfect”; but I pray daily that they will write a book that says: “My mom needed Jesus.”
Dave: Well, it’s interesting, as you tell your story—and again, when I read your book, I’m like, “Not too many books I read about a DUI by the author in Chapter 1,”—you talk about honesty.
It reminded me—and I wonder if you resemble the same thing—a man I knew, as an acquaintance, worked in the organization that I worked with—the Detroit Lions as their chaplain—[he] had a secret drinking problem. He was very high up in the organization; he had controlled it for years.
I read one day in the paper he got pulled over the night before—DUI/drunk; spent the night in jail—front page of the Detroit newspaper. He’s a guy who never came to my Bible study or my chapel service for the team, but we knew each other. I got his number; I didn’t even have his phone number. I got it and just texted him, and said, “Read what happened last night. If you ever need to talk, you know what I do. I’d love to be available.” Five minutes later, I get a text: “How about right now at Starbucks®?” Boom, boom, boom; I meet him; gives his life to Christ.
Dave: Now, part of his story is: “Worst/best night of my life. Worst night because I spent the night in jail; my wife and kids are at home, reading and hearing about this,”—it’s a public deal—“Best moment because”—what you said—“now, my secret is no longer a secret.
Dave: “People know the truth, and I don’t have to hide anymore.” He’s totally turned his whole life around. There were consequences, obviously; but it was, finally, he was able to realize: “I belong in a community of people, who are not going to wear masks anymore.”
Sharon: Right; and because you reached out to him in his worst moment—and weren’t concerned about his stats on the field but about his real life—as a therapist, I work with many families. I know parents are longing for their children to tell the truth about their social media use, and what they see on social media, and the temptations they face around every corner at school, and what they are believing about faith. Yet, if we are living a story of: “Do better,” “Try harder,” “Prove that you belong,”—I mean, what you were saying to this guy was: “You belong, and you don’t have to prove anything,” which probably was the most refreshing news to a professional athlete that he could get.
Ann: So, Sharon, what does that look like? As parents are listening, they are thinking: “How do I communicate that? Yet, I don’t want my kids to be on these social media sites,” or “I don’t want my kids to do these certain things.” How do we talk to them in a way that they will be honest; and yet, we are trying to be their parents too?
Sharon: I wish I had the answer to that. [Laughter] Yet, what I will say is that kids absorb what’s going on at home. If the energy of your home—which it was for way too many years in my life—is performance, they will either jump on board and perform their way into loneliness, disconnection, and distance from God; or they will say, “Forget it! I can’t make it; I can’t perform; I can’t keep the standard. So I’m going to do everything to react against my parents.”
All I can say is that I have learned, the hard way, that being honest about my inability to sometimes cope with life/to know the answers—I especially say this to parents of adult children, which I hate to give you the bad news—but that is the hardest season of parenting.
Sharon: To show up, to be seen, and to not have an agenda opens the door to the gospel, which is what we want to offer as parents.
Ann: This is like/this is some heavy stuff of allowing people to really see us.
Bob: There are people, who are listening to this, and they are going, “I don’t know what universe you people are living in,”—[Laughter]
Sharon: I know.
Bob: —“but I tried to get honest. I mean, I took a step/kind of a half step and said, ‘I’m going to be open about this.’”
Ann: Yes; let’s say porn: “I shared this porn problem,”—or what if you had an affair, and it’s a secret—“And now I’m going to dump this. And it will be worse for my spouse?”
Bob: —or “I tried; I shared a little bit, and everybody moved away from me.
Bob: “They didn’t move toward, and they all started talking about me. Pretty soon, I was out of the church.”
People are going, “Sharon, I hear you. I’d like to be honest and live in that world, but it’s not my world. What do I do?”
Sharon: Well, I think that is a reality—whether it is with our children, who are experts at using whatever we say against us—[Laughter]—but unfortunately, sometimes, the church is too.
Sharon: All I can say to you is—with regard to the church, or people at large, who sometimes do point fingers and judge, that is painful. I’m not denying that; it does happen. But what I have learned—and this sounds ironic to say—is that what Jesus said is true: “The truth will set you free.” The question is: “Do I want to be in the inner circle,”—which, quite honestly, I have wanted a great deal of my life—“or do I want to be free?—nothing to prove/nothing to protect, knowing that Jesus loves me, not for what I do, but because of who He is.”
The more that I fail and confess my flaws—and as my kids say, “Admit that I am totally uncool,”—[Laughter]—the more I draw close to Him. Now, I realize that is kind of an esoteric reality: that we want to feel close to the people in our church, and we want everyone to like us; and we want our kids to respect us; and we want our spouses to think that we are the best thing on earth; and yet, that is fleeting.
Sharon: There is one reality that I have learned, at this stage in my life, that is solid; and that is, who I am in Christ. When I live out of that, I belong. I can be with anyone, even my kids, who are not necessarily walking with God. We can talk about things, because I am rooted in something that is not me.
Dave: It’s interesting, when you say that, because that means your belonging is not dependent on something out here.
Dave: It’s actually dependent on something vertical and understood inside; it’s an identity in Christ. That’s the secret we don’t get, because we try to find our belonging here—certain groups/certain acceptance from the right people at the right time—that never seems to satisfy. It’s like: “Well, I’ve got it,” or “I didn’t get it.”
It isn’t external—it’s actually spiritually and internal; is that what you’re saying?—it’s identity in Christ: “I’m a son…” or “…a daughter of the King.”
Sharon: It is. I think we all love the truth; it’s why we are drawn to the gospel—that God loves us no matter what state we are in—but the hardest part of the gospel to live out is that: “We love”—and I hate this next little word—“as He has loved us.”
I can say I am just a beginner there; I am really learning to interiorize that: “He loves me on my worst day and my best day,” “He loves me when I lie and when I tell the truth,” “He loves me when I am caught in addiction and when I am living in freedom,” “He loves me when my kids sit in the front row of the church, and He loves me when they tell me they don’t believe in God.” He wants me to love as He has loved me.
Dave: You’ve inspired me to be the person—that your son or daughter calls, or somebody gets pulled over and DUI, and your church calls—I want them to think, “I want to call Dave.
Ann: —because you love well.
Dave: —“because they sense in me: “He’s honest,” and “He’s authentic,” and “I know he’s got weaknesses just like I do;—
Bob: “He’s safe.”
Dave: —“he hasn’t hidden those. And yet, there is also a power and a forgiveness that I’ve seen in his life that is supernatural; they are both there. I know, that if I call him, I’ll be accepted and loved; but I will also be held to the gospel.” Do you know what I’m saying? I want Ann to call me; I want my sons to call me.
Dave: “Are they thinking of me?”—I don’t think so! [Laughter] It inspires me to say, “I want to be that man.” I want our listeners to say, “I want to be that man,”/”I want to be that woman.”
Sharon: Don’t you think that is the goal in marriage? I mean, my marriage fell apart
20 years ago; but I think that is where marriage is often wasted in these days. Don’t you want to be the spouse that your husband or wife could call you, no matter what?—not because they are going to love everything you did, but because they want to love as they have been loved.
Bob: I would say our ability to love others is wrapped up in our ability to receive God’s love for us.
Bob: If you are having a hard time loving others, the way you address that is you go back to meditating on and believing God’s love for you, and bathing in that, and drinking it in; so you can pour it out to others.
Bob: You don’t try to conjure up in yourself: “Well, I need to be more this way or that way.” No; you go back, and you experience God’s love for you.
Ann: —through the power of the Spirit—
Ann: —that lives in us.
Bob: And then let it just kind of pour out of you; it will pour out of you. At our church, we say/I say, “Here is the cycle: ‘Drink in, pour out; drink in, pour out. You can’t pour out what you don’t drink in at first, so you’ve got to start by drinking in; but then, it should just gush out. You don’t have to turn on any spigot; it should just overflow over the top because it’s there.” That’s what Belonging is all about; right?
Bob: Thank you for your honesty/your transparency. Thanks for the book.
Bob: I think it is going to help a lot of people. Good to see you again.
Sharon: Good to be with you.
Dave: Thank you.
Bob: We have copies of Sharon’s book, Belonging, available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Again, the subtitle of the book: Finding the Way Back to One Another. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, the title of Sharon’s book is Belonging. Order it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, here at FamilyLife®, we are proponents of extended community; we think there is real value in married couples being connected to other married couples. David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife, is here with us to talk a bit about that. David—
David: Thanks, Bob. Growth so often happens in the context of community; and over the past few years, we have two small group resources that we’ve developed from people that you trust, if you listen to FamilyLife Today. There is the Vertical Marriage small group that features Dave and Ann Wilson, and there is our most recent Love Like You Mean It small group, where Bob Lepine walks us through 1 Corinthians 13. Of course, we have mainstays that truly hundreds of thousands of people have gone through like, Art of Marriage® and Art of Parenting®.
I heard from Sean in Pennsylvania, who has listened to FamilyLife Today and gone to several Weekends to Remember®. He recently sent me an email just how much getting that close community to grow with matters to him. He shared, “We have recently taught the Art of Marriage curriculum to a couple of churches, and we most recently taught the Vertical Marriage curriculum this past fall with nearly 40 couples. It was an amazing response.”
Sean went on to say, “I want to share this to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to use your gifts to strengthen and build up the church. The enemy is attacking from many directions.” Sean says, “Our time is short on this earth to serve and worship our Lord and King.” Sean, I could not agree with you more; thank you for the challenge.
Each one of us continues to grow in Christ; and as we grow, we get the opportunity to bring others into that growth also. Take a step of faith. Someone is out there looking for someone to invite them into a community. Maybe, you are the person that gathers some neighbors or gathers a few couples that are in your sphere of influence and walk through a marriage study today.
Bob: Of course, we’ve got information on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com about those studies that you mentioned. Go to the website to find out more and connect with some other couples. It’s been a while since we’ve had good meaningful connections; and maybe, we’re starting to feel like we can do some of that more safely now. Thank you, David.
We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday, especially if you’re a grumpy person; okay? If you’re grouchy, if you are negative, Monday, tune in because we want to talk about how you deal with negativity. If you are that person, you probably know who you are; and you should listen. If you wonder if you are that person, just ask your spouse; they will tell you; okay? [Laughter] But join us Monday when Nichole Phillips joins us to talk about The Negativity Remedy. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some extra help this week from Bruce Goff; and of course, our entire broadcast production team was involved in this program. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend, and we will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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