By Juan Galloway:
Over my lifetime, I have had many moments in which I was plagued with anxiety and depression. It has been a cycle that is sometimes crushing. Inevitably, in the midst of my pain, I would do an emergency triage on my soul to find out what the roots of my emotional distress were. Recently, this happened to me again…
I was in the midst of an exciting time of strategic planning with the organization I lead, New York City Relief. It was exciting because God was giving us the wisdom and direction we needed in order to move forward in our mission to help more friends on the streets to experience life and freedom.
While I was in total agreement with our leadership team about the direction we were headed and next steps, I began to take the burden of these changes completely upon myself. I began to have the irrational fear of making a misstep and doing major damage. The weight I felt was immense.
In addition, we had a pillar of our team and one of my best friends, Bill Hoffman, leave the ministry after 27 years to relocate to California and start a new chapter in his journey with God. I was happy for him and sad for me. One of my safest places was a friendship and working relationship that was now on the opposite coast.
I also had a project that I had been working on for two years simply stall and go nowhere. I have been looking for a new and larger building for New York City Relief to facilitate our growth. After looking at many buildings, talking to many townships and trying to navigate the strange small city political landscape of New Jersey, I came up empty. What did that say about me?
While I was experiencing these events, so was my “shame attendant.” In the book The Soul of Shame, author and Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson speaks of the influence of shame in our lives as an attendant who is lurking by our side, giving a warped and negative perspective on life events to confirm how inadequate we are.
“Shame wants to alter our stories by telling its own version,” he writes. “It is both a source and result of evil’s active assault on God’s creation.”
During this time of feeling oppressed and overwhelmed, I received an email from a good friend who felt that they had a word from God to share with me. She wrote, “I saw you in this rusty iron cage. It was small, claustrophobic, and dark. You couldn’t see outside of the cage so your perspective was from the inside. On the outside, the world was so colorful, bright, and airy. The enemy is trying to cloud your perspective. He is trying to plant lies of doubt, fear and failure (represented by the cage). The truth is outside the cage. The truth is God’s perspective.” She couldn’t have been more correct.
I realized that the anxiety I was feeling was rooted in a belief that I would fail, causing me to be exposed as incompetent. In my mind, being seen as weak equated to the ultimate shame. Something inside me wanted to be a strong leader that everyone could count on. I began to feel more and more shut down and withdrawn.
This is what shame wants, for us to live in isolation rather than in relationship. Shame’s mission is to disrupt connection between people. Why? Because it knows that humans thrive when we are in honest, healthy relationships. The “shame attendant” is out to destroy. Its message is that we are not okay, and that when people know the real us, they won’t want to have anything to do with us.
The parts of us that feel most broken and we keep most hidden are the parts that desperately need to be known. Dr. Thompson says, “For only in those instances when our shamed parts are known do they stand a chance to be redeemed. We can love God, love ourselves or love others only to the degree that we are known by God and known by others.”
Dealing with my own sense of shame causes me to think of the people we serve at New York City Relief. How do our friends challenged with homelessness grapple with the shame that is heaped upon them? How can God use our staff and volunteers to break through this assault upon their souls?
I would like to share the story of how God put a beating on the “shame attendant” of a man we met on the streets. As an orphan escaping from Vietnam, Christoph was placed in a foster home in America where he was abused by his foster parents. Afterwards, he was bounced through 16 more group and foster homes. As a teenager, Christoph became homeless and got involved with gangs who became his only family. He eventually got married, but when his marriage fell apart he ended up on the streets of New York working as a male prostitute to survive. Christoph said, “When you are living on the streets, you are humiliated. You (The Relief Bus) give (the homeless) a tiny bit of pride that uplifts them and encourages them. Never have I felt the love of God more in my life.”
Christoph detailed the amazing story of how lost and isolated he was until he met friends at The Relief Bus who became companions in his journey to freedom. Satan had used every wound and failure in his life as “proof” of how worthless he was. Outreach Director Brett Hartford assisted in getting Christoph the help he needed to get off of the streets to start life over again.
Christoph said, “You hugged me and said you loved me. I didn’t want to let go. You said to give God the honor and glory because it comes from Him. He works through people. Thank you for not giving up on us when the rest of the world has. You show that God doesn’t give up.”
Like Christoph, God has used trusted people in my life to speak forth truth and reality—that I am not alone. Counselors, mentors, family, and friends were used by God to pull the scales off of my eyes and the burden off of my heart. The weight is lifted, my eyes turned back to the lover of my soul.
As president of New York City Relief, it is my job to ensure that people in need find a community that offers a non-judging ear and a helping hand out of the cage of shame. As steward of my own heart, God is calling me to courageously share my weakness and brokenness with people around me who love me. In this way I can cut the legs out from under the “shame attendant” who tries to drag me down.
When I connect myself to the body of Christ through intentional vulnerability, I connect myself to the head which is Christ. This is the place of safety and connection that my soul longs for. The voice of the shame attendant becomes only a faint whisper, drowned out by the roar of the Holy Spirit, who sings songs of delight over me. I breathe deep and my heart swells with the joy of being wanted.
“Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5
Rev. Juan Galloway is president of The Relief Bus, a mobile outreach that feeds the homeless and connects them to resources and places where they can find help. Consider making a donation or volunteering at www.newyorkcityrelief.org.