While listening to a Leading Saints podcast with host Kurt Francom, I was grateful for the insights to be found as Kurt stressed the impact of studying the gospel to impact our behavior; and how Satan uses shame to distract us from our true identity and drag us down to sin and despair.

In both this podcast and Kurt’s recent book, Is God Disappointed in Me?, we discover a resounding “No.” God is not disappointed in us.

Focusing on Doctrines

To introduce the importance of the power of understanding and sincerely applying the doctrine, he shared the complete quote by Elder Boyd K. Packer that many of us have only taken note of the first part.

“The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.”

A changed heart leads to good behaviors and doctrine helps guide us through that process.

But Satan doesn’t want us to progress down that changed heart path, he tempts us, catching us in our own traps by creating contention in our hearts (Doctrine & Covenants 10:12, 10:26, 10:63). He attacks our hearts by altering out understanding of the doctrine and that then allows us to fall into sin easier.

We need to remember we are truly a divine child of God, thus not allowing Satan to distract us from our true identity by confusing us about whom we are and creating a contention in our hearts.

Shame Leads to a Lack of Agency

Shame leads to altered identity which leads to a lack of agency. No one can maintain a changed heart if we believe we are:

  • An addict
  • A financial mess
  • Overweight
  • A liar
  • A failure
  • A burden and more

As wisely stated by Brené Brown:

“No one wants to be defined by their hardest struggle, and so we have to find this really interesting space between owning it and identifying it but reject being labeled by it and reduced by it.”

It is easy in our culture to think that only our behaviors matter, but as we get our heart right the behaviors will follow. When we flip that, thinking, “If I had specific behaviors, then my heart would line up,” we set ourselves up for a mindset that creates shame.

It’s okay to identify our own struggle, but we need to reject being labeled by it and reduced by it. For example, we can think, “I am an addict; therefore, I need the atonement of Jesus Christ”, versus, “I am an addict, beyond saving and hopeless”.

Brené Brown gave additional insights in this regard:

“As a shame researcher, I’ve learned that wherever perfectionism is driving us, shame is riding shotgun.”

The work and glory of God is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. (Moses 1:39) The opposite of that is Satan’s work and glory: to destroy the agency of man. His game plan is to alter our identity, inviting shame which leads to lack of agency. The shame game is how he removes our agency.

A Change of Heart

There are things we can do as leaders in our callings and with our families to guide someone to a change of heart.

A change of heart leads to good behavior, so let’s extend an opportunity to:

  • Offer hope,
  • Explore doctrines (especially mercy and grace),
  • Admit we can’t “fix” them,
  • Define the purpose of the behaviors (CPR: church, prayer, read scriptures),
  • Turn them towards their Father,
  • Overwhelm them with connection.

Then, as they surrender, the heart changes and the behavior changes.

The Tactic of Disappointment

There is an interesting dynamic in how we may have felt if called in the principal’s office—where our parents may be disappointed to learn we were sent—compared to how we may have felt in the dentist’s office.

When we go to the dentist’s office, it is a good thing and a positive thing to keep our teeth healthy and in good condition. A checkup is an essential part of staying healthy. There isn’t shame even if something is found “wrong” and we have a cavity. Sure, we could have maybe brushed more but it’s not a horrible thing; we just need to improve.

The question here is whether we feel that our bishop’s office is more like the principal’s office or the dentist’s office?

If we feel like it’s more of a principal’s office, then Satan can use that disappointment or shame to attack our identity. He will try to guide us to a belief that we are the only ones to have ever made a mistake or messed up, and that God is disappointed by our poor choices. The truth is, God is never disappointed in us or ashamed of us. In Doctrine and Covenants 3:1, we learn:

“The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught.”

Disappointments come when we have expectations but things don’t work out. So, if God can’t be surprised or His plans frustrated, then He cannot be disappointed in us.

Repentance is the Balm

We release the shame and get out of the shame cycle when we understand that God knows setbacks, mistakes, and sins will happen. Elder Lynn G. Robbins wisely stated:

“Repentance isn’t His backup plan in the event we might fail. Repentance is His plan, knowing that we will.”

Be Vulnerable and Be Whole

In conclusion, when we hold on to our true identity and allow our hearts to be changed as we navigate this adventure called life, we will discover our divinity and hope.

Thus, being vulnerable and willing to visit our “spiritual dentist office” to clean up what became messy, we can recover from the shame cycle. It takes courage, but it grows hope, healing, and a changed heart. In the words of Brené Brown:

“Being vulnerable is our most accurate measurement of courage.”

May we move forward in courage and growth as our hearts change and continue to align more with our Savior.

Beth Young is a convert of 46 years; served a mission in North Carolina; has been married for 36 years to her sweetheart, Bob; has five adult children and two grandchildren. She raised her family in Texas for 25 years where she served in various capacities in church and in her community. She moved to Utah six years ago and loves writing, teaching, and inspiring others to make changes to their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Beth is the owner of 5 Pillars of Health, serves as the written content manager at Leading Saints, and is a master gardener.

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