Gut-punching your Fear & Shame: Heather Holleman
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Heather HollemanDr. Heather Holleman is an associate teaching professor at Penn State and has won numerous teaching awards in the last 20 years. She designs the advanced writing curriculum for the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State and trains faculty how to teach writing. She has written eight books including the best-seller Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison and an award-winning book on evangelism (co-written with her husband Ashley Holleman) called Sent: Living a Life that Invites...more
Want to walk out on the fight for acceptance? Ditch fear? Leap free from shame-cycles? On FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson host Heather Holleman, who’s got the key: staying seated in Christ.
Gut-punching your Fear & Shame: Heather Holleman
Dave: Alright, if you could pick one spiritual truth out of any that’s transformed you the most, that there’s one—again, I didn’t tell you I’m going to ask you this—it’s just you know. I think I know what you’re going to say. But I don’t know.
Ann: I have no idea what I’m going to say. What do you think I’m going to say?
Dave: What? You really don’t?
Ann: You can’t put me on the spot like that. There are so many spiritual truths.
Dave: What comes to your mind?
Ann: I mean that I am loved, that Jesus is enough. There are so many different things. What were you going to say? Because you thought about it.
Dave: It’s what we are going to be talking about today.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We’ve been talking about identity with Heather Holleman from her book, Seated with Christ, which is a lot about identity: who we are and we are seated with Christ.
You are a professor at Nittany Lion College, Penn State. You teach students every day, but this is like a theme of who you are, right?
Dave: When I thought about that, I thought “That truth, for me, might be transformative.” Yes, there’s different spiritual truths that hit at different times. But I think foundationally understanding that as Paul said, “The One who God raised from the dead lives in me.” [Romans 8:11, Paraphrased]
Dave: If that isn’t life changing, we do not get it.
Dave: You’ve got to be kidding me. The resurrected Christ says I’m worthy and wants my body, my soul to be His temple and reside here.
Heather: That’s amazing.
Dave: If that doesn’t change me and everything I do, I don’t understand it.
Ann: Walking in Michigan at this time of year is unbelievable because if you don’t live in a state—
Dave: Heather knows—there in the Mid-West.
Ann: —but the leaves are red—
Heather: —so beautiful.
Ann: —and they’re so vibrant. As I was walking and I’m seeing this absolute display of beauty, I’m looking at the artistry of God; like, “God, you created this.”
Dave: You should go on walks with her. Every 30 seconds; like, “Look at that tree. Oh my gosh, God is amazing.”
Ann: Then these deer coming around. I’m thinking, “The creator of all of this abides in me. He died for me. He lives in me. The power of this Creator, that He lives in me.” And I live sometimes like “There’s nothing going on but this old broken-down lady who’s trying to get by in the day.” That God lives in me.
Heather: It’s amazing.
Ann: The truth of that should be transformative. I’m amazed at that.
Dave: Well, Heather, if we—
Heather: It is.
Dave: —if we know that, why do we struggle not to live that passionately every second of every day of our life?
Heather: I feel like we forget; we’re forgetful. We don’t know how to keep in step with God’s Spirit. I think we have to constantly renew our minds, be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I feel like it’s a daily practice.
Dave: It’s interesting, you said yesterday “from achievement to abiding,” I think it’s very easy to abide or think or meditate over and over and over on achievement.
Dave: You know I look at things. I dream about things, whether it’s possessions or position I’ll get to someday in my life. I mean, it’s like meditation. I think about it over and over and over. If we took that focus, that energy and said, “I’m going to abide; I’m going to focus on Christ,” would that transform the way we think?
Heather: It did for me, and God used Philippians 2:13. It’s a very weird little passage in Philippians. It’s says, “For it is God who is at work in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” [Paraphrased]
In the Greek it essentially says, “God’s going to give you the desire and ability to accomplish the things He has planned for you.” If I meditate on that, it’s not about achievement anymore. It’s this sort of this beautiful exploration; like, “God, what are the instructions for today? What do You want me to do for You? What are the good works prepared?”
Then I don’t think about achieving—I do like hard work like we talked about—but it’s not motivated by needing to impress or achieve. It’s more, like you said, just abiding to figure out “What is it, God?” and knowing that I’m indwelt with Christ and that passage says He’ll lead me to the things He has planned for me.
Dave: One of the things you talk about in your book is the questions we need to answer and ask when we understand seated with Christ.
Dave: You call them “The Four Big Questions.” Should I just shoot them at you?
Dave: Then you can riff on them?
Dave: “Is knowing Jesus better than anything?”
Heather: Once you’re seated with Christ what I’ve found was it’s a perfect safe place to then begin all the mature transformation that you need because you’re completely secure. No one is going to take that seat from you. You didn’t even earn the seat. It’s just sitting there, and God invites you to take a seat. Once you are there, I really wanted to ask God, “Is there anything that’s an idol in my heart?”
When I ask the question, “Is there anything in my…,” or how did I phrase it? “Is knowing Jesus better than anything?” Because I thought, “If I really believe that, then I can surrender my entire life to Him because there’s nothing better than knowing Him and being with Him in the heavenly realms.”
I realized that day writing in my journal “God, knowing you is better than anything; even better than any life that I could design or imagine for myself.” Then I was just set free.
“What is better than knowing Him?” Seriously, what is better than knowing Him? and what would anyone pay for a single encounter with the living God? It’s just priceless, overwhelming when you think about it. You have Jesus. There’s really nothing else that compares.
Ann: If you can think of something else that’s better—
Heather: —then it’s an idol.
Ann: —then I would say, “But you don’t know Him yet; you haven’t experienced His love.”
Dave: Does anything come to both of your minds that you think, “If there’s a blank to fill in this would be close. This is what comes to me first when I think, ‘This would be awesome.’”
Heather: It’s different at different times. Right now, I feel like as I’m getting older, health becomes an idol. I think, “If only I were guaranteed health.” I had three surgeries last year. You can quickly become focused on your health and your body, so I like to thing outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we are renewed day by day. [2 Corinthians 4:16, Paraphrased]
I’d rather be in a surgery unit with Jesus than anywhere else without Him. You know what I mean?
Joni Erickson Tada said that. That’s why I asked her to write the forward to my book. I don’t know if you all were there when she spoke for a Cru staff training. She said, “I’d rather be in my wheelchair knowing Jesus than be given a chance to walk without Him.”
When she said that, I thought to myself, “I do not know Jesus like she does.” I just don’t.
Ann: I remember her saying that, too, and thinking the same thing.
Heather: “I don’t know.” Yes. Or like Horatio Spafford or Corrie Ten Boom, these people that suffer profoundly, and yet they know Jesus is better than anything. That is something that I had to come to terms with.
Dave: I think another way to phrase the question is “Is Jesus enough?”
Dave: I often think we say “Yes,” but we want Jesus and—
Dave: “I don’t need something horrible, but just could I have a good marriage? Could I have a husband that loves me? Could I have children that don’t walk away?”
Ann: “Could I get pregnant?”
Dave: Yes, there’s so many things that are good things; there’s nothing wrong with any of those things. But does it compete with “Is He really truly all by Himself, enough?”
Ann: I can remember the first time I read Romans 12:1-2 as a teenager. I gave my life to Jesus when I was 16. But I remember reading, “Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Then it goes on to say, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” [Paraphrased]
I remember reading that and rereading that and rereading that, and I had this vision, because I had also just read The Chronicles of Narnia, so I have this vision of the altar, and I remember thinking as a young woman, “Can I lay my body and all that I am and all that I hope to be and all my future and all of my desires, can I lay them on the altar and let God have all of me?” That was a big decision, and I ended up doing that. I pretty much do it every day. I have given my life to Jesus but I have to re-surrender all of my desires.
I remember being over in Israel teaching this Scripture on the Sea of Galilee with a group of women. Again, there was this altar, this big stone altar, and I ask them “Can you get on that with your kids and your family?” The older you get sometimes the harder [it is], because now you’ve got your people and you’ve got your grandkids and you’ve got—and there’s so much.
I’m asking you as a listener, “Can you lay all of yourself before Him - everything that you have? Is He good enough? He’s a good, good Father. Can you give your life and all that you have to Him?” That has been the most transformative thing I have ever done in my entire life.
I remember a woman in Israel when I had taught that, she got up and she laid down on that altar. Here’s what she said, “Ann, I can’t put my arms out. I can’t stretch my arms out. I have to protect myself.”
I remember asking her: “Karen, what is it?”
She said, “I’m realizing there’s something I’m holding on to. I will not let it Him have it.” It’s interesting to even ask that question: “Is there anything I’m holding on to that I just don’t trust Jesus to have it?”
Heather: That’s good.
Dave: That’s your second question—
Dave: — “Will I live the life God asks me to?”
Heather: This was probably one of the most powerful moments in my life: I was driving down a road in Michigan; it was winter. I remember exactly where I was. There was a barn on the right.
I was really depressed; I had postpartum depression. Our marriage was falling apart with my husband. I didn’t want to be married anymore. I had a surprise pregnancy, and everything was going wrong. I hated everything that had happened in my life.
I was so depressed and really had lost my mind, I was feeling like. I was in therapy; I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with this baby, this husband that I wasn’t happy with, everything was miserable.
I was driving down that road and it’s the only time in my life that I feel like God really spoke to me. It wasn’t an audible voice, but it was 100 percent a Divine moment. The question that came to my mind was “Will you live the life I ask you to?”
Literally, in that car I was like, “Even if I’m fat?” because I had gained so much weight from my pregnancy. [Laughter]
Ann: These are things women ask.
Heather: I had gained fifty pounds because my thyroid disorder. I was like, “Even if I’m ugly, even if I have to stay in this marriage and have these children, even if - I listed out everything, and I thought, “ - will I live the life God asks me to even if my worst fears come upon me?”
I still do that today, because children are leaving the house, they’re driving, we travel a lot. “Do I give God permission to do what He wants with my children, husband?”
Ann: It’s your altar.
Heather: It’s deep. That act of surrender, when I said to the Lord bursting into tears—I knew this was going to be a life-changing moment for me, it was going to change my life forever. I’m driving in that car, and I remember I said, “You know what, you can have all of me; I will live the life You asked me to. I will do whatever You ask me to do. My life belongs to You because I will mess up my life.”
I walked in the door and my husband says it was like he got his wife back. It’s like my face had changed. It was really that Romans 12:1. I think—my husband says it like this, “We were designed to consecrate our lives, we were actually made to surrender, and that’s how we are happiest.” It was a powerful moment.
“Will I live the life God asks me to,” plus I don’t know what is going to happen to the culture. We may experience persecution. We may experience things that are very painful. Are we willing to live the life God asks us to?
That question number two really did change my life.
Dave: Yes, that surrender moment when I look back on mine, I often share it this way: When I got on my—I literally got on my knees in my bedroom after playing around with the Christian faith—I would say I was a Christian but as I look back, I think this is my real salvation moment: “If He’s not Lord is He really just Savior?” Long story short, I held on to football—I thought, “My futures is going to be playing in the NFL, blow out my knee, don’t even know if I’m going to play my senior season. I held on to a girlfriend I thought was going to be my wife – caught her with another guy, that day I go home to my hometown and walk in my bedroom, close the door and get on my knees and literally say, “Okay, I surrender all.”
I was holding on. I didn’t realize it until I saw in that moment. I was like, “I’ve been holding on to these things. I want Jesus but I want this and this.” When these are lined up with Jesus, when I realize “These are the things I’ve controlled and look what happens. I can’t; my life is not my own.”
Heather: No, we will destroy our lives.
Dave: I got on my knees and I literally said, “I’ll go, I’ll do anything you want me to do.”
It’s a beautiful story because I ended up meeting Ann the very next day.
As I think back on that moment—and I don’t know—yes, I’ve got a Master’s in (of) Divinity—I’m sure this theologically how it works in heaven, but I picture this in heaven: When a person surrenders like my moment, your moment, Jesus is like, “Are you serious? Okay, here we go.”
Heather: And the floodgates opened for you.
Dave: Yes. It’s sort of like—again, it doesn’t mean there aren’t trials—it could be really dark times are ahead, but there’s a sense where He can’t do this until we surrender. When we do, because it’s our decision, it’s almost like He says, “I’ve got a life you won’t believe. It’s totally different than what you think. It may involve no money; it may involve a lot of money.” I don’t know. “But I’ve got a life of impact that is going to be incredible that I couldn’t unleash in your soul until you said, ‘I surrender all.’ Now let’s go!”
Heather: Yes, that’s so great.
Dave: It’s sort of like, when I look back on our life—
Ann: —We would have never chosen what we are doing now, what we are living now.
Dave: This very moment is our surrender result.
Heather: I know.
Ann: It’s so much better than what we could have planned. It hasn’t been easy in any respect but it’s so much better.
Dave: You are afraid to unleash that control, but when you do, you realize the One that loves you more than you love yourself has a plan that’s better.
Ann: It goes to your next question: “Is there anything in my life that doesn’t please God?” When I hear that I think “…that you are holding onto. Is there anything that you are really having a hard time giving Him?”
Heather: Right. What I like to think about is because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, this isn’t a shameful process. This is a joyful process to be—you have to picture Jesus with you, not accusing you, He’s with you as you talk about things in your life that you know are not keeping you in step with the Spirit, or you know maybe your inner relationship isn’t good, or you are watching something that isn’t God’s best for you.
I feel like the Holy Spirit is so specific and He points out “No, this is not a good path for you.”
I do like to regularly ask that question. A lot of people forget the practice of confession. I love 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us.” [Paraphrased]
I don’t know. I like asking God, “Is there anything in my life that doesn’t please you?” I have learned to be quick to obey because the consequences of sin in my life are devastating. I don’t want to give the devil a foothold. Sin causes trouble and distress. I want to keep short accounts in that area.
Ann: I love your distinction though, that God isn’t looking at you—
Heather: Yes, He’s with you.
Ann: —like He’s so mad or disappointed; He’s with you in it.
Dave: You every feel like God’s saying, “Come on; tell me the truth.” [Laughter]
Dave: Confession is really just telling the truth: “Let’s be honest here, and let’s go.”
Heather: Yes, shame puts people into hiding. As I’ve studied the emotion of shame, it’s terrible. It makes people isolated. What you need to know is as soon as you tell someone what it is you are struggling with, you are going to find out, not only have they probably struggled with that, too, but you’ll have a closer relationship with them when you are honest about what’s going on. It will bring you into community with people. So not to be afraid to say, “I’m struggling with this; I know this is something that God doesn’t like.”
Another thing is to read God’s Word. A lot of young women say, “Well, I don’t know; what is sin? I don’t know what would be not pleasing to God. How do I know?”
I did write a list out that I used when I was growing in my faith; like, “Does this activity or this person help me grow closer to God or is it more likely to pull me away from God?” I have all these little litmus tests: “Is it against the law?” [Laughter] That’s an easy one. He wants you to obey the authorities. So underage drinking, it’s against the law, so I’m not going to do it.
Little things like that. These are kind of easy to figure out.
As you read God’s Word, I often underline things where I’m like, “You know what? Fits of rage are a fruit of the flesh.”
If I’m a mom yelling at my kids all day long—
Ann: Now you are getting a little too close.
Heather: That’s when you confess; like, “God, I’m struggling with this.” So, tell God, tell someone else; whatever it is.
Ann: I remember being that mom. I remember—this is terrible—I remember driving to church because Dave was a pastor so I’m by myself. I’m corralling these three young boys into the car, and I can remember yelling at them and seeing myself yelling at them in the rear-view mirror.
I wasn’t filled with the Spirit because I thought, “This is all Dave’s fault.” When I’m blaming and casting blame somewhere else instead of just telling God the truth; like, “Lord, I’m so frustrated. I feel like I’m failing. Kids, I’m so sorry.”
Heather: Yes, apologize to the kids.
Ann: Yes, yes.
Heather: I do that most recently with gossip because I do like juicy news. [Laughter] I have to constantly confess to my 17-year-old. She’ll stand in the kitchen and literally be like, “Mom, you are doing it again; get off the phone.” Because I’ll be like, “Oh, tell me what’s up.” She’ll hear me be like, “No, no, did that really happen?”
Kate will be like, “Mom!” because she knows that this is not—that is one of the obvious signs: God does not like gossip or slander.
It's a daily process and joyful, like I said, of being with Jesus and helping Him refine your character and help you grow in holiness.”
Dave: Let me ask one last question to two wives: “How does understanding our identity, being seated with Christ impact your marriage? As a wife, how does that impact?”
Shelby: You are listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Heather Holleman on FamilyLife Today.
I love how honest Heather is all the time about her life. Stick around. We’ll hear Heather and Ann answer Dave’s question in just a second.
But first, I’ve actually been personal friends with Heather Holleman for several years as we were both in the campus ministry of Cru® in the relatively same area. I’ve known her as a friend, as an author, as a speaker. She was actually my very first guest on Real Life Loading, which is a part of the FamilyLife podcast network. If you go back and find episode one of Real Life Loading, Heather Holleman will be my first guest. I was thrilled to have her because her book, her writing, her speaking is so important.
The first book she wrote is called Seated with Christ. Her perspective in that book helps us to understand that the life that we’re living right now is not God’s plan B for us, it’s always God’s plan A. He knows exactly what He’s doing in our lives every moment of every day. Heather unpacks that in a biblical way to help you see that we are all seated with Christ in our personal seat that He has assigned for us.
Again, I love Heather Holleman, and I love this book. We want to give you a copy of Seated with Christ as our thanks to you when you partner financially today with us.
You can give online at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329. That’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, back to Dave’s question to Heather and Ann on how knowing that we are seated with Christ impacts our marriages.
Heather: For me, it’s helped me with nagging and driving my husband, because I’m like, “I’m seated with Christ; He’s ordained the good works for me, for my husband, for my family, so I don’t need to be in control of this and it doesn’t have to be on my timeline.
Half the things my husband and I fight about are me wanting things done faster than anyone else. [Laughter] Just saying, “God is in control of this; I can leave my husband alone and let him live out the life God has for him. I don’t need to nag him and drive him.” You know what I mean?
Ann: That is totally mine is control.
Heather: It’s a timeline thing.
Heather: I like efficiency. I want the kitchen renovated. I want this done; I want this done. When I’m seated with Christ I can say, “God, you are in control of our life. I can be content with where we are and I’m not going to drive my husband. I’m going to let him live the life that You have planned for him. You will provide for me when the time is right in this area.”
Ann: I would say the exact same. “My contentment, Father God, comes from You, not from Dave.”
Heather: That’s good. “—or what Dave is doing or not doing around the house.”
Heather: I don’t know. At my age it is all just home repairs. [Laughter] I’m like, “Are we going to fix it?” But marriage isn’t fun when someone’s driving the other person.
Ann: Nobody wants to be married to their mom.
Heather: Also, not needing him to be any different from who he is or, what God has prepared for his life.
Shelby: Tomorrow Dave and Ann are joined with our Blended podcast host, Ron Deal, and his wife, Nan, to talk about an often-hidden emotion and it’s crippling characteristics. That is shame. You don’t want to miss that.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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