PODCAST: Lies Women Believe Part 2–Is God a Monster?

by | Feb 15, 2024 | Faith, Podcasts | 64 comments

Is God a Monster? The shame and blame in Lies women Believe

We’re back with Lies Women Believe, Part 2!

Last week Natalie Hoffman and Gretchen Baskerville joined us to look at the problems in Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s book Lies Women Believe, specifically about marriage.

But to be honest, there was so much more about this book that I found deeply, deeply disturbing. The picture this gave of faith was so heavy and so sad, and it just weighed on me. So I thought we really needed a second podcast to delve into how Lies Women Believe presents faith, trauma, depression–and even God’s will!

And don’t forget to fill in the box at the bottom of the post to get the one-sheet of all the problems with the book that you can share with others!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

Timeline of the Podcast

2:20 Becky Castle Miller joins to discuss Lies Women Believe
4:30 How this book sees women and the nature of God
17:00 Obedience, bad solutions, and wicked hearts
29:45 Depression, hormones, and bitterness
39:30 Is she writing from a place of justification?
42:30 Sometimes issues are physical
48:45 Helen comes to discuss how these teaching play out in women’s lives
56:45 Compassion with shame, not condemnation
1:02:00 How trauma affects the body
1:08:45 Maybe will power isn’t everything

To say I was surprised by how sad Lies Women Believe made me would be an understatement.

This book put me in a serious funk. It equated women’s legitimate trauma with a failure before God. Often she would talk about how we’re addressing women’s “failures”, and then list a bunch of things, some of which were when women were sinned against. She couldn’t distinguish between when we were sad because of something we had done, or when we were sad because of something done to us.

And over and over again, she presented our emotions as the problem. We’re not allowed to feel exhausted, even if we have a two-year-old and one-year-old twins. We need to realize God gave us those children to reveal our impatience so we could learn from that. We’re not allowed to feel bitter, even if our husband cheats on us and leaves us. We have to be grateful regardless.

And we’re not allowed to question God’s will. Even if your child dies, she says, if you could see what God was going to bring out of that, you would pray for it to happen all over again.

This is truly awful. Truly, truly awful. I simply cannot say that firmly enough.

And so today I brought on Becky Castle Miller, a PhD. candidate at Wheaton College looking at emotions in the Bible, and Helen Blake, a licensed counselor from Sydney, Australia, studying the effects of shame. And we talk about how to see these issues more clearly–and more biblically.

Lies Women Believe

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Lies Women Believe Part 2 is God a Monster podcast

What do you think? Did Nancy’s view of faith affect you? Let’s talk in the comments!


Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage podcast.  I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage.  And this is part two of a wider discussion that we are having about the book Lies Women Believe.  We started talking about it last week with some amazing guests, Natalie Hoffman and Gretchen Baskerville, looking at how that book approaches marriage and sex and some of the really problematic things in it.  But as I said last week, the book really disturbed on a really fundamental level.  Much more so than a lot of other books that we’ve reviewed.  And I felt like we needed to do a deeper dive into some of the theology behind it, in to what it said about our emotions, and that’s what we’re going to do today.  And I have some amazing guests coming on to talk to us about that.  Before we get to that, I just want to say thank you for your support.  This is hard work.  The last two podcasts, especially, this one and last week were just really slogs because looking at this book and realizing how well it sold and how much it’s used in churches—ugh.  It just gets demoralizing for me.  And it’s just not the Jesus that I know.  This looks nothing like Jesus, and we have to do better, church.  Please.  We have to do better.  So if you want to join us in this, if you’re passionate about this too, we have ways that you can join our patron group and support what we’re doing for as little as $5 a month.  You can give tax deductible donations through the Good Fruit Faith Initiative of the Bosco Foundation within the United States and more.  So I’ve got those links in our podcast notes too.  And also don’t forget something that’s super easy.  When you leave a review and a five-star rating for any of our books on Amazon or Goodreads or for this podcast to help other people see it and make the decision to listen and join us too.  And that helps our reach grow.  So you can help us, and you can partner with us.  Because while this is a hard slog, the more people get on board and the more people see the truth about who Jesus is the more we’re going to change the church.  And so join me for this second half of our discussion about Lies Women Believe.  Well, I am pleased to bring on the podcast Becky Castle Miller, who is a PhD student at Wheaton College.  She’s an adjunct professor at Northern Seminary.  And she’s been on our podcast before to talk about emotions.  So Becky, thank you for being here.

Becky: I was so excited to get your email to talk about Lies Women Believe and emotion because I knew—I had that book on my shelf in my pile of books to debunk.  So I was very happy to jump at that opportunity.

Sheila: We were talking before I hit record.  This book was heavy.  I mean I finished it, and I was just so depressed.  I was sitting in the Sydney airport.  We had just finished up our trip to Australia, New Zealand.  And I was getting ready to write the one sheet for this.  And I said to Keith, “This one affected me personally more than any of the other books I’ve read because of the view of God.”  What did you feel after you read it?

Becky: Well, I know that I’ve read pieces of it in the past when I was still in that system.  And it definitely impacted me in a negative way then.  But when I reread the emotion chapter this time, I mean I was frustrated as a scholar because she just doesn’t understand emotions.  But also yes.  Very sad for her view of God, for her view of the human body, for her view of—her low view of women in general.  I don’t know.  And I want to be really careful to critique her ideas and not her person because I don’t know her.  What I was reading between the lines was someone who does not have a healthy and robust emotional life themselves, and the only tool that came through in the writing was spiritual bypassing and a heavy handed use of legalism and rules and proof texting Scripture because that seems to be the only emotional coping tool the author has.  Or at least the only emotional coping tool that comes through in the writing of this book.

Sheila: Yeah.  It’s really sad.  So I want to get to emotions because that’s your thing and that’s why I’ve had you on.  But before we do that, I want to just kind of take our listeners through a romp through the book on some of the things that she says about the nature of God and how she sees God because I think that’s kind of fundamental to some of the things that I saw.  So she opens the book—and this is really bizarre.  So this is in the introduction.  This is on page 2.  She says, “We know what it is.  We, as women, know what it is to battle a selfish heart, a shrewish spirit, anger, envy, and bitterness.”  So first of all, I mean really minor thing.  But shrewish?  Seriously?  Let’s just throw in a misogynistic word there.  But okay.  And then she says this, “Some of our failures may not be so extreme as Eve’s.”  So she’s talking about women’s failures, right?  And then she lists the failures.  Okay?  These are things that are falling under this category.  “Women whose marriages are hanging by a thread.  Women whose hearts ache for their children.  Women who are overwhelmed with past failures and wounds.  Women with intense personal struggles.  Women filled with doubts and confusion about their walks with God.”  That’s all under that same section.  And I’m just like how can you call these things failures.      

Becky: They are pains.  They are struggles.  But none of these is a failure.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And that’s how she opens the book.  So just imagine you’re reading this and notice what isn’t there.  Nothing about women who were betrayed—nothing about betrayal, how this is abuse.  She’s never naming any of the problems as stuff that is done to you.  She’s only ever naming what you have done wrong and framing things that you are going through as things that you have done wrong.    

Becky: Mm-hmm.  And on the next page, she—it gives a list of how she would describe Christian women.  They’re “frazzled, exhausted, burned out, emotionally unstable, uptight, insecure, frustrated, suicidal,”—ugh.  But I was thinking.  Every single one of these can be attributed to living under patriarchy.  Why don’t we call patriarchy the problem and be like women are suffering all these things because men are trying to control them even in the church?  And especially in the church.  And so women are feeling these things.  Let’s tackle the real problem, which is abusive structures.  But it’s the women’s—it’s their fault.

Sheila: Yeah.  Women, stop feeling this way.  It’s like wow.  Okay.  So that’s how she opens it.  That’s how she frames the whole thing.  And then this is what she says about how God treats us.  Okay.  So I want to read to you this super sad anecdote about when her father died.  I think she was about 21 or something like that, if I’m remembering this correctly.  And it says this, “But in that moment when I first learned of my dad’s home going, the Lord did something especially gracious for me.  He reminded me of the truth before there was any other conscious thought.  Before there were tears, He brought to mind a verse I had read not many days earlier.  Paraphrased, the verse reminds us, ‘God is good, and everything He does is good.’”  And that’s on page 51.  So her dad just died.  And the verse that comes to mind is everything God does is good.  What does that do to someone if you are attributing all these tragedies in your life to God?

Becky: Right.  It says that God killed her father.

Sheila: Ugh.  And she says that throughout.  Okay.  So here’s other things God does.  She says twice in the book that God is the one who causes infertility.  So if you are infertile, it’s because of God.  She says on page 164 when she’s talking about the lie, “My circumstances will never change,” that God has determined the exact duration of your suffering.  So if you are currently suffering, it is because God has chosen for you to go through the suffering, and He has determined when that suffering will end.  And then there’s this on page 291, so this is near the end of the book.  And the context of this is God doesn’t make any mistakes.  And even if you’ve been through a lot of tragedies in your life, she says this, “God makes no mistakes for His children’s lives.  Someone has said, ‘God’s will is exactly what we would chose if we knew what God knows.’  When we stand in eternity looking back on this early existence, we will know by sight what we can only see now by faith.  That He has done all things well.”  Again, this is in a section where she’s talked about people losing children, people having marriages blown apart by affairs.  And she says, “If you had only known what God was doing, you would have chosen that too.”  

Becky: Can I ask you, Sheila, how did that make you feel as someone who has lost a child when you read that?

Sheila: Yeah.  That is just mind boggling that—and I heard this.  People said this to me when Christopher died.  People said, “One day you’ll be able to thank God for doing this in your life.”  Jesus never talked like that to people who died.  Jesus wept.  He didn’t say, “Remember that this was what God planned for you.”  And this is just such a heavy burden to put on people.  No matter what you are dealing with remember that God planned this.  And if you were truly Christian, you would have wanted it.  You would have welcomed it. 

Becky: Yeah.  This book and others like it are why I stayed in a number of unhealthy relationships in all aspects of life because I just thought that that amount of suffering was normal for Christians.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And that He’s using it to refine you or whatever as we talked about last week in the podcast where we looked at her take on marriage.  And I want to say clearly to people listening okay.  Yes.  I believe that God has the whole world in His hands and that He knows what’s going to happen.  But He also created the world with free will.  Free will is baked into the universe.  And while God does intervene, it doesn’t mean that He—that everything bad that happens God planned.  If your child is a victim of sexual abuse, that does not mean that God looked down from Heaven and said, “Well, someone’s got to be abused, and I’m going to pick her.”  No.  God does not plan that.  And the promise is that God can bring good out of all circumstances.  That doesn’t mean that all circumstances are good or that the good even outweighs the bad that happened.  It’s just that God can bring good out of those circumstances.  And that’s the promise, not that we have to see things as good.  

Becky: Yeah.  I remember when Preston Yancey was talking about—his first child had a number of medical struggles.  And he wrote really beautifully that the suffering in our life is not what God ordains or what God promises.  But the promise is that God will make good out of our circumstances, not that God causes our circumstances.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And so that’s just such a strange way of seeing it.  And then I want to read to you her version of the Gospel too.  Okay.  So we have a woman who believes that God deliberately plans for your kid to die, deliberately plans for your parent to die, deliberately plans for you to be infertile and thinks that you should be happy about this.  And then this is her idea of the Gospel.  “According to the Bible, from the moment I was born, I was ungodly, a sinner, God’s enemy, and deserving of His eternal wrath.  In spite of my alienation from Him, He loved me and sent His Son to die for me.  He loved me in eternity past, and He will love me for all of eternity future.  There is nothing I could do to make Him love me any less or any more.”  And this is good news.  This is written in the second on God doesn’t love me.  And she’s saying, “No.  God absolutely does love you.  Because even though you are ungodly, a sinner, God’s enemy, and deserving of His eternal wrath, He sent His Son to die for you.”  And that is the way the Gospel is explained, isn’t it?  So often.

Becky: It is the way it’s explained.  But I don’t think it’s—I don’t think that’s good news.  

Sheila: I know.  

Becky: When I read Scot McKnight’s, King Jesus Gospel, it radically changed my life because the Gospel is the story of Jesus.  And the Gospel is God’s good story for humanity from the beginning that God created us as loved and chosen ones made in God’s image.  And we were subjected to pain, suffering, and oppression because of the forces of sin and death, which acted upon us.  And because God wanted us to be liberated from that and live free like He created us to be, then Jesus came to liberate us.  And that’s the good news that Jesus frees us from death and sin and slavery.  That’s good news because God loved us so much.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  And that’s just—it’s a different emphasis.  Right?  We’re still talking about Jesus.  But when we say, “Look, the good news is you are a worm.  You are disgusting.  God can’t stand to look at you, and so He killed His Son instead.  So that instead of seeing you, He sees you through the lens of Jesus so that now God can look at you.”  And that is so—

Natalie: God killing His Son—that’s just not—people on the podcast can’t see.  But I’m literally pulling my hair right now.  The idea that God killed God’s Son—the Romans killed God’s Son.  Jesus went into death and broke it from the inside, but God did not kill God’s Son.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And so yeah.  It’s just such a different way of seeing who God is.  This makes God really into quite a monster.  He can’t even handle you because you’re disgusting.  So God’s a monster.  You’re disgusting.  And this is supposed to be good news.  This is all in the second on how God loves you.  But the funny thing is just a few pages after this she gets really, really upset at a woman, who says, “Even after I was saved, I thought I was equal to pond scum,” which threw her into a depression.  But Nancy Leigh DeMoss basically just described you as pond scum.  So I’m not quite sure why it’s so wrong for her to feel like she’s pond scum when that is what Nancy says the Gospel is.  You are pond scum, and God—and Jesus—yeah.  God killed Jesus so that you could be saved.  And yeah.  It’s just really weird.  And so what is Nancy’s solution to all of these problems?  That God is bringing suffering upon us so that we can come to know Him better, and we need to rejoice in any circumstances that we have.  And we need to realize that we are only deserving of death.  Well, here it is.  She praises the Puritans.  And she says this, “Because they walked in close communion with God, they cultivated a sense of the horror of their sin no matter how insignificant it may seem to others.”  And she praises them for always thinking about sin.  So they were always thinking about sin, so they cultivated the horror of it.   And she thinks the Puritans were wonderful for this.

Becky: That sounds like cultivating a case of religious OCD.  Giving someone a mental illness.

Sheila: Yeah.  What’s the term for—I’ve seen this on Twitter.  Is it scrupulosity?   

Becky: Scrupulosity or religious OCD, which is OCD but with—where your compulsions have a religious flavor.  Like you’re compelled to pray all the time or you’re compelled to avoid certain religious thoughts or think certain religious thoughts or do religious rituals or meditate on your own sin.  That is not healthy.  It is actually a symptom of mental illness.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And I think it’s funny that she praises the—I can’t separate the Puritans from the Salem witch trials.  I just find it very strange to be saying, “Look at these amazing people,” when you have the Salem witch trials.  But okay.  Doesn’t mention those.  So that’s the background.  That’s how she sees God and His relationship with us and the Gospel and everything.  But now let’s bring—let’s zero in on emotions since that’s what you are here for.  And let’s start with the anecdote on page 58.  So she has this story of this woman, who has been set—who is in bondage because she believed a lie.  She says, “When I understood that true freedom comes from obedience, I was freed from my bondage to food.  I lost 65 pounds as well as the depression that I had experienced.”  And then Nancy concludes, “Sarah was determined to eat what she wanted whenever she wanted and in whatever quantity she wanted.  Sounds like freedom, doesn’t it?  But wait.  According to her testimony, her freedom was short lived.  She ended up in bondage to food, gained 65 unwanted pounds, and became depressed.  Not until she discovered that true freedom comes from obedience and began to act on that truth were her chains shattered.”    

Becky: Wow.  Where do we start?  So she’s fat shaming, and she’s spiritualizing weight, which it’s morally neutral.  And just no understanding of the complications that women can sometimes have with weight loss, with hormones, with body changes, and with stress, and all the complicated factors that go into that.  Wow.  

Sheila: I know.  And to say that the reason that she was overeating was just because she thought that she had the freedom to do it and so she was just—I don’t know anybody—  

Becky: I don’t know anybody who thinks that.  Literally no one.  Any woman in my entire life I’ve ever talked to—or man—that wants to address an unhealthy relationship with food that just did it because they’re like, “Well, I have the freedom to eat whatever I want.” 

Sheila: Yeah.  I don’t know anyone.  I don’t know anyone who talks like that at all.  And then the thought that you can just lose 65 pounds super easily just by realizing, “Oh, wait.  I’m not allowed to eat whatever I want.”  And so if you don’t—and what is the effect of putting that in a book?  I think what that’s telling us is, “Hey, if you can’t lose 65 pounds, then you’re not walking in obedience to God.”

Becky: Right.  It makes weight loss a spiritual discipline.  That’s so weird.  

Sheila: I know.  I know. 

Becky: Bible reading, prayer, worship, and weight loss.  Those are our spiritual disciplines.

Sheila: Yeah.  And, of course, we’re supposed to be healthy.  Of course, we’re not trying to say that you don’t—that our bodies aren’t gifts from God that we are to steward properly.  But there is so much that we know from research goes in to weight.  And there’s trauma.  There’s genetics.  I am blessed with genetics where I just don’t gain weight.  I just don’t.  And it would be really easy for me to be proud of that.  Like, “Look how healthy I am, and I’m doing everything right.”  But no.  I was just given really good genetics too.  I just can’t believe that we are turning this into a sin issue the way that we do.  Very, very, very strange.  Okay.  She goes ahead, and she shames people.  So she shames people for gaining weight.  She also shames people for just simply liking things.  And this comes up all the time.  She says this, “Almost every mother wants to be a good mother.  It should come as no surprise that Satan capitalizes on this deep desire and uses it as an opportunity to promote sin.”  So even wanting to be a good mother is dangerous.   Nothing is safe for this woman.

Becky: What’s the—what is it that Satan is doing when you want to be a good mother?  What kind of sin is being promoted?

Sheila: Oh, it’s like loving your kids too much, not disciplining them enough, et cetera, et cetera.  It’s weird.

Becky: So that’s really going to disrupt mothers attaching properly with their children which is going to cause their children attachment issues in the future.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Okay.  Then there’s lie number 37.  And I would love your input on this one.  “If I feel something, it must be true.”  So that is the lie that she says.  And she says, “Feelings are not good gauges of truth, so we should minimize them.”  And this is a big area of your research.  So know that in the church we often are taught the heart is wicked and deceitful above all things.  And so we’re not supposed to listen to our hearts, and that’s what she’s saying too.  But this just makes no sense.  

Becky: So I want to compliment something she says correct.  It is important to say where someone gets it right in addition to saying where they get it wrong.  So at the beginning of the chapter on emotions, she says this, “When we wrestle with out of control emotions, it is easy to conclude that emotions are inherently sinful or wrong and should be suppressed.  We need to remember that being created in the image of God means we have the capacity to experience and express a variety of emotions.  God exhibits a spectrum of pure emotions including joy, delights, anger, jealousy, and sorrow.  And He has designed us to be able to feel and express many different emotions in a way that reflects His heart and brings glory to Him.”  Now I can cosign almost all of that.  I think that’s actually really close to being very right.  I would nuance that God has pure emotions saying then our emotions aren’t pure gets a little messy.  But I think this is correct.  So she starts out strong.  And I would agree with that.  But then she goes into these lies that reveal a lack of understanding of what emotions is.  So she says, “If I feel something, it must be true,” and that’s a lie.  She says, “Our feelings often have very little to do with reality.  Our feelings are not a reliable gauge of what is actually true,” which is basically just teaching people to gaslight themselves.  If I feel something, I can’t trust it.  So what I’m feeling must not be true.  I do some emotion coaching when I have time in between studies and teaching.  And I was just talking to a client about this recently where they were saying, “I don’t trust anything that I think, feel, or believe.  I have immense self doubt because of these teachings.”  So just learning that maybe if I think or feel something it might be true is a huge breakthrough for some Christian women because of books like this that say you absolutely cannot trust your feelings.  And the thing is that emotions are cognitive.  A lot of these Christian books on emotion are saying that emotions are separate from thought, are separate from logic, are opposed to logic and rational thought.  But that’s not how emotion works in human brains.  Almost all of the current psychological and neuroscientific theories of emotion, though there are several different ones.  We’re not entirely sure how emotion works.  But almost all of them agree that emotion is cognitive.  So it is thought based.  So emotion is the meaning that our minds make based on our body’s sensations, our circumstances, the predictive function of what’s going to happen next.  Emotion is a complicated process, and it is very much tied to our thoughts.  If you look at appraisal theory, emotions are based on our appraisal of a situation.  If you look at constructed emotion theory, our emotions are concepts that we are constructing based on our culture, our vocabulary, how we’ve been raised, et cetera.  But in all of these theories, emotion is cognitive.  So the idea that emotions aren’t true doesn’t make any sense because emotions are constructs of true things that are happening.

Sheila: Yeah.  Our emotions are how we are making sense out of what is going on in our lives, right?  Our emotions are the meaning that we are attributing to what is actually happening.  Yeah.

Becky: Right.  So because there can be a narrative component to an emotional experience, there are times that we are telling ourselves a story that might not be based on facts.  And then our emotions are coming from the story we’re telling ourselves.  The emotions are still true to the story we’re telling, but we might have some of our facts wrong.  But that’s a very different thing than saying our feelings have little to do with reality.  If my husband doesn’t return a text and I start panicking because I’m afraid he’s been in a horrible car accident and then I’m feeling afraid and terrified and scared for the future and lost and grieving and all of these things, my emotions are telling me true things about my care for my husband and my fear of losing him and my concern for him.  And then he texts me back, “Sorry.  My phone died, and I turned it off.”  All of those emotions were based on incorrect information and a story I was telling myself.  But they were still telling me true things about what I value and what I see in the world.  And there also might have been a trauma component to it, if I had a loved one in the past who didn’t respond to messages and it turned out they had ended up in a car accident and were in the hospital.  And I’m getting triggered, and that’s why my mind immediately goes to, “Oh no.  He’s been in a car accident.”  Well, okay.  So go see a trauma therapist and work on healing those wounds and those burdens, so that you aren’t triggered.  But none of that whole process of how emotion works means that emotions are not based on reality.

Sheila: Yeah.  No.  Exactly.  And remember too that she may have given lip service—that quote that you read at the beginning which was good.  That’s the weird thing is that every now and then she’ll say really good things.  And then all of her advice, all of her anecdotes, will contradict it.  So she’s saying that emotions are good and that God shows a wide range of emotions.  But at the beginning of the book, she listed all kinds of emotions that women have that are bad that we’re supposed to get rid of.  Feeling overwhelmed, feeling frazzled, feeling—all of these things are bad.  And they’re rooted in believing the wrong thing because that’s the point of this whole book is that the reason that we have these bad emotions is that we have believed something wrong.  And we just need to change the way we believe and, specifically, change the way we believe about God because if we realize that these bad things that we’re going through are actually Him doing it then this will somehow make it better.    

Becky: Right.  Again, the only emotion tool that she’s offering for women to feel better is spiritual bypassing, which is to use Bible verses and spiritual platitudes to get passed our emotions.  Not to feel the emotion, not to acknowledge the emotion but to immediately to convincing ourselves it must not be right by using spiritual slogans.  That’s spiritual bypassing.  And that’s the only tool that she offers.  There’s no evidence-based emotion stabilizing tools.  There are so many somatic tools and cognitive tools and coregulation strategies.  There’s so many ways to help ourselves feel better when our emotions do seem overwhelming.  But she doesn’t offer any of those.  

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  She just offers shaming language.  The reason you are sad, the reason you can’t get over this is because you’ve believe something wrong.  So you have—so it’s your fault essentially.  And that’s what I find so difficult.  Yeah.

Becky: And not only do you need to believe the truth but also, if you’re struggling with your emotions, you’re being spiritual attacked.  She says on page 194, in my edition, “I know of no tool that the enemy uses more effectively to lead us as women into bondage than our emotions.”  So it’s not just don’t trust your emotions.  It’s your emotions might actually be a tool of Satan to bring you into bondage instead of what she just said a page before.  It’s like a God-given part of how you were created.  

Sheila: Right.  Right.  It’s just so weird.  And one of the best examples of how she does this double speak is how she handles depression and hormones.  This is one area of the book that she really did change from the first edition because she got so much flack for it.  Because in the first edition—and I think you have the first edition—she really did frame depression as it’s all your fault.  You’re believing the wrong thing.  And you can get over it just by thinking the right thing about God or having more faith or something like that.  Doesn’t she?

Becky: Yes.  And some of the examples are wild.  So on page 201, she says, “For some women, a difficult pregnancy “explains” (read justifies) erratic mood swings and volatile behavior.”  

Sheila: I just want to say.  That is still in the new—because I have this—that’s still in the newer edition too.  Yeah.  Mm-hmm.

Becky: But we’re talking about a difficult pregnancy leading to mood swings.  Okay.  And?  If your hormones are messed up and you have maybe birth trauma, mood swings are not a bad thing.  I had a wonderful birth with my fifth child and in home nursing care because we lived in the Netherlands.  And it was wonderful.  And still, on day four, I was just unexplainably sitting in bed and crying.  And my nurse was like, “Oh, that’s just normal.  Day four is often when postpartum tears hit.  Let me go make you a salad and hold the baby for you.”  Mood swings just happen, and she moralizes them.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah.  Postpartum depression is a real thing too.  And she blames that on—yeah.  That you just haven’t had enough faith or whatever.  So then she goes on to lie number 40 is “I can’t bear being depressed” in the new version.  And this is the one area that she really did change.  But it looks like what happened is that she added a bunch of paragraphs at the beginning but then the end of it sounds pretty much like what she used to have.  So she talks about how depression might be a medical conditions, how you may actually need to see a doctor, how you may need to see a therapist.  And she says all of these good things.  But then her conclusions are still you need to get right with God about your depression.  And she says this, “It is easier to rely on a doctor, a therapist, or antidepressants than to ask God how He might want to use our pain to sanctify us and to bring glory to Himself.”  Again, God is deliberately planning this depression.  Do we say that about—it is easier to rely on an optometrist, a pair of glasses, or contact lenses than to ask God how He might want to use your near sightedness as a way—we don’t say that about anything else that’s physical.

Becky: Yes.  And that actually reminds me.  When I was a teenager and I was in that culture, I remember feeling, at summer camp one time—we must have had someone really big on faith healing speak at summer camp or something.  But I was like God wants to heal my vision.  People on the podcast can’t see.  I’m wearing glasses.  But I really was like God wants to heal my vision.  It’s a lack of faith for me to wear glasses.  So for a week and a half after I got home from camp, I didn’t wear my glasses, and I went to work without—I just believed that wearing glasses was a lack of faith.  I just needed to trust that God was going to heal me and I needed to step out in faith.  So your example of not trusting an optometrist is—it’s a really good example because that is the outworking of this belief.  I don’t need to go to a psychiatrist if I have major depressive disorder and get medication.  I need to trust God is like saying I don’t need to wear my glasses.  I need to trust God.  My vision didn’t get better.  I don’t have lack of faith because I wear cute glasses today.  I didn’t have a lack of faith when I had to take antidepressants for postpartum depression after my second child was born.  It’s a gift to have medical care.

Sheila: Yes.  It is.  And I’m so glad we have it.  But it is interesting how she keeps shaming people for—yeah.  Emotions or for medical conditions that you really—that really are not your fault.  I want to look at this other example too of the people that she often chooses to shame or to call out.  So this in lie number 41.  There’s 43 lies in Lies Women Believe.  So 43 different things you could be believing that are keeping you from God which is horrifying enough.  Seriously.  Here’s 43 different ways you can be totally messing up your life with God.  But lie number 41, “If my circumstances were different, I would be different.”  So this is something that’s wrong to believe.  And she tells this story, “I remember talking years ago with a young mother, who had a two-year-old child and one-year-old twins.  She said with a sigh, ‘I was never an impatient person until I had these twins.’  This woman believed what most of us have believed at one time or another.  That we are the way we are because of our circumstances.”  And she goes on to blame this woman for saying that it’s the fact that I have these three young kids that is causing me to be impatient or whatever.  And it’s like no.  No.  No.  You can’t blame it on that.  All this is doing is just revealing what is already there.  And I just find it really amazing that she is shaming a woman with a two year old and one-year-old twins.   

Becky: So there’s another line where she talks about excusing your shrewishness.  She uses the word shrewishness again talking about emotions because you’ve had four pregnancies in five years which I just—can we just not normalize having four pregnancies in five years?  Your body would be a mess.  Your hormones would be a mess.  And if you have a two year old and one-year-old twins, that’s not good for your body to be pregnant that many times that close together.  And, of course, your hormones are going to be out of whack.  Your mood is going to be hard.  And what is also left out of that is probably mental load and all the extra work that mom is doing because maybe dad is not supportive enough.  If you have a really super supportive partner, it will be easier to handle many small children, and you will be less frustrated.  So probably if you’re frustrated, it’s because you don’t have enough support in those circumstances.  

Sheila: Yeah.  She actually talks about that in another place in the book about how we complain about the men but don’t we realize that they do the yard work.  And so they’re doing their fair—it’s insane.  But yes.  Okay.  And then in the same section, she says—this is another example of a woman who is blaming her emotions and her negative attitude on her circumstance.  And she says, “I wouldn’t be so bitter if my husband hadn’t run off with that other woman.”  

Becky: Yeah.  Sure.  Okay.  Yeah.  I wouldn’t be so bitter either if—

Sheila: But she’s showing—she says this is a lie that it’s not—you can’t blame your bitterness on your circumstances.  

Becky: So our emotions arise out of our circumstances.  And our emotions are culturally conditioned.  We are taught by our culture what emotions are acceptable to express and not express in whatever particular circumstance which means we can change our emotion concepts.  We can, over time, learn new and different emotions, which is wonderful.  That’s why I think emotions are part of discipleship.  But this idea that—basically, what she’s doing is she’s creating an emotional regime in a subculture.  And she is saying in this Christian subculture, you are not—your husband leaving you for another woman is not a legitimate circumstance for bitterness to be the emotion that you construct.  So she’s basically creating an emotional subculture with rules.  And it’s like if you come into this subculture in order to fit in you need to follow these emotional rules.  You are not allowed to be angry when you are betrayed.

Sheila: Yeah.  And then to follow up on that, she says this.  So this is after the twins and the woman, she comes back to the woman with twins.  And she says this, “That exasperated mother, who believed she had never been an impatient person until she had twins, just didn’t realize how impatient she was until God brought a set of circumstances into her life to show her what she was really like so He could change her.”  And she goes on to say how God will often bring circumstances into our lives to reveal our really bad character traits so that He can change us.  And, again, this is in the section where there’s an example of a husband, who leaves his wife.  And another example is, in the same section, of how God might do this is, “If only I hadn’t lost that child.”  

Becky: Again, saying God kills your relatives including your children.

Sheila: Yeah.  In order to show you what your character really is so that you can understand that this is who I really am and I need to change.  It’s absolutely mind boggling.

Becky: Yeah.  That’s tragic.  There was one line in here that I underlined that gave me real compassion for her.  She says, in my edition on page 205, “Deep down I am angry.  But rather than express that anger outwardly I sink into an emotional pit hoping that someone will notice and attempt to make me feel better.”  What were her life circumstances when she wrote this that she had so much anger?  And I just want to honor her anger.  She probably had really good reasons to be angry.  And instead of letting herself feel that God-given anger and express it to safe people and get support which she was longing for—I wanted someone to notice and help me feel better.  She bypassed it.  She tried to gaslight herself into not being angry when she was angry.  And that gives me a lot of compassion for her, and I’m so curious at what led to that.

Sheila: Yeah.  I know.  And I see this so often in a lot of Christian authors in the evangelical realm.  Christian female authors.  Is it really seems like so much of what they write is just trying to make sense of a life that’s quite difficult and that turned out much worse than they thought it was going to or they’re just having these challenges that they can’t really make sense of.  And so the solution is to tell themselves, “Well, this just shouldn’t matter to me.  I need to just make this not matter.”  So if my husband is treating me badly, I need to realize the problem is my expectations as we talked about in a  podcast a couple of weeks ago, right?  If I’m feeling like my life isn’t like I want it because I don’t have any friends or for whatever reason it is, it’s like, well, the problem is you’re relying on other people and not God.  And if your faith was just in God, then none of this would bother you.  And so you need to put your faith completely in God and not in other things.  

Becky: Right.  It is probably because women can’t take—women don’t have agency in a lot of these conservative Christian circles.  They can’t take action.  They can’t confront the men in their lives.  They can’t confront the leaders.  They can’t call for social change.  They have no power to change the circumstances that are making them suffer.  So they only thing they can control is themselves.  And so they have to find a way to make themselves be okay with it.  And so emotional suppression, talking themselves out of their emotions, convincing themselves their emotions are bad and not godly instead of God-given warning signs that something is not right in their circumstances.  That they should have the agency to change.  And so I have compassion for them but also then anger that they dragged other women down with them.

Sheila: Exactly.  Exactly.  Let me read you something that’s at the very end of the book.  So this is what she’s been leading up to in the whole book.  And she ends it by kind of saying, “Look.  We just need to realize that His grace is sufficient for us.  No matter what we’re going through we need to be able to say His grace is sufficient for us.”  And she gives a number of examples.  And one of those examples is when there is no money for rent you need to say His grace is sufficient.  And it’s like when there’s no money for rent you actually do need money for rent.  And it’s not a spiritual problem.  This is a physical problem in the here and now.  And you need to be in a church community that will notice that you have no money for rent, that will care that you have no money for rent, and that will come alongside you.  And the fact that that isn’t even an option.  It’s just no.  No.  No.  You just need to realize that His grace is sufficient for you.  Or if you’re having trouble responding to a family member, just don’t respond and realize that His grace is sufficient for you.  So nothing about healthy communication.  Nothing about healthy boundaries.  Nothing about what a healthy church community should look like and how we should care for one another as fellow believers and brothers and sisters in Christ.  Just you need to say His grace is sufficient for you.  And what I get from that is that her idea of faith—and this is what I see so much in the evangelical world.  This is what I used to teach.  And maybe that’s why this book affected me more than other books I see in so much of it how I used to make sense of my son dying.  Some of the very similar messages that I would give.  But she sees faith as an entirely individual thing and not as living in community.  So if you’re having issues, you need to take it up with God.  Not we might actually need friends.  We might actually need healthy relationships.  You might actually need help from other people.  And it’s just no.  No.  No.  No.  This is just between you and God.  And that’s hard.

Becky: Maybe the circumstances of not having money for rent are due to other things.  She wrote about women not having careers.  Maybe you do need two incomes to afford a house where you live.  And so you’ve been convinced not to work, and you genuinely can’t afford to live there.  That’s a bigger conversation.  God is not going to drop $100,000 in your bank account in most cases though the rare miracle happens.  But often those miracles are done by the generosity of our church body.  The miracle is done by the outworking of God’s people to each other.  But maybe you need to change your circumstances.  Maybe you need to confront your husband about gambling.  Maybe the reason you don’t have money for rent is because you listen to some of the other advice in this book.  

Sheila: Yes.  Yeah.  And it’s this total inability to see that not all things are just spiritual, not all things are just about my attitudes and emotions with God.  Some things are about—yeah.  Relationships where we need better boundaries.  We need better communication.  Where we need to say, “No.  I’m not going to put up with that anymore,” but that’s never an option.  It’s just you need to realize that you should be happy no matter what’s happening.  And I found that really, really sad.  And as I started this podcast, as I said at the beginning, my overwhelming feeling that I finally identified when I got to the end is that Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth presents a God who is always angry at you and never angry for you.   

Becky: Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.  And she does want women to believe that God loves them.  She really does.  She wants women—because she gives many examples where women are talking about they just don’t feel like God loves them.  And they’re trying to convince themselves that God does.  And I think she wants women to belief that God loves them.  I think she wants to believe that God loves her.  And I think she storages to believe that God loves her.  And so instead of, again, giving people therapeutic tools where they could address the trauma and wounds from their past that have impacted their ability to receive love, it’s just tell yourself that it’s true.  But with proper therapy, you can heal from those things.  And you can release those burdens, and you can truly love yourself, love others, and receive God’s love.  So I think she wants women to believe God loves them, but I think that her view of God and perhaps her own life circumstances made it hard for her to receive God’s love.  And so she didn’t really know how to tell other people how to access it.

Sheila: Yeah.  But instead she wrote this huge book and then her family foundation gave out tons and tons and tons of them for free until it became so well known that it then got used in women’s Bible studies everywhere.  And yeah.  It’s had a lot of harmful effects, and it’s sad.  And I guess I just thank you for coming and talking this through with us because I just wanted people to know that this isn’t the way you need to see God.  He doesn’t look at you and say, “I’m so upset that you’re impatient,” when you have a two year old and one-year-old twins.  He doesn’t look at you and say, “I can’t believe you’re bitter that your husband left you.”  He just wants to sit with you in that.  He wants to help you get help.  He wants us to build a real community that’s His body, and that’s just missing from so much of our advice to women which is just basically suck it up and realize you’re the problem.  What if you’re not?

Becky: What if you’re not?  Yeah.  

Sheila: What if you’re not?

Becky: I think that’s it.  For me, that’s what I got out of this is that I’m always the problem.  But what if I’m not?  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Well, I am so thrilled to bring on the podcast today Helen Blake, who is a wonderful person.  I had lunch with her when I was in Sydney, Australia.  And she’s a registered counselor and psychotherapist.  And Helen, why don’t you tell people what you do?  

Helen: Well, I have the privilege of working with couples and individuals.  I’ve been working for about 25 years in this field.  A lot of the work that I have done has been related to trauma.  Some of it to do with sexual abuse and, in my voluntary life, working alongside my husband in the work of response—church response to sexual abuse.  So they are probably the two things.  And I also teach in a school of theology where we have a master of pastoral counseling course.  So I teach in the trauma area plus also in their (inaudible).

Sheila: Awesome.  We really did enjoy our time with you in Sydney.  And I just thought my people need to hear you.  And everyone loves Australian accents too although we’re very jealous because it’s summer right now where you are.  And it is terrible winter storm where I am.    

Helen: Yeah.  I’m sure.

Sheila: Okay.  So we’re going to work through a few of the issues that I’ve seen in the book, Lies Women Believe.  And you don’t need to comment specifically on what she says but rather just how some of these issues—how you’ve seen them play out in a counseling situation.  So I want to read to you a story that Nancy put in her book, and it goes like this.  A woman is writing.  “I have a memory of being about six and being told I had no right to live.  And I should have never been born.  I don’t remember who said it, but I do remember my mother just standing there and not doing anything about it.  I became very withdrawn, and it was extremely difficult to talk to people.  By the time I was to start seventh grade, it was decided I belonged in special ed.  I was accepted into the classes, but there wasn’t room.  So I went to the normal junior high school, and I never felt that I belonged there.  I believed I was stupid, not normal, and I should be locked away somewhere.  In junior high, I had no friends, and people went out of their way to hurt me.  And as a result, I withdrew even more, became very depressed, and wanted to go to sleep and never wake up.”  Now this is heart breaking.  And when I read this, it sounds to me like classic shame.  Isn’t it?

Helen: I think so.  Deep seated shame that does not belong to her, and she has absorbed through it being imposed upon her.

Sheila: Yeah.  Now in a way—and the way that Nancy describes this is she says the root of the problem is that this girl has believed lies.  And all she has to do is stop believing the lies and things will be better.  And I mean there is truth—

Helen: I wish.  

Sheila: – in the fact that she has believed a lie.  But that’s not how it works, right?  

Helen: No.  No.  It would be very, very deep in her.  Very, very deep.  I mean if she was abused sexually or even if she was abused in all sorts of other ways, emotionally or whatever, she’s—we’re talking about a girl who was only six then and told she had no right to live.  I mean what else has gone on there?  That’s too young for her to filter it out and go, “Is this true, or is it not true?”  She’s being told this by adults, and her mother stands by and says nothing.  I mean she didn’t defend her.  She didn’t protect her.  Deep inside this girl is a message that she’s got about herself which is much more shame than guilt.  But somehow or other she will probably feel guilty about what she sees as all her failures.  But in fact, shame is the problem.

Sheila: Right.  And I mean I think Nancy acknowledges this.  But this is maybe where our theology doesn’t go far enough because, to her, the answer is, well, just don’t believe the lie anymore.  And then everything will be fine.  But when you tell someone that who is deep in shame, “Just don’t feel shame anymore.  Just don’t believe the lie,” does it—I mean, to me, that just compounds the problem because now it’s saying, “Not only do you feel shame, but it’s your fault that you can’t get over it.”

Helen: That’s right.  That’s right.  Well, this is where—well, I think our theology has never addressed shame.  If you think about the Adam and Eve story, we all know it’s there, but our theology is based on their guilt.  I mean I spent a lot of time trying to work out why that was completely wrong and get rid of it.  But in fact, I think it’s just part of that is true.  But the shame issue not being addressed is a problem.  If you look at that story, they know they’ve done the wrong thing.  And their shame arises immediately.  It’s a reaction to what happened.  But what they do is they don’t allow that shame to show them that they have to do something to repair what they’ve just done.  And God comes to them and says, “What have you done?”  He gives them the opportunity, and they just do what we all do around shame.  We either close in and don’t relate at all, or we attack and blame.  And that’s exactly—first of all, they close in and hide.  And then they—when they can’t do that anymore, they come and blame.  Now that’s relevant, very relevant, to what we do around shame, but there’s more to it in the sense that they did something wrong.  And they knew that.  But many of us have had shame imposed upon us through things that are not our fault, particularly abuse.  And other sort of traumatic events that we’ve had.  And when we’ve done nothing wrong, we feel shame.  We don’t know what to do with that.  We don’t even know what it is.  But usually, we’ll call it guilt.  I feel guilty I can’t respond to these.  I can’t get over it.  In some of the abuse work I’ve done, the sense of guilt expressed is really high.  But getting at shame, which is important to realize—I mean that’s what we really need to do first.  We need to notice what shame is telling us.  Is it telling us we’ve done something terrible?  Or is it telling us that somebody has done something terrible to us?  And what do we do about it?  And I think the key when we’re relating to people around this—yes.  Making sure that we tell them that they didn’t do the wrong thing.  But also helping to see that the shame doesn’t belong to them.  Somebody else has been—has committed an act of guilt against them.  It might be calling them something like having no right to live or shouldn’t have been born.  I mean what are they going to do with that?  Well, what’s wrong with me?  And that’s what shame is about?  What’s wrong with me?

Sheila: And when you take people in a counseling situation, that’s something pretty deep seated to get over.  It’s not just a matter of saying, “Oh, you just need to believe differently.”  It’s like that needs real healing, doesn’t it?

Helen: It does.  To be perfectly honest and I think this is one of the problems we’ve got with the victorious Christian life is that I think the life of a Christian is an ongoing struggle against all this stuff that we do to ourselves and that other people do to us.  And we keep on having to work at it.  And my experience with people who have experienced sexual abuse trauma particularly at a very young age or then consistently through their life—and some people seem to get it further and further on.  It’s very difficult to shed that.  And sometimes with long-term work, I’m coming back into it.  It’s like we come around and around.  They make a bit of—they kind of get that it wasn’t their fault.  But it’s still fairly intellectual.  Oh, I see.  He shouldn’t have done that to me.  Oh.  You’ve sort of alluded to this.  I think it’s held so deep inside of us that we have to keep coming back to helping people to see that’s actually what’s happened.  But it isn’t actually all of the story.  It isn’t all of the truth.

Sheila: And I think—yeah.  I mean, to me, that’s just such a moment of compassion that people need.  I think that’s what bothers me with messages like this is it’s not full of compassion.  It’s full of blame.  Well, why can’t you get over it?  You just need to stop believing a lie.  And that’s what I see over and over again in this kind of mentality where it’s telling people who have been through bad things, “Well, you just need to realize that you need to work hard, or you need to try harder.  You need to not think of yourself so much,” right?  And she gives another example of this which just boggles my mind because one of my favorite things that Jesus ever said, one of the most healing things I think that Jesus ever said was, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  And that as you love yourself is so beautiful because it’s giving us permission to love ourselves.  And it’s saying, hey, you can’t really love your neighbor unless you love yourself.  

Helen: It’s reflecting that whole message of God giving us life and teaching us to have the blessing of life.  And that’s what that is about.  Yeah.

Sheila: Yeah.  It’s beautiful.  But the way that she turns this book around—this verse around in this book is to say, “Hey, women.  It’s not really about loving yourself.  Your problem is that you love yourself too much.  And what this verse is telling us is that we need to deny ourselves.”  And I’m just curious.  I really want to ask someone who deals with this on a daily basis in your counseling sessions.  Do you tend to find that your female clients love themselves too much or not enough?

Helen: Well, I’ve not really often heard that.  I’ve certainly read that.  And I know it’s around.  But the thing that I find is that women are very keen to form the traditional women’s role even when they’re not all that conscious of it.  That they’re doing that.  Because of how they’ve been—it might depend on—little bit on generation.  But certainly for me.  I  knew what a woman’s place was when I got married, and it wasn’t because my husband tried to put me in that place.  It was because I had the idea of what it meant to be a good wife.  And that’s about sacrifice and about putting the man first and all that kind of stuff that, I think, is both in terms of tradition, secular, and otherwise because it has to do with patriarchal history that human beings have got.  But I think it’s also to do with the teaching on submission.  And so women kind of know where they fit.  And I think when they fight back, depends on who they’re partnered with—but when they fight back or stand up for themselves, if the men that they’re with can’t deal with that, then they’re really in trouble because they go back into their place.  They might stand up, but they can’t hold it.  So there’s this idea of I have to—and even I to serve others.  It might even be in the relationships with their female friends.  Somebody does something they don’t like.  But they put with it because they think, “Well, this is what it costs me to be a friend,” or whatever.  But it’s not about a quality of being, and that’s what I think Jesus actually represented.  It was about a quality of being.  Everyone was equal.  Everyone was worthwhile of their own self.

Sheila: Yeah.  Because I think there’s this idea that you must always be denying yourself is really a dangerous message to give to women especially who are more likely to be people pleasers.  Yeah.      

Helen: Yeah.  I think that’s endemic really.  I’ve been married a really long time.  And I still am aware when I do that.  When I capitulate.  And it’s not because I’m being pressured to do so by my partner.  It’s to do with my own sense of what is right to do.  And I actually have to work at it.  Sometimes the disagreements we may have are because I later on get upset about something that really, in one sense, I have actually played into.

Sheila: Last Sunday my back went out.  And it does this every now and then.  Really, really badly.  And we were supposed to have my grandkids that night overnight.  And I just realized I can’t do it.  And I was so upset.  But even giving myself permission to tell my daughter, “I can’t do this,” was really hard because you’re supposed to do it.  But then my husband said—

Helen: You’re supposed to do it.  Of course.

Sheila: Yeah.  But then my husband said, “But I can do it.”  And so the kids came over.

Helen: Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.

Sheila: Yeah.  I played with them for an hour.  And then I just had to go lie down in bed, so my—I read a book to the kids while I was in bed.  But mostly—and then my husband just took them home, and he looked after them that night.  And it never occurred to me, “Oh, Keith could do it,” even though, in some ways, he watches the kids more than I do.  But I just felt so guilty because I was supposed to—and I was really saying, “Does it hurt that much?  How bad is it really?”  And it’s hard to give yourself permission to actually matter.    

Helen: Yeah.  Yeah.  And I mean the interesting thing as you’re saying—I felt really guilty about it.  I wonder whether it was guilt or whether you were somehow rather ashamed you couldn’t live up to your feminine position.

Sheila: Yes.  Yes.  I think probably very true.

Helen: They’re very caught up together.  I can talk about that.  But yeah.  When that’s relevant.  Go on.

Sheila: Yes.  I think that’s very, very true.  So then the other thing that I notice that Nancy was really ignorant of, I think, is when she talks about some of the physical manifestations that we can have in our bodies.  Let’s just lay it out.  How does shame and trauma—how—what has research shown how that affects the body?   

Helen: Oh, there’s a lot of research on it.  I haven’t actually prepared to sort of trot them out to you.  But there’s a lot of research on it.  But just think of the logic, for example, of if a child has been abused sexually and it’s been—involved physical penetration, that’s going to be fairly traumatic for a small child.  And I just know lots of incidents of this.  The mind boggles that anybody can do that to a child.  But anyway, it happens.  First of all, you know that it’s arrested, and it’s stopped.  And the child is acknowledged.  And the child is given a chance to heal in a loving, compassionate relationship, and there’s awareness that this is going to be—having an impact on the child.  Mostly, that doesn’t happen.  Mostly, it’s secret for a very long time.  And in that time, the child sort of developed a lot of ways of understanding this.  And so they’re going to have very confused ideas about sex, and they’re certainly going to think things like when they’re later—when they’re teenagers or when they’re older and they start to work out what sex is about, they’re going to go, “Well, I had sex with that person.”  And they’ve got it all confused.  But what they have got in their body is memories.  Body memories.  Which no one understands that unless they’ve done a little bit of digging into the history behind this and the research.  But it does mean that things like sexual relationships are very hard for them.  And it also means things like medical tests that are invasive can be incredibly difficult.  And women can have a reaction to a test like that where they’ve got all this pain, and they think they’re nuts.  When in fact, it’s reactivated this memory that’s in their bodies.  And that might sound wacky, but there’s plenty of research to show that that’s true.  So that’s the most—that’s the extreme.  But it certainly does impact on women’s sense of who they are as a sexual being because they’re being violated at the most intimate part of themselves at a time, often, when they have no language to express it or understand it.  And they will blame themselves because this was an adult.  And adults know everything.  Adults are the people who are supposed to look after you and teach you right and wrong and all of that sort of stuff.  And here is somebody doing this to them.  Well, how do they understand it?  It’s got to be my fault.

Sheila: Yeah.  And then you feel that in your body.  I’ve read that trauma victims are more likely to have things like IBS like bowel issues or immune disorders in some way.  It just affects us in all kinds of ways.     

Helen: That’s right.  And even infertility disorders.  Even infertility.  There’s not a lot of research on it.  But I just know many examples of it.  So yeah.  I mean I think we are aware—and our bodies do hold trauma memories and not for everybody.  But for some people, that’s going to dog them all their lives.  I think my view—and this is going back to the problem.  Why don’t you just get over it?  You just need to forgive and get over it.  Forgiveness is a holly—it’s a huge topic.  But I think people are not going to get over that.  They may never get over it.  But what they can do with compassionate understanding and—I mean sometimes long term therapy.  But not everybody has that available to them.  But that sort of compassionate understanding, they begin to be able to say to themselves, “This is part of that.  This is not me being nuts.  This is not me just holding onto it because I can’t let go.”  I don’t think people can actually always let go.  And we need to understand that for some people this kind of abuse—and all sorts of other abuse.  Physical abuse.  Just being beaten and stuff like that.  It’s very hard to let go of that over time.  I’ve often said this to my clients, and I think they find this comforting.  I don’t think there’s complete healing this side of Heaven.  And I think some people have the view that enough therapy and people will be fine or enough faith and people will be fine.  I actually don’t.  I think if we take the fallen world seriously then we have to see that it’s only going to be in Heaven we get released from some of these things.  And in my work, I really hope that—and I’ve seen this.  That I can help people to live better in the world.  And that they will understand when something surfaces again that this is part of that whole thing that happened to them.  It’s horrible, but it’s true.

Sheila: And that’s the thing.  When your body is showing these kinds of reactions, it is a sign of trauma that happened to you.  It’s not something you’re deliberately doing.  And that’s another thing that she brings up in this book is she lists all kinds of different physical systems.  But she says these are signs of bitterness.  So you need to get rid of bitterness, and you need to forgive.  And it’s like these are signs of trauma.

Helen: Well, it’s true.  If you can.  It would be good.  But I’ve just had a contact with somebody recently whose had a number of very serious traumas all of which I’ve heard—she’s not a client.  Just a friend.  And she’s recently just got—had yet another episode of this (inaudible)—like describing something like a ball of poison inside of her.  And she was actually at a different religious group’s retreat and had help that she’s never had in the church because no one sat with her and said, “Well, you just need to forgive, and you need to get over it.  And you need to release all of that.”  They sat with her while she cried and surrounded her with compassion.  And she said to me, “After seven months, I’ve still—that poison has not come back.”  And it was just—I mean she’s done heaps and heaps—I know she’s done heaps and heaps of different kinds of work.  And she’s had some healing.  But the depth of that—those things that have happened to her every now and then becomes too much.  Now whether that’s gone forever, I don’t know.  But she’s mature enough to know this is not my fault.  

Sheila: Maybe it comes down to this question is can will power honestly heal you from compulsive overeating or from sexual abuse.  And these are two examples that she gives where she is talking about willpower.  How women are supposed to pray the prayer, “Grant me to never lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin.”  And I’m just not sure that that’s a really helpful thing to say to someone who is seriously struggling with overeating or some other compulsive disorder, which has its root, often, in trauma and in insecurities and in wounds let alone sexual abuse.    

Helen: Yes.  And like you made a really good point there.  I mean we’ve talked a bit about sexual abuse.  And if we just move away from that one, which is probably the biggest, biggest, biggest one that you can ever get, then there’s all sorts of attacks that come to us that are inadvertent.  People say things.  Someone said to me the other night something that really, really hurt me because she didn’t understand where I was coming from.  And I thought, “She didn’t mean to hurt me.  She’s one of my closest, dearest friends.  She’s a colleague.”  And I did say something the next morning, and she was just devastated that she’d hurt me like that.  She didn’t mean to.  These are little wounds.  But I mean that’s a momentary wound that we sorted out very quickly.  But we have lots of things said to us over the years.  My mom had a very difficult time having me.  And one day she said to me quite early—well, she probably said it to me quite early.  But I know she said it to me in my adult life, “I nearly died having you (inaudible) when you were worth it.”  It was only in therapy that I realized that that had a big effect on me and made me work hard at being a very good girl.  And that is still with me, and I’m 69.  68.  But still with me.  And I know now.  I mean that that operates, and so I’ve got ways of dealing with it.  But see?  That’s not going to heal this side of Heaven because it’s been there forever.  And I’ve learned ways of trying to enact that, and I have to undo them.  But I don’t think that’s ever going to go away completely.  So she didn’t mean—she had no idea that that had an impact on me.  But that’s the kind of thing we can live with.  Now that wasn’t sexual abuse, and it wasn’t even meant to be abusive.  It was just a message I got that I think has really underpinned everything that I am.  And I have to really work hard at that.  So I’m conscious of that sort of stuff.  Clients come in with that sort of stuff.  And I think just keep on—I mean I find my belief about not getting complete healing this side of Heaven really hopeful.  A bit discouraging on one hand because you think, “Oh, if I pray enough, it will go away.”  But on the other hand when they keep on praying and it doesn’t go, then that’s really hard.  And sometimes it’s being able to speak just to somebody who says, “That was terrible.  That should not have happened to you.”  Even that.  Somebody should never have said that.  If this little girl that you’ve described about being six only had those messages, just think how bad that would be.  Verbal messages.  No right to live.  You shouldn’t have been born.  I mean how deep does that go?  So we do need to help people to articulate what’s happened to them as a result of that.  That’s where therapy really helped me to see that was there and to see why I was such a—I don’t think I would have called myself a people pleasure, but I probably was.  I certainly was a mother pleaser.  And then I thought I was being—I mean, at that stage, I was married and had four children.  I think I was trying to be a child pleaser and a husband pleaser and everybody else pleaser.  And it nearly sent me into a break down.  So I went to counseling.  It really set me free being able to recognize that was operating, and I think that in itself is hopeful for people to have someone who is really curious about—tell me a little bit more about this.  Just sit with somebody while they can talk a little bit about their experience.  And that, in itself, set people on a slightly different path.  

Sheila: That sounds so much too—more like Jesus.  He sat down, and He listened.  And He paid attention.  And He didn’t just say—He didn’t just have condemnation for people.  Oh, you haven’t prayed enough.  You aren’t believing enough.

Helen: You never hear that from Him.  Never.  

Sheila: No.  No.  And I think that’s why reading this book made me feel so heavy because there just wasn’t a Jesus, who was angry at things that were done to me.  There was only a Jesus, who was angry at what I wasn’t doing now to get over it.  And I don’t think that’s Jesus.  

Helen: No.  No.  No.  I think Jesus had—just think about some of the people that He spent time with who would have had trauma of various kinds.  I mean wow.  Who sinned?  The blind man.  Who sinned?  His father or—his parents or him?  That sort of stuff.  Jesus has got nothing to do with any of that.  It’s so easy when you’ve got a bad marriage for people to go, “What’s gone wrong there?”  When a guy is using porn, “What’s wrong with the marriage?”  When a guy is (inaudible), “What’s wrong with the marriage?”  I’ve heard that from bishops and people strongly involved in the church.  What was wrong—going on in that marriage that this happened?  Well, why is the woman getting blamed for this?  And there’s a lot of that.  And I think we do carry a lot of shame in ourselves, I think, far more than—this is a very unfair generalization.  But I don’t think men carry shame the way women carry shame.  They do carry it.  I mean I’ve worked with shame with men.  And it’s different.  It’s different.  We carry shame about lots of things men don’t think about.  

Sheila: Well, thank you, Helen.  I think this has really been helpful and—yeah.  I think it’s a much more compassionate look at the way Jesus would see our wounds.  So I really appreciate you giving us some perspective.  

Helen: Well, you really made it right at the point where you’re saying Jesus meets people where they’re at.  Let’s start there.  Let’s not form judgments and come up with solution at least until we’ve heard people.

Sheila: Yep.  All right.  Thank you so much.

Helen: Yeah.

Sheila: So grateful for Becky and Helen’s voices and perspectives just pointing us back to Christ and that He isn’t afraid of our emotions.  He doesn’t want us to hide things from Him, and He wants to take us on a journey to wholeness.  And that’s what we want to do here on the Bare Marriage podcast too.  And so I hope that you have found our conversations uplifting.  And I hope that you’ve seen Jesus in a new way and that He does see you where you’re at.  And He’s not disappointed in you.  He’s not thinking you just need to try harder.  He says that He is a place where we can find rest.  And I hope that you’ve done that today.  So thank you for joining us.  And we will see you again next week on the Bare Marriage podcast.

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Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Jo R

    Some random thoughts and responses:

    So much for “mourn with those who mourn.” 🙄 Add in a whole lot of “Go, be well-fed and warm” with a Texas-sized side helping of “Don’t expect me to do anything for you, except, of course, offer condemnation for not having your $#!+ together.”

    When Elijah was in utter despair, God had him take a nap and eat a meal that was brought to him. Twice! God did not berate Elijah for his feelings, nor did He even correct Elijah’s understanding of the facts of the situation. Not until six weeks later, after God had Elijah rest and recuperate, did God finally reveal that seven thousand had not kneeled down to Baal.

    If we’re supposed to focus constantly on all our specific sins and how we’re just generally sinful people who deserve nothing but punishment, how does that mindset align with “dwell on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, moral excellence, and praiseworthy”? 🤔

    Did Jesus condemn the eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Did Jesus assign blame to the man born blind or to the man’s parents? Did Jesus condemn the woman who bled for twelve years? Did Jesus condemn ANY of the people He healed, for their sin or for their wrong thinking or for their wrong emotions?

    Did Jesus get tired? Or hungry? Or sad? Or angry? Did He ever take time apart from people, even His own disciples? Did He never do any self-care, ever?

    Did He hide the truth about various situations, like the false teachings of the scribes and Pharisees? Did He ever sugarcoat a less-than-ideal situation? Did He tell people lies so they would feel good about themselves? Did He ever berate people for their completely normal reactions to bad circumstances?

    As for postpartum depression being caused solely (or even mostly) by wacky hormones, wellllll, this article raises some interesting counterpoints (language warning!):


    “I don’t think there’s complete healing this side of heaven.” THAT, in and of itself, is a huge relief. Because it gives us permission to fail at not being perfect in yet one more area. Or to at least take longer than those who have much less to heal from might pontificate about.

    And speaking of pontificating, why does a woman who at the time was unmarried and childless think she can instruct married women and women with children, especially women with multiple preschoolers, on the proper execution of wifedom and motherhood? And why have so many of us looked up to such unqualified people for such a long time?

    Oh, wait. Because “Thus saith the Lord, and if you disagree with ME, you’re actually disagreeing with GOD, so you’re going straight to hell because you aren’t even a Christian.” 🙄 🤬

    • JG

      Well said. So we can take advice from someone who doesn’t have experience as a mom and has come to marriage late in life as gospel truth. Uh, no thanks.

      Kind of like taking advice from Bill Gothard (an old maid in britches).

    • lisa johns

      That PPD article is fire. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Codec

    You dyed your hair.

    You know I don’t get it. You have Elijah a man who was a prophet and showed up at the transfiguration who struggled with suicidality and the trauma of Jezebel killing of his fellow prophets and Noone would dare say to him he didn’t trust God enough so why do people think it’s ok to say that to others?

  3. Nessie

    I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but Sheila, I want to say to you personally- I am so sorry that you had to read what this author said about losing a child. This is hard work and we, at least I know I, can get bogged down in my own pain that I don’t actively think about yours. I am sorry.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Nessie. It is so difficult sometimes. I do believe things are changing and people are seeing, so I keep going. But it’s awful being immersed in this stuff all the time!

  4. Nessie

    NLDW writing about her dad… what about all the OT writings about rending garments and joining others in their grief? She has bypassed the grieving process entirely, even shaming that process.

    God “causes” infertility/suffering… a gross misunderstanding of God! Every perfect gift is from God- but that doesn’t mean He is the creator of all bad things! God can bring good out of what the devil meant for bad. God can bring growth and acceptance and positive character traits out of the loss of not having a child(ren) but to conflate that with God causing it honestly feels evil.

    What is with the deep shaming of one another? NLDW shames women; men have shame dumped on them when trying to break from a porn adiction. This is not a contest either side should be trying to “win.”

    What does the 65# weightloss say to the women struggling to lose 5# or 10#? “This woman was obedient enough to lose 65#, therefore you must not be obedient enough to even lose 5#, so you are an even lowlier worm than her.”

    I almost get the feeling that, because women have so little agency in patriarchal circles, NLDW can convince herself it is all about how little a woman believes. If that is true, then she can regain *control* of her life if she gets herself in the “right” way of God and believes strongly enough. It’s like she is conflating will-power and control.

    The concept of some wounds not healing this side of heaven truly is so helpful- thank you to Ms. Blake for sharing that!

    • elf

      So, so many astute observations in this short comment. Thank you, Nessie.

  5. Jane King

    When I tragically lost my 50 year old husband 5 years ago. I was told by several people at my old church, including the lead pastor, that this was God’s plan. And to be angry or to grieve was disrespectful to God. The lead pastor even said that it might be a sign that I wasn’t truly a Christian. And that maybe that’s why God let Chuck die to show me the error of my ways. At a time when I had so much weight on me anyway, he threw a millstone around my neck.

    Thank you for helping me to see that this view was systematic in these kinds of churches.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, my word, Jane! I’m so, so sorry. I can’t imagine being told that you can’t grieve the loss of someone who is like your other half. That’s awful. How much that must have hurt!

      I’m glad you’re not at this church anymore!

      • Jane King

        Thank you! Finding your podcast and blog has been in credibly healing for me.

    • Nessie

      That is horrendously callous! “Jesus wept” is the shortest Bible verse… I figure Jesus knew He’d be resurrecting Lazarus yet HE still mourned! Wow! I’m so sorry you went through that!

      • Codec

        If God can mourn we can too.

        • Megan

          I was just reading this passage and one extra thing I saw was that Jesus isn’t really grieving the death of his friend per se. It specifically says that he sees the weeping of Mary and everyone in attendance and shares in their grief. So Jesus doesn’t shame them for weeping over their dead brother/friend, he joins them in it even though he knows the end outcome. How backwards this book has it over how to deal with grief yours or someone else’s

  6. Connie

    Question: is there at least one book like this for men, or is all this guilting and shaming a special menu for women to make us shut up and put up? Because nobody wants to hear our cry anyway?
    Oh, wait, the times God comes in anger is not because He just feels like whupping people for fun, but because He hears the cry of the oppressed. And we’re supposed to believe that crying out for deliverance is sin? Really?

  7. Boone

    I asked my wife about this book because I remembered her going to a ladies’ Bible study at church that used it. She said that she only went to three sessions and stopped because they degenerated into a miseryfest. She said that she read about three more chapters on her own and put the book down. I asked her take on the book. She replied that as best she could remember the gist was that if you’re not miserable then you should be but you don’t have any right to be miserable. In fact you don’t have any right to anything. If you are miserable it’s because you’re not right with God but being miserable makes you closer to God. I told her that all of that made no sense. She told me that I was right and said that the book was somewhere up in the farm office and that I was welcome to read it an try to figure out the logic. I politely declined and thanked her for her input.

    • Laura


      Take that book and let the horses poop on it. Really, that book is already full of poop anyway.

      • Nessie

        I feel like that’d be insulting to the horses. 😂

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      HAHAHAHA! I like your wife.

  8. Meghan Parker

    I had to pause at minute 20 to have a moment to mourn for younger me. I heard all those messages about how my body was a temple and I shouldn’t shame God by overeating and being fat (yes these two were connected in the messaging and this will become devastating later on). I tried so hard to be good. I ate so little that my calorie tracking app gave me warnings. Still not good enough. I was still too fat. My doctor said so. So I stopped using the tracker but I was still doing all the dangerous things it would have warned me about had I been in a place to listen. I eventually got to the point where I was nearly fainting during hikes due to malnutrition.

    I finally started giving my body what she needs (most days…I’m still really struggling) no thanks to people like Nancy. I’ve started reading through a book called By Bread Alone by Kendall Vanderslice that has been very helpful. I’ve followed the work of Amanda Martinez Beck who has been so healing for me. I’d love to see the church decouple thinness from holiness. The bodies we experience the world God loves in are good, all of them, no matter what.

    • elf

      Oh gosh, i can relate. This podcast (finally?) made me weep for a younger, desperately hurting, confused, and relentlessly seeking me. Thank you for you comment. x

  9. CMT

    Both of these conversations are so good in their different ways. I just want to thank you, Sheila, and Helen Blake for that exchange about dealing with people pleasing as women. I paused the podcast and wrote down what Helen said about recognizing the impulse to capitulate to her spouse and how even though she knows better, it feels on some level that this is just how it should be. It is actually really helpful to hear two thoughtful, capable women who have a couple decades on me talk about this. I have been dealing with this myself lately, and made some decisions that I’ve been kicking myself for. Hearing that it isn’t just me, and it’s ok to still be working on this, is a relief.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it and found it useful!

  10. Christine

    One of the most common themes that I am finding among these books that you are criticizing is that we have authors in the Christian arena who know very little to nothing about what they are writing about, even if they are an analyst with a Hardvard degree; and many Christians take their information as fact! I admit, when I was younger I used to follow authors like this as well, because “if they are using the Bible, then they must have some type of authority,” – or so I thought. It’s really embarrassing that Christian groups push things like this, as it makes us look really bad, I feel. We need to do better!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This honestly is my pet peeve! Absolutely.

    • Jane

      The flip side would be that individuals who do know what they’re talking about and are credentialed then get sidelined because they’ve fallen prey to the world and aren’t actually Biblical…because their takes aren’t in lockstep with current Evangelical thinking.

  11. Jenny

    I’m only part way through, but – isn’t gluttony listed as a sin? (Not being fat necessarily, but being a glutton.) And for sake of argument, wouldn’t the example woman who packed on 65 pounds be an example of gluttony?

    I’m not trying to defend the book in the slightest, but gluttony is basically the food version of drunkenness, I reckon. Different people can handle different amounts, but once you’ve crossed the line into excess… Sorry, I’m just trying to wrestle through this.

    The other thing I’ve mulled over… Understanding ones sinfulness isn’t bad. Paul understood he was a terrible sinner, after all. I was raised with “worm theology” and… Understanding my unrighteousness and sinfulness of my old nature has some virtue, but I really think where the Puritans and those who exalt them fall short is failing to focus on the “we are made alive in Christ” part. They preach progressive sanctification but focus on what you were and not what the Holy Spirit is doing and has done. I reckon that’s hard to do without legalistic rules but, I dunno, I like to look back at how I was, how I’ve changed, and praise God for growth and pray He helps me do better. I’m still plenty sinful, and of my failings I’m quite aware, but I have found far more growth and encouragement by looking at what I should be and working towards it with the Holy Spirit’s aid. Not by contemplating and boasting in my dreadfulness.

    There’s a very great lack of balance in most preaching, I think.

    • lisa johns

      About the weight issue, see Meghan’s comment, above. Our weight is often NOT about what we eat, but about how our bodies are made, and our self perception is about how our society has made women’s bodies a sign of their general goodness — or lack thereof. We can never know — unless we are specifically told — what someone else’s story with their body is. It is best to assume that we don’t know what we don’t know, rather assuming that someone is over-eating just because their body is rounder than the fashion average in our society.

    • Nessie

      Hey Jenny, another thing to keep in mind- we are viewing the “packed on 65 pounds” situation through the author’s eyes… the real situation may be vastly different than the woman becoming gluttonous. That “understanding” of this woman’s life may be a very distorted one with lots of assuming or projecting going on. With all the other lies that NLDW is actually trying to get us to believe, I would not rely on her as a credible source.

      If the woman in question shared her feelings that she was the one being gluttonous, I’d argue that she likely believes a lot of the other lies in this book and is rooting that idea on this “worm theology.” If gluttony is going on, I’d also say that it is probably some kind of trauma response (or of other troubling origin) and needs compassion and understanding rather than shame. (I’m not implying you are shaming her but rather people like NLDW.)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      The thing is that weight is so complex. We know that a lot of overeating is a trauma response. And a lot of people gain weight easily because of genetics. So weight is not a good measure of gluttony.

      One could argue that I am far more gluttonous than my husband because I love sweets and eat a lot of them, whereas he doesn’t. But he’s bigger than I am.

    • Angharad

      Jenny, I think that’s one of the things that makes this book so dangerous – it mixes a lot of truth in with a little bit of untruth and ends up producing something really toxic.

      Take all the stuff about feelings being dangerous and not to be relied on, for example. In some ways, she’s spot on. I had a friend who decided it was ok to have an affair with a married Christian man because ‘something that makes me feel this happy can’t be wrong’. So yes, in her case, her ‘feelings’ were a really, really bad guide to what was right. But I also know countless people who have listened to their ‘feelings’ and been guided to do or say exactly the right thing at the right time. And I’ve also seen people who ended up suffering because they didn’t listen to their ‘feelings’. Sometimes, our feelings can actually be the promptings of the Holy Spirit and it’s dangerous to ignore them then!

      Yes, our bodies are living temples and we are called upon to look after them – which could include things like eating healthy, not drinking too much, taking drugs, avoiding exercise etc, etc…but we also live in a fallen, messed up world where people suffer from all kinds of things that may prevent them being healthy. Where in the Bible do we read about Jesus lecturing lame people for not doing more sit-down exercises to improve their muscle tone? Nope, he just…healed them. And what about the people who may never have been taught how to look after themselves healthily? Or the ones who are so upset or traumatised that they can’t face eating properly?

      It’s also true that none of us had anything that ‘deserved’ our salvation. The Bible says that even our ‘righteous’ deeds done in our own strength are like filthy rags compared to Christ’s righteousness. But the Bible also refers to vile people as being what we ‘once were’, and how we are now God’s special possession, holy and royal, joint-heirs with Christ.

      Sometimes, half-truths can be more dangerous than outright lies.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Absolutely! Things with a grain of truth are easier to sell than something with no truth at all.

        • JoB

          I guess what I’m left wondering is, is the perspective of Nancy DeMoss “a lot of truth in with a little bit of untruth” mixed in, as you’ve said, Angharad, or mostly lies with a grain of truth mixed in, as Sheila said? In other words, how much truth is there in her vision of God and the Christian life?

          Basically, when a person enters a relationship with Jesus, what can that person expect? Honestly, I wasn’t able to listen to the conversation, but It seems like Nancy DeMoss represents a view of Christianity that thinks once you are adopted into God’s family, you are daily going to be shown truths about the depths of your sinful nature which is still with you, and God, out of love, will bring brokenness into your life on a regular if not daily basis so that you can learn to reject any feelings of satisfaction with your own person/self and live in a constant state of sanctification by recognizing your sin and repenting of it. And the more mature a Christian you are, the more you’ll recognize how sinful you are in yourself and constantly turn to God to change you, but of course since your well of sin is so very deep, you will be repenting and being sanctified through brokenness and pruning (God taking away good things for a higher purpose) until the day you die.

          In contrast, what I think I have heard Sheila and others say is that, as a Christian, you can consider yourself a normal and even decent human being most of the time. There may be seasons of brokenness or pruning, but it’s not something you should expect all the time. You can live without thinking about your own sinfulness every time you make a decision. You can choose things you like without worrying too much about whether you are being selfish. You can see yourself as capable of following a path towards God and he’ll nudge you back if you start to go off track, but sanctification is not so constant and laborious.

          I have heard both POV and I cannot reconcile them. The first was the one I was raised with. The second POV seems a lot more relaxed and freeing, but I am not sure I can accept it as true (if I have understood it correctly in the first place). One thing I do take issue with is saying that humans could ever judge their creator; we could judge other humans as being “monsters”, but God is God. If he wants to hurt us, it’s his prerogative, and we can’t accuse him of being unfair. Since he defines right and wrong, even if he does something we don’t like or find painful, we can’t call it “wrong.” On the other hand, a false human interpretation of God’s character could be monstrous. That’s what I am trying to figure out.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Hi JoB, I would actually take issue with this: “Since he defines right and wrong, even if he does something we don’t like or find painful, we can’t call it “wrong.” That’s actually more of an Islamic belief. The Christian belief is that God actually limits Himself. God cannot lie, Scripture tells us. And God is love. This doesn’t mean that whatever God does is therefore loving (so nonlove can be love if done by God), but rather love is love, and God is love. So we know that God cannot act in an unloving way. And Jesus tells us this when He says to us, “Look, if your child asks for bread, you wouldn’t give him a stone.” So God doesn’t do that either.

            That has helped me a lot, and I hope it helps you too!

            As for the rest, I think the point is that as we are following after Christ, our hearts will be transformed so that we want more and more to do the things that Christ would do. We care about the poor and the lonely. We don’t live self-centered lives. But this doesn’t look like doing these things to gain God’s favour or being afraid of sinning, but rather just living a big life in Christ. Does that make sense?

          • Angharad

            JoB, I guess what a person can expect from their relationship with Jesus is going to be unique to each individual, depending on their personality and circumstances. For one person, right now what they may need most of all is the overwhelming reassurance of Christ’s love for them. Another person may feel confident and secure in that love at the moment, but maybe needs to do some work on other issues in their life.

            I’ve been a Christian for over 4 decades now, and I would say that the closer I’ve grown to Jesus and the longer I’ve walked with Him, the more I’ve become aware of my own sinfulness. And maybe that sounds really negative, and I guess it would be if you look at it as Jesus constantly telling you off for being wrong. But if you think of it more as Jesus helping you grow into the person He wants you to be – carrying on the good work He has begun in you – then it’s a whole lot more positive.

            I think of it as a bit like learning a new language – at the start, there’s a huge sense of achievement from being able to say ‘hello, how are you?’ And as you go on, you suddenly become aware of so many mistakes that need fixing – a vowel that’s a little too long here, a stress that’s overemphasised there – and it would be easy to think ‘I’m making so many more mistakes than when I started – I’m just going to give up.’ But you’re not actually making more mistakes – you’re just getting more and more aware of them the better your grasp of the language becomes. In the same way, I think that the closer we get to Jesus, the more aware we become of the errors that were always there.

            Whatever season I’m in, I’ve learned to trust the process – or rather, the one who is guiding it. God knows exactly what I need in each season of my life, whether that’s a challenge, a rebuke, an encouragement or some rest.

          • JoB

            Sheila and Angharad, I really appreciate your both taking time to answer me. Sheila, I agree with you, and I thank you for pointing it out, that, unlike the Muslim concept of God, Yahweh cannot lie and does not do evil. I guess maybe what I was trying to say was that everything belongs to God, and if he chooses to take it away, he has the right to do so, no matter how painful or seemingly unfair that might be. His definition of love is infinitely more complex than I can understand, and his ways can only be described as mysterious. That’s the only conclusion I can come to, as I look at my own life, and stories like Job losing his children and his health, Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, the Hebrew men being commanded to “put away” their foreign wives and children, the law that commanded the death penalty for homosexuality but permitted polygamy, the command to totally destroy the inhabitants of the promised land, the expectation that believers would lay down their lives for Jesus, even if it left their children as orphans. Just to name a few 😉 I know that all these things took place in specific historical and cultural contexts which definitely adds a layer of confusion, and some of them actually do make sense in the context. But I do have some sympathy for Nancy DeMoss’ attempt to make sense of what seems like senseless tragedy by saying that it is part of God’s sovereign plan and that he has permitted it for a reason that is beyond our comprehension (like in the case of Job).
            Angharad, thank you for sharing your experience and your observation that each person’s spiritual experience is unique. Some may experience a great sense of God’s love, and others not, and that might vary greatly depending on personality, experience and God’s choice. I have been trying to figure out what is reasonable to expect in a relationship with Jesus, and it helps to hear others’ lived experiences.

      • Becky Castle Miller

        Regarding your friend who had an affair, it’s helpful to disambiguate “feelings,” “emotions,” and “sinful desires.” Feelings is a catch-call word that can mean bodily sensations, emotions, desires, or even opinions. It’s not our emotions that lead us to sin – it’s Sin acting on us and tempting us through sinful desires. But there can be non-sinful desires that aren’t being met that can lead us to try to meet them in sinful ways. And there can be legitimate and important emotions that aren’t being heard or heeded, telling us something in our circumstances needs to change (such as loneliness or sadness) that we might ry to take care of in sinful ways. The emotions aren’t bad. Having safe people to talk all these things out with can help.

  12. Marina

    Yeah, I’ve heard variations of these “solutions” as well. Weirdly, at least of the christians I’m personally around, it’s like they will say things like what’s in Lies Women Believe, then either say or do things that contradict. I guess many read things like this book and don’t think about what the logical conclusions of the statements are? Or do they assume people can figure out what’s unhealthy and “spit out the bones”?
    I do have a request: I know you’re busy, and probably have topics scheduled far in advance. But, could you address precisely why “worm theology” and a negative self image are wrong for christians one day? I know you have addressed these in older posts to a degree, but could you go into the nuts and bolts of why these thought processes are unhealthy? Maybe it’s how my brain works, but I keep hearing people say “these are obviously wrong” and then not really going into detail about exactly why they are wrong. Except maybe the same few bible verses and “humanity is in the image of god” stuff. A few aspects of “worm theology” sound logical, but then I see christians still do “positive self things” like call themselves beautiful, propose to a fiance, or have self confidence. It get’s kind of confusing, honestly.
    Maybe it’s just that I’ve been told I need more self confidence, but I have never seen a christian near me model how to actually gain said confidence, or even give a proper definition of how that functions (other maybe “god confidence” stuff, but the definitions I’ve seen of that are so nebulous that it feels like you never really leave “square one” for anything else).

    • Rk

      Marina I would be interested in your topic as well.

      Seperately, To be fair some of NLDW blog posts/podcasts present a more nuanced view of eating habits and practicing self control as a fruit of the spirit and less focused on actual body size, but I can see if these were not addressed in the book. Even so this is a sensitive topic and we need to be extremely careful how we address.

      My thing about NLDW is the view of constant brokenness being linked to holiness and closeness to God. This messed me up for years. But when I learned how the Puritans were constantly obsessed with their inner sins while at the same time being racist slave owners well, constant brokenness doesn’t lead to holiness at all.

      Maybe hating yourself is not holy. Maybe loving others is.

      Just some thoughts

      • Lisa Johns

        “Practicing self control as a fruit of the Spirit…” aaand there’s another of the issues I have with how we talk about living the Christian life! (Rk, please forgive me — I’m not trying to criticize you, but this is another of those things that we as Christians say, that we need to change.)
        The point of the fruit of the Spirit is that it is produced by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit living in us — not because we work on it and practice it and strive to produce it! But because we have the Holy Spirit living in us and with us!
        And this is where NLDW goes very, very wrong as well: first, because she forgets that one fruit of the Spirit is joy, which following her teachings tends to kill, and second, because she advises us to constantly *work* to produce it and prove ourselves worthy of God’s love. This is not fruit; fruit grows naturally because of the way God has designed it. This is more like a strip mall built over the destruction of a pleasant park — all man’s effort, and no regard for the joy and needs of the people who used to enjoy the park.

        • Rk

          Thank you Lisa not offended at all! That actually helps a LOT! I’m still unpacking a lot of things as is evident.

        • Angharad

          Have you seen the kids’ book ‘Basil the Branch’? It’s all about a branch who tries really, really hard to produce fruit and gets upset because he can’t…I think it’s the best illustration ever of the right and wrong way to ‘try’ to be fruitful!!!

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I love your final thought!

    • Nessie

      This certainly isn’t answering your question but I’ll share in case it helps anyone else in the meantime. (And I agree, it would be a great topic- or even just suggestions of resources that delve into this better would be great.)

      I see worm theology as people essentially mocking and insulting what God the Creator has made. Every time someone talks about what lowly, filthy worms we are who deserve nothing good, I can imagine someone spitting in God’s face. “See, God, what horrible, despicable crap you made?” And I wonder how people don’t see how disrespectful *that* is to our heavenly Father.

      • Jo R


        So I guess God is … a worm, since we’re made in His image?

        Thanks, Nessie, for such startling clarity on how wrong that “theology” is.

        • Nessie

          Yes, it’s a blunt and stark example. I guess I’m just getting increasingly tired of others being hurt by the same junk I was so I’m removing more of my filtering system.

    • JoB

      Marina, thank you for asking this question, because I was thinking the same thing.

      I agree that some parts of “worm theology” do seem logical. One of the biggest ones, IMO, is that if God owes me nothing, then I can never say that God is treating me unfairly. If there is no justification for my being angry with God, or hurt by him, then I don’t have to face those thoughts or feelings, I just override or attempt to erase them. If death is the only thing I deserve, then I don’t have to try to make sense of a world where hurts seem to occur at random and no one protects you from them, and the cliche that God is “with you in your troubles” doesn’t really seem to have a concrete meaning.

      As for how people voice agreement with certain ideas but don’t seem to interpret them to the same degree, I think different personalities have different levels of scrupulosity. For example, in the secular world, you see people agree with the dogma that we should protect the environment, and buying goods made by exploited workers is wrong. But people will devote themselves to this belief with varying levels of personal action. A small minority of people will only ride bikes, never use cars, never use anything disposable, and research the origin of absolutely everything they consume. They seem to do this out of a heightened sense of personal morality rather than believing that their individual abstinence is going to save the planet. While most people wouldn’t hold themselves to the same standard of self sacrifice, because they would probably conclude it wasn’t practical.

  13. Amy A

    Thank you for this. I thought I was pretty much done deconstructing this kind of thing, but apparently I really needed to hear a lot of these ideas being called out.

  14. M

    I SO appreciate Becky coming at this conversation using the verbage of “emotions”. I’ve heard too many times (even from licensed therapists) that our feelings “often lie to us”. The problem with using the word “feelings” is that it can mean at least two things: our bare emotions, like anger or sadness, or our judgment or interpretation of an event or feeling (“I feel like you don’t like me” or “I feel scared that you might leave me”, or “I feel like this church doesn’t understand me”). Emotions never lie to us. They simply tell us information about what’s inside. Our interpretation of those emotions, however, can lead us to an incorrect conclusion. The “don’t trust your feelings” crowd then begins to tell the story that emotions themselves are sinful. Anger at God is sinful. Being afraid is sinful. Even anxiety is a sign of us not trusting God or lack of spiritual maturity. Sadness is a lack of joy or contentment in God. It’s a lot of “feelings mean you’re not enough”, rather than “you are a human made in the image of a God who experiences emotions”. God acts on his emotions. So why they claim that rational thought is always more trustworthy than emotional thought is weird. We can emote our way towards a rational decision. It doesn’t have to be either/or.

    Having dealt with a variety of mental illnesses from a young age (and repressed trauma), I understand deep in my soul what it feels like to be told emotions aren’t trustworthy. God has been more patient with me in the midst of terrible highs and lows than I ever thought possible, and way less punishing than I was led to believe from some groups.

    That said…thank you for making a clear distinction between emotions and the confusing language when it comes to “feelings”.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is so good, M! Thank you.

    • Becky Miller

      Yes, M, informally agree! Feelings can also mean simply our physical sensations. Emotion is a much more clear and specific word.

    • Taylor

      I was a part of the “don’t trust your feelings” crowd. I (and others) taught my thoughts to lie to me, and ignore the feelings-alarms. It was rather shocking when I found out that my feelings were the ones alerting me to the truth the whole time.

  15. M

    I was looking through the running quote book I have on my child (she says some great stuff) and found this gem: “God is like a bandaid. When we are lost and bleeding, He puts Himself on us to stop the bleeding. Like the lost sheep”.

    Perhaps not quite theologically correct, but then Jesus probably didn’t mind what the children said as they grappled with big spiritual ideas. I just love the intimacy of Jesus putting Himself on us to stop the bleeding. So many of us have had others touch us to take from us and make us suffer- Jesus reaches out to take our suffering on Himself and identify with it.

    Granted, this is the same girl who answered the question of what are some ways we can build our relationship with God with “learning facts about God. Like Jesus yelling at the Pharisees” and that Satan’s place is for all the mean things. “If someone says mean things, I just send ’em there”.

    • Nessie

      I don’t know y’all but your kid sounds awesome!! Good job! (Theological soundness can come later- you’re teaching the gist of it right imo!)

      • M

        Aww, thanks! She’s pretty great. I’m not sure I deserve her all the time, but I’m glad she’s in my life. She goes to a Catholic school, but we are Protestant. It’s really opened both our eyes to how other Christians practice their faith and their takes on different theologies. I emphasize to her the importance of being curious about other denominations/churches. In Sunday School when they asked “how many books of the Bible are there?” she said “Protestant or Catholic?” This kid.

  16. William Arthur

    I like a lot of what you said here, especially about Christians and their emotions.

    It does bother me that you make no mention about men being harmed by these teachings as well.

    I grew up incredibly angry with no outlet. Long story, but this led to me having a nervous breakdown in college, spending a month in a mental hospital, and barely existing for the next 8 years, until God saved me at 28 years old. Even after that, for many years, I was incredibly angry at much of what had been done to me by my parents and peers, but typically told that I needed to “forgive”, which kind of meant, just let go of it.

    There have been many steps toward increasing freedom, but a really big one was realizing that God doesn’t “forgive” sin the way we typically think. He pays for it, either through the death of His Son or by eternal punishment for those who won’t accept that sacrifice. When God tells me to forgive, He’s not telling me to deny the evil done to me–He’s asking me to let Him take care of it. And He does vengeance much better than I do and much more judiciously. God is actually much more angry about the wrong done to me than I am. God loves justice and is incredibly angry about sin whether done to me or by me. And He graciously provided a way to pay for all of it.

    What’s really interesting is that I was originally diagnosed with schizophrenia, largely because I was telling my psychiatrist things about my family. I think my parents, when they met with him, threw me under the bus to preserve their image–think the movie “Ordinary People”. For years afterwards, even in the past 10 years (I’m almost 70 now), my mom would ask me what happened to me. She just couldn’t understand it. “Did you start sniffing glue in high school?” was a common question. I was treated like the black sheep of the family for many years, and even friends would sometimes say they couldn’t understand how the rest of my family was so normal and I was struggling so much.

    My mom passed away 2 years ago and much of the truth has come out since. She also had a nervous breakdown in college about the same age as I did, and so did her father. I cannot understand how she could have cared so much more for her image than she did about comforting or coming along side her son. It wouldn’t have fixed everything, but I wouldn’t have felt so isolated, so completely alone. And what I was sensing about their marriage: that was also true. Honestly, I have some pretty strong anger at her and my Dad for hiding this from me.

    So yes, our emotions carry a lot of truth–sometime they pick up things that our cognition doesn’t. We have to be cautious about believing everything our emotions tell us, but we also need to avoid dismissing them. At the very least they’re telling use something is wrong, either with our thinking or with the situation we’re in.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, William, I’m so sorry that you walked through that. That’s awful. Yes, this stuff definitely harms men too!

      • William Arthur

        It wasn’t good, and I would never choose to go through it again. But God did use it for good. I have a lot more compassion for hurting, broken people than I ever would have otherwise. My wife and I volunteer with a Christian 12 step program that our church runs. I can truly relate to these folks.

    • William Arthur

      A couple points I forgot to mention:
      I was never schizophrenic. A few years back, my wife and I applied for long term health care insurance, and as part of that process, I had to see a shrink to clear this diagnosis. She said it was a completely wrong diagnosis and the medication I was put on was completely wrong. It was in the early 70’s, the bad old days of mental health care.

      Re my parents’ marriage: I truly wish I had been wrong about the state of their marriage. While it is affirming that what I was sensing was correct, I would have much rather been wrong about it. And while I’m angry at my Mom for hiding her own struggles, I truly have compassion for what that must have felt like to live a lie for so many years. I’m angry not just at how it affected me, but also how it affected her. She could have found so much more healing if she could have been honest, IMO.

      Re eternal punishment for unrepentant sinners: I am very uncomfortable with this and would not wish it on my worse enemy. At the same time, I am glad that God is just and does punish sin. He is worthy of our full worship.


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