Shame. It’s a word we all know but avoid saying out loud. We avoid it, hide from it, and often deny it. Yet it’s like a shadow that follows us wherever we go. It’s like a mark tattooed onto our heart that no amount of rubbing will remove.
But for the grace of Christ.
Heather Nelson has a new book coming out on the topic of shame, titled Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame. This book helps bring the topic of shame out of the darkness and into the light. It’s a book that every one of us needs to read because we all have shame in our lives. Recently, I asked Heather a few questions about her writing and her book:
Christina: Tell us a little bit about your childhood. Did you write as a child?
Heather: I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, as the oldest of three children. We attended a PCA church, Mitchell Road Presbyterian, where my dad is still an elder. I am thankful to have grown up nurtured in God’s Word and the gospel through my Christian parents and the larger church community. I first began writing after my aunt gave me a diary for my tenth birthday that had a page for each day of the year. I didn’t write daily, but it certainly got me started down the path of writing as a way to process my life.
Christina: Can you tell us about the process God took you on that enCouraged you to write?
Heather: I began blogging about 10 years ago. I was uncertain about writing publicly at first, but I enjoyed having the chance to connect with others about my life – both the highs and the lows. As I heard about the way my writing connected with others, I began praying that God would open a door and a pathway to write a book one day. God opened the doors sooner than I expected through blogging opportunities at The Gospel Coalition and then a contact at Crossway Publishers.
Christina: What are some of your fears in writing? How do you overcome them?
Heather: I think a big fear for me in writing is that I’ll be criticized for what I write. I also fear offending others inadvertently. Yet what I have to do when writing is remind myself of my first audience, God. I write for him, and I seek to write according to what he’s placed on my heart. I know that criticism and offense will be part of writing publicly, but I have to trust that God will also give me grace for that.
Christina: What compels you to write?
Heather: It’s a desire to connect with others’ hearts in the ways that good writing has connected with me and shaped my faith journey. I want to let others know that they’re not alone in their struggles, and as I write, I’m reminding myself that I’m not alone either. I also genuinely enjoy writing and would say that when I write, I sense God’s pleasure (to borrow a phrase from the Olympic runner Eric Liddell).
Christina: Tell us about how you came to write Unashamed:
Heather: I was intrigued by reading the work of shame researcher Dr. Brené Brown after listening to her TED talks on shame and vulnerability. I was also reading Dr. Ed Welch’s book, Shame Interrupted, at the same time, and I saw so much overlap in their two perspectives. I began thinking about how Brown’s shame research fit with the biblical perspective on shame outlined by Welch. I wanted to write a book that took Welch’s foundation into the practical details of life, and a book that took Brown’s research and connected it with gospel fulfillment – that a relationship with God through Christ is the only true hope for shame resilience and authentic communities.
Christina: What do you hope God will do with the book?
Heather: I hope that God will use this book to encourage each reader to be vulnerable and speak up about an area where shame has silenced them, first to God and then to safe and trusted friends in their community. I hope that the ripple effect of being freed and healed from shame through the gospel will mean that churches become known for their welcome and their honesty – that our churches would become refuges from shame.
Christina: How has he done this for you?
Heather: God has revealed areas where shame has had an unwitting hold on my life – particularly as it shows up through body shame, social shame, and performance shame (three areas I explore in my book). Instead of being silenced by shame, I am learning to talk about the ways I struggle in these three areas and that in speaking up, I am finding freedom in Christ and true community.
Christina: How would you enCourage others to write?
Heather: Start with where you are and write what you know. If you’ve been journaling for awhile, start a blog. If you have a blog, start becoming more honest about your story and your struggles. What’s been most encouraging for me is when I’ve shared about the broken places of my journey and have found that God uses this to speak to others. No one else has your particular story, and so use your writing to begin telling your story as a way to trace God’s presence in it and in so doing, to minister to others.
Christina: Please share 1-2 of your favorite quotes from the book.
“Shame always steals joy and limits freedom. Shame binds us in chains that feel unbreakable to realities that seem unchangeable. Jesus frees you in the Spirit of the Lord.”
“Fighting against shame moves you out of your lonely bunker of one into vibrant community.”
Christina: Please share some endorsements for the book:
“It is difficult to understand shame apart from the gospel. This book is all about the great exchange: shame for beauty. It will flood your soul with life and give you a breath of fresh air. Heather has given all of us who counsel—and all of us who struggle—a gift.” Rod Mays, Adjunct Professor of Counseling, Reformed Theological Seminary; Executive Pastor, Mitchell Road Presbyterian Church, Greenville, South Carolina
“Shame is a paralyzing, life-hindering reality we all experience. Unashamed, written by my dear friend Heather Davis Nelson, is not a book written primarily from her writing desk or her counselor’s office. This book was written from her personal faith journey through shame as she has sought to abide in Jesus and his Word through tears, pain, and faith crises. This is what makes the book so powerful. This is why I recommend the book for anyone. It is a signpost to Jesus and his healing, transforming gospel.” Ellen Mary Dykas, Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA; editor, Sexual Sanity for Women
“Heather Nelson has refreshingly and freely brought to light a topic that isn’t discussed much in Christian circles. I found myself breathing many sighs of relief as I realized I wasn’t alone in my experiences of shame. Heather continually pointed me to the only One who can fully cover and release me.” Julie Courtney, Director of Women’s Ministries, seeJesus
Christina: When will Unashamed be available?
Heather: It will be available for purchase at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference June 16-18; and on Amazon the Kindle version releases June 15 with the paperback releasing June 30.
More about Heather:
Heather Davis Nelson (M.A.) is a writer, counselor, and speaker who is passionate about connecting the hope of the Redeemer with the broken places of life. She blogs regularly at hidden glory (heatherdavisnelson.com) about faith, creativity, shame, and grace in her life as a counselor/author/pastor’s wife/mom to twin daughters, and you can follow her on Twitter: @heatherd_nelson.
Her first book is Unashamed: Healing our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame, which will be released by Crossway in early summer 2016, exploring shame and its healing from the perspective of Christian hope through redeemed relationships. She has been a featured writer at The Gospel Coalition blog, OnFaith, and iBelieve.com, with articles on grief, human trafficking, body image, mentoring, and parenting. Her undergraduate degree in elementary education is from Wheaton College, and her Masters of Arts in counseling is from Westminster Theological Seminary. She loves coffee, reading, front porch conversations, the beach, date night with her husband, and story time with her daughters.