Season 3 | EPISODE 4

Fully Known and Fully Loved: The Gospel’s Answer to Shame

59:21 · March 26, 2024

In this episode, Jim chats with counselor and author Esther Liu about the complex issue of shame and its impact on our identity and relationships. They shed light on how shame often keeps us from seeing ourselves as beloved children of God, leading to feelings of not being enough. Esther offers valuable insights and practical steps to overcome shame, emphasizing vulnerability and the support of others. Learn how to break free from shame’s grip by embracing our true worth found in Christ’s unconditional love. Tune in for a heart-stirring conversation that’s a beacon of hope for anyone seeking to live free from shame and fully embrace their identity in Christ.

In this episode, Jim chats with counselor and author Esther Liu about the complex issue of shame and its impact on our identity and relationships. They shed light on how shame often keeps us from seeing ourselves as beloved children of God, leading to feelings of not being enough. Esther offers valuable insights and practical steps to overcome shame, emphasizing vulnerability and the support of others. Learn how to break free from shame’s grip by embracing our true worth found in Christ’s unconditional love. Tune in for a heart-stirring conversation that’s a beacon of hope for anyone seeking to live free from shame and fully embrace their identity in Christ.

In this episode, they discuss...

  • The role of community in dealing with shame (10:39)
  • The difference it makes when we believe what the Bible says about God’s compassionate posture towards us (21:53)
  • How societal standards influence feelings of inadequacy and shame (36:25)
  • How Jesus’ life and sacrifice challenge worldly notions of success and worth (46:22) 

Thank you for listening! If you found this conversation encouraging or helpful, please share this episode with your friends and loved ones. Or please leave us a review—it really helps!

Referenced in the episode...


Our guest for this episode was Esther Liu, Licensed Counselor at CCEF, the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, and author of Shame: Being Known and Loved. This episode was hosted by Jim Lovelady. Production by Anna Madsen and Sunny Chi. Music by Tommy Leahy.

𝑮𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒆 𝒂𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑭𝒓𝒂𝒚 𝑷𝒐𝒅𝒄𝒂𝒔𝒕 is produced by SERGE, an international missions agency that sends and cares for missionaries and develops gospel-centered programs and resources for ongoing spiritual renewal. Learn more and get involved at serge.org.

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Questions or comments? Feel free to reach out to Serge’s Renewal Team anytime at podcast@serge.org



Welcome to the Grace at the Fray—a podcast that explores the many dimensions of God’s grace that we find at the frayed edges of life. Come explore how God’s grace works to renew your life and send you on mission in His Kingdom.


0:00:24.0 Jim Lovelady: Hello, beloved! Welcome to another episode of Grace at the Fray. I want you to pause and consider that moment when all you could hear in your heart was, “I’m not enough,” or “I need to do better next time.” Was it after something embarrassing, a failure of some kind, missing someone’s expectations? Whatever that moment was, that feeling is what we call shame. Well, this episode is about shame. Shame is a human issue going all the way back to Adam and Eve hiding from God, covering their shame with fig leaves. So this is a huge issue that kind of hides under the surface of our lives, but we need to talk about it.

So my guest today is Esther Liu. Esther is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF, the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. And she’s written a great little book called Shame: Being Known and Loved. She came by the studio to talk about her book and her own struggle with shame. And I think this conversation is going to give you some really great direction on how to uncover the places of shame in your life and learn to let the Lord set you free from that. So join Esther and I as we talk about embracing the reality that we are known and loved, and there’s no more room for shame.

0:01:47.6 Jim Lovelady: Well, Esther, thank you for…

0:01:52.4 Esther Liu: Oh, no, I shouldn’t have said anything.

0:01:54.6 Jim Lovelady: No, it is funny. Esther Liu, thank you for coming on the podcast. Welcome. Welcome to Grace at the Fray.

0:02:00.6 Esther Liu: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

0:02:03.8 Jim Lovelady: I really appreciate you coming on and I look forward to hearing you unpack the book that you’ve written on shame, which is… Well, I won’t talk about the book. I want you to talk about the book and just working out some of the implications of this thing that is really huge. I’m really glad you’re here. So tell me about yourself.

0:02:28.0 Esther Liu: Yeah. My name is Esther Liu. I currently am at CCEF. I’m a faculty member and a counselor there. I’ve been there since I graduated from Westminster Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania in 2015. So I guess I’ve been at CCEF since then doing various roles there. I am the author of the book Shame: Being Known and Loved, which is one of the reasons why I got invited to come onto this podcast; it came out a little over a year ago. And yeah, I’ve just been trying to faithfully do ministry and do the things in front of me, which includes this and just trying to show up and not throw up or pass out in front of you right now or anything. But…

0:03:14.5 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. No. One correction. You got invited to the podcast because so many of my friends love you and they’re like, “Esther’s amazing. You need to bring her on the podcast.”

0:03:21.8 Esther Liu: Oh, that is kind.

0:03:25.9 Jim Lovelady: Oh, and by the way, she’s the author of a really great book.

0:03:26.6 Esther Liu: Oh, okay. So that was secondary. Okay.

0:03:28.0 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. Secondary.

0:03:29.8 Esther Liu: I love that. Okay. Yeah. So I’m just Esther and I’m here, and the book is just a thing that I did. Yeah.

0:03:34.0 Jim Lovelady: It’s just a thing. Yeah.

0:03:36.3 Esther Liu: Yeah. A side thing.

0:03:37.3 Jim Lovelady: I love that you’re like, I’m Esther. I’m the author of a book about shame. Tell me more about yourself.

0:03:42.2 Esther Liu: So, I was born in upstate New York. My parents are… They immigrated to America from Taiwan when they were adults, but I was born here in upstate New York. I lived there until sixth, seventh grade. I moved to New Jersey after that and spent the rest of my middle school, high school, and undergrad in New Jersey. And then, I relocated to the suburbs of Philadelphia once I started seminary. And I’ve been here since.

0:04:11.5 Jim Lovelady: So, North Jersey or South Jersey? 

0:04:14.1 Esther Liu: Actually, neither. Central Jersey.

0:04:15.0 Jim Lovelady: Oh.

0:04:16.3 Esther Liu: Do you believe that that’s a thing? Because to some people, it’s a debate. It’s a debate.

0:04:18.7 Jim Lovelady: Oh, yeah. So I think… Here’s what I think. I think the only way to get into Central New Jersey is through the wardrobe.

0:04:25.4 Esther Liu: The wardrobe.

0:04:29.7 Jim Lovelady: You have to believe that Central New Jersey exists. And you’ll go in, and you’ll meet a lion and a witch, and it’s a mystical place.

0:04:36.1 Esther Liu: It is.

0:04:37.1 Jim Lovelady: Central New Jersey.

0:04:38.5 Esther Liu: Yeah. I can say from firsthand—no, it’s a thing, but some people don’t believe it’s a thing.

0:04:42.5 Jim Lovelady: I don’t believe it’s a thing.

0:04:45.6 Esther Liu: It’s not really South Jersey.

0:04:47.0 Jim Lovelady: All my friends from Central New Jersey hate me right now. Because…

0:04:49.5 Esther Liu: Yeah. You might get some hate for sure. Your view.

0:04:51.2 Jim Lovelady: Oh yeah. Always. Yeah. All my friends, Central New Jersey is a thing.

And I’ll mention…

0:04:55.6 Esther Liu: We get very defensive.

0:05:00.4 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. I’ll mention Taylor Ham or whatever it is, and they’re like, “Ah, I don’t want… Central New Jersey doesn’t wanna be involved with the arguments between north and south. Yeah. They’re their own world…

0:05:08.7 Esther Liu: Yes.

0:05:09.4 Jim Lovelady: …that you enter through wishful thinking.

0:05:10.2 Esther Liu: You are welcome anytime to Central Jersey.

0:05:14.7 Jim Lovelady: Oh, I appreciate the welcome. That’s amazing. Okay, so you wrote a book on shame, and what I think is really funny about the way that you intro’d your book was you… The opener was that this book almost didn’t get written because of shame. So unpack that.

0:05:35.0 Esther Liu: Yeah. I think one of the ways that I describe the book writing process… I think there are a lot of… people who experience different processes as they write their first book or any book. For me, I would say the journey was just characterized… I was writing a book on shame, and all I felt throughout the entire experience was shame. And I think it was a challenge for me to feel like I was good enough to even be worthy of that type of project, to have anything of value to say. I remember staring at blank Word documents on my laptop and just being like, “Now what, where do I go from here?” So I would say there were so many times I wanted to give up throughout the process of writing the book, whether it was the first… from the proposal stage to writing the samples, to even once it was written and we were in the editing process, I was like, you know what? I just can’t, like, I don’t have it in me to see this through.

0:06:43.2 Esther Liu: Even right before it was launched and it made it through the editing… I was like, I don’t think this is gonna be any good. I don’t think this should go out to the world. So I think that line was just capturing how much turmoil the process was—which I wanted people to get visibility into because the rest of the devotional is unpacking my own… What I needed to learn through that process that I was hoping that the readers would be able to learn along with me as I was writing it. So I think it was just a very real reminder that I was writing as someone who has not fully arrived when it comes to shame. I wasn’t like the shame expert. I am a counselor, so I do have experience helping others, but in writing the book, I wasn’t coming in as someone who had figured it out, but very much as someone who is just like everyone else who is picking up the book, wrestling and struggling with shame and all the implications of it–and the ways it makes us avoid opportunities because we don’t think we’re good enough; the ways it makes us wanna hide; the ways it makes us wanna give up, fall into despair, just like what good is what I’m doing or even who I am. So all of those tensions were my experience writing the book. So it is a miracle that it exists. My close friends know it’s a miracle that that book saw it to the end and made its way into the world.

0:08:11.2 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. I love the description of your creative process was so much like, I need what I’m writing as I’m writing this, so it’s almost this catch-22 that can get your wheels just spinning in the mud. So what was prayer like for you in the middle of all of that, that would make the wheels catch onto something for the next chapter, or the next paragraph, or the next word? 

0:08:43.7 Esther Liu: That’s a good question. Prayer was messy in that season… if I can… Yeah, if I recall, I don’t even know if I had very articulate words that I was even speaking to the Lord. It was mostly…

0:08:58.4 Jim Lovelady: Groans in the spirits.

0:09:00.3 Esther Liu: Groans too deep for words. It was a lot of asking other people to pray for me, honestly. It was a lot of: I can’t even muster the words of how I should pray through this. So reaching out to other people, being like, you need to pray. I need to write a few more chapters here. I don’t feel like I have it in me. I feel like I have nothing. Writer’s block was just such a prevalent but horrible experience, being faced with a deadline and feeling like there was nothing in my mind. It was a journey of a lot of helplessness, reaching the end of myself, for chapter after chapter, word after word, paragraph after paragraph. 

It was just utter helplessness and just laying that before the Lord and saying, “You’re going to need to do something here because I feel like I don’t have anything within myself to give. And so if this is something that You’ve placed in front of me that You want me to see through, You’re the one that needs to equip me and give me the words and pretty much do everything.” That’s what it felt like to me. It was like, I have nothing, and You need to do everything if this is what You want me to complete. So a lot of Jesus help. A lot of moments of I’ve got nothing, and I need You to help; I need You to give me something ’cause I don’t have it. But yeah. I think probably the best prayers were not uttered from my own lips. They were my dear friends and support system who prayed when I couldn’t even bring myself to pray.

0:10:39.9 Jim Lovelady: Oh, that’s really good. It’s a community endeavor.

0:10:43.8 Esther Liu: Yeah. I love you saying that, too, because I think that is so true for my own book-writing process. But I think what I wanted to get… What I wanted to capture in the devotional as well is that it is a community endeavor, through and through, from start to finish. It’s something… the process of redemption is something that does happen in community. And I think for so long, I wanted to overcome my shame individually on my own, relying on myself, mustering up my own resources to overcome shame, mustering up my own resources to write a book. And I feel like the lesson that the Lord has taught me over and over again is you won’t have it within yourself, but you weren’t… I didn’t design for you to have it within yourself. It was always meant to be in dependence on Me and in reliance on and with the support and love of other people around you. So I had actually forgotten about that piece of what is a huge conviction of mine. And anyone struggling with shame is… we might want to do it on our own, but the Lord just has a better design for that than what we might want or prefer.

0:12:00.8 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. I totally picked that up in the book. There’s this sense in which we feel ashamed; we feel shame. We feel the emotions of shame, and then we receive shame from others. Well, the gospel reverses that, so that only in community can we really start to experience being known and being loved and being welcomed when we do that together, and then it becomes this messy talk about messy. It’s really great that… I’m not happy for you that it was agonizing, but it is a great picture of how the whole endeavor is messy, as I’m someone who struggles with shame trying to be a loving presence to somebody else who struggles with shame. Who in receiving this, in being in relationship with me, is going to… We are going to experience things that perpetuate the shame and require forgiveness and require conflict resolution. But in order to get to that place where we can come to a loving embrace we really do need something beyond ourselves, something deeper than words can describe.

0:13:19.2 Esther Liu: Yeah, absolutely. Other people have asked before, what’s your next writing project? To which I’m like, nothing. Not for… Yeah. For now, nothing.

0:13:28.9 Jim Lovelady: I need a break.

0:13:30.0 Esther Liu: Yeah. I was like, I might retire after this one. But I have said in the past that if I were to write another one, which doesn’t seem likely at this very moment, I think I would want to approach shame more from, like, how can you be a supportive community for those who struggle with it. Because honestly, you can invite someone who struggles with shame, be vulnerable, be more transparent, share and confess the sins that you’ve never shared before. And you can invite them to that. And that is the calling that they have to take those acts of courage towards openness and not hiding anymore. Not covering up and pretending anymore. And yet I knew that with the full recognition that there are times when people have done that and it hasn’t been received well.

0:14:30.2 Jim Lovelady: That’s right.

0:14:30.5 Esther Liu: And so the recipient of that transparency and that vulnerability is just as important as the call to courage to move towards that vulnerability. And so I realized that I was inviting strugglers of shame to a very hard calling, and there was a desire in my heart to write almost like an accompanying resource of, “And how do you receive that?” Well, how do you receive that lovingly? Because I’m sure, there are people who have experienced shame where their disclosure and their honesty actually led to more shame upon them. And that breaks my heart. And I have so many counselees who come in where they’re not in contexts where there’s safety, and there’s a maturity to be able to navigate well these acts of courage that these shame strugglers are experiencing. So all that to say, I think community is one of the most important means of grace. When it comes to the struggle with shame, it just requires both sides to… And the grace of God on both sides to really be able to figure out what that can look like.

0:15:42.4 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. We’re already talking about your sequel.

0:15:47.2 Esther Liu: I don’t know how you did that. But…

0:15:47.2 Jim Lovelady: Just saying. You just wrote a really good trailer for your next book. Sorry.

0:15:54.6 Esther Liu: We will see.

0:15:55.4 Jim Lovelady: Break time is over.

0:15:55.8 Esther Liu: We will see.

0:15:58.9 Jim Lovelady: It’s interesting I work with predominantly pastors and ministry leaders either coming onto the mission field or coming into pastoral ministry or burned out from the mission field, burned out from ministry, burned out from pastoral ministry. And that… The theme that you’re talking about right now is one of the major themes where… here’s this pastor who wants to embody vulnerability and openness and repentance, and they’ve gotten beaten up for it. So go write that book.

But I wanna talk about the book that you’ve already written. I like that you made it devotional style. And as I’m sitting with every… each of these days, there are reflection questions that are just super helpful, and it really is an invitation into prayer. So was that… How was that part of the strategy for writing the book? How did that come about? 

0:16:58.4 Esther Liu: Well, the genius of that I need to attribute to the series editor. So my devotional is part of a bigger series of 31-day devotionals that P&R and in conjunction with Deepak Reju were a part of. And so they had actually wanted and encouraged that type of structure that not only do we want words of truths and a scripture passage, but we want something that readers can take away with it, a prayer, a reflection question, et cetera. So I can’t take any credit for that. But even if that wasn’t part of the structure of how they wanted the devotionals to be, I feel like that was maybe one of my favorite parts of writing the devotional: incorporating those elements. And so the reflection questions, the action steps, all those things, prayers, is to try to put feet onto some of the truths and spiritual realities that were being written out there, wanting people to have somewhere to go with it. So it’s not just I’m downloading information into my mind, but I’m doing something with my hands. And my feet.

0:18:06.5 Jim Lovelady: Singing.

0:18:06.6 Esther Liu: Singing.

0:18:05.1 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. I love that.

0:18:06.9 Esther Liu: So that was a huge part of what I enjoyed about the devotional, and I hope has been a blessing.

0:18:14.1 Jim Lovelady: It turns the devotion into these exercises. Maybe that’s not the best word for it, but it turns it into this thing where I’m gonna settle into this a little bit more than just read this thing that makes me feel edified, and then I’m gonna pray, it makes me feel close to Jesus, but I’m actually gonna let Him… And Psalm 139 is a big… The end of Psalm 139 is a huge aspect of the ministry that we do through Serge’s Sonship material, where it’s, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart. Try me, see if there’s any offensive way in me, and then lead me in the way everlasting.” And so it’s almost like after every one of your devotions, there’s this invitation to let God search us and to work those diagnostic questions into a reality and the invitation to journal these things and all of that. And so, it really is like, as I tell people, “Hey, go read this book.” It’s like, go on a journey here, take this book. Go on a journey.

0:19:19.9 Esther Liu: Yeah. I love that.

0:19:21.9 Jim Lovelady: What are you hoping it looks like for people at the end of 31 days? 

0:19:27.0 Esther Liu: That’s such a good question. I think I wanted readers to get even an ounce of what I got from the experience of writing it, which is just a little more hope, and a little more courage. I don’t imagine anyone will finish the devotional and feel like they have it figured out, and I still don’t have it figured out. It’s just a little bit of strengthening and encouragement to know that your life matters, and your story matters, and the Lord has given you gifts, strengths, and testimonies that He wants you to steward for His glory, for His kingdom, for the love of other people. And so often shame is a voice that says you’re disqualified, you have nothing to offer. It’s an experience that makes you want to primarily hide more than show up. And I feel like if readers walked away with even just the smallest sense of courage to move towards someone or to realize that they do have amazing things to offer to the kingdom of God, that matter and make a difference, then I would say mission accomplished there.

0:20:56.2 Jim Lovelady: Alright. Yeah, that’s really good. I think it was on day nine that you mentioned this. And even before day nine, this was ringing in my ears because it’s a scenario that I often present to folks. It’s the question, “If God were to stop doing what He was doing right now and look at you, what would describe the posture of His face? Describe that.” And overwhelmingly, the word is always disappointment. And so that answer is about shame.

0:21:32.5 Esther Liu: Yeah.

0:21:33.9 Jim Lovelady: So what do you say to people when that’s just kind of their, another way of saying it is, “I know God loves me. I know, everywhere in the Bible says that God loves me, but I really feel like He doesn’t really like me.” So, yeah. So how do you answer that? 

0:21:53.3 Esther Liu: Yeah. One of my most often go-to passages, when I’m counseling someone who struggles with shame, is Psalm 103. And in there, it has, yeah, the verses, “As a father has compassion for his son, so the Lord has compassion for you, for he knows your frame. He knows that you are dust.” Paraphrasing there. And I always go to that passage because it’s always, it’s so often startling when it’s fully grasped that that’s true because of what you said. So often when we visualize, like, how does God see me right now? Like, what is God’s heart posture towards me right now? It is some version of disappointment, disdain, kind of rolling His eyes, kind of sighing in exasperation, either like a high grade, like you failed, I’m disappointed in you, or even a low grade, like, “All right, whatever, I’m tolerating you,” which is just not what Psalm 103 says and what so much of scripture says. And so it’s trying to undo some of that.

And some of it is internalized because we grew up with parents, let’s say, where that was all that we saw, where if we failed to measure up in some way. That’s the look that we are most acquainted with when we think about our childhood. But for others, even from very loving and supportive families, there’s a way in which life and experiences…

0:23:25.5 Jim Lovelady: Absolutely.

0:23:27.6 Esther Liu: And with peers, with whatever, just in general, there’s just a sense of picturing the Lord in that way and picturing His posture in that way. And so it is a wrestling process at that point, because presenting that scripture passage now creates a dissonance of, “Well, this is how I feel, and this is my gut reaction as the Lord sees me this way.”

0:23:50.4 Esther Liu: Scripture is saying this, now what do I do with that disconnect? Which becomes a journey of faith, and it becomes a journey of what will you do with that disconnect? And what does it mean to navigate that? Well, what does it mean to reiterate that over and over again? Because it’s not going to be a one-and-done. And so I’ve just found it to be a rich passage to start unraveling the confidence that people feel, that that’s how the Lord is seeing you. There’s a way in which even earthly examples of what would you do? Like if you had a three-year-old who scribbled you a drawing that’s not all that impressive, and they’re like, “It’s a bear,” and you’re like, “Oh,” and you’re trying to make out of the scribbles.

0:24:38.8 Jim Lovelady: “You’re holding it upside down. Oh, I see it now.”

0:24:43.8 Esther Liu: Exactly. But I imagine there are so many of us where when we picture that, we’re like, I would never respond to that child with criticism and disdain of, like, what is this? This is worthless in my sight. But there is a way in which…

0:24:56.5 Jim Lovelady: Or we indict the people that do. We’re like, are you serious? Don’t talk to that child that way.

0:25:02.5 Esther Liu: Yeah. And so if we’re able to access that, how much more like as sinners, as sinful human beings, if we respond to it in that way, how much more the Lord who is perfect in love and sinless. And so even starting to bring that into the experience to start to undo, it’s like if you wouldn’t respond that way, is there the possibility that the Lord doesn’t respond to you in that way too? And so all those things coming together just becomes a journey and a process of learning, relearning who the Lord is and what He says to be true about how He sees us and what His posture is towards us.

0:25:42.7 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. How do you help people identify where shame is showing up in their lives? You know, they have these emotions. They don’t know what they are. How do you help them pinpoint and be like, “Oh, this is shame. I’m ashamed of this.” Like, how do you do that? 

0:25:58.2 Esther Liu: It’s such a good question because I feel like in my counseling, it’s shown up in so many different ways where they always come in with a presenting problem. Like I’m struggling. I’m coming in for counseling because I’m depressed. I’m coming into counseling because of anxiety, or OCD, or relationship issues. So no one has ever come into counseling being like, “I’m coming in for counseling because I struggle with shame.” That has yet to show up, and yet more often than not, we end up there in some shape or form. And so I’m trying to think of, I definitely feel like where we are tempted to hide or pretend or cover up. When a counselee says like, this is the first time that I’m ever sharing this with someone, that’s when alarm bells are going on.

And not in a bad way, but in a good way of like, okay, now we’re in a territory where shame has probably had a grip because they felt for their entire lives up to this point that they needed to keep it hidden and unsaid and unshared. I feel it so often comes up when, regardless of what their struggle is, back to what you had just asked, regardless of what their struggle is, the question is, how do you think God feels about you in this? So someone’s struggling with depression. They’re like, this is how I feel. I can barely get out of bed every day. I’m not showing up to things anymore. I’ve lost pleasure in all these enjoyable activities. I’m barely hanging on. I just stay in bed. I oversleep, or I don’t sleep. All these things. And when they’re listing out and describing what their life looks like, the question of, and how do you think God feels about you in that? What is His posture towards you in that? That question always gets into the territory of shame. I’ve yet to meet someone who’s like, and I feel the Lord’s delight in me in the midst of this. I feel the Lord’s nearness. If there are people who experience that, hats off to them. I think that it’s incredible that they’re able to live in that way. More often than not, with my counselees, when I ask, where is God in that? How does He feel towards you? What is His posture towards you in the midst of what you’re describing as your life? It’s, I think He thinks I’m a failure because I’m barely living my life.

I can’t keep up. Look at all these other people who have their lives together, and I’m barely making it. People with anxiety who are just like, I think the Lord thinks that I don’t have enough faith and is kind of wagging His finger at me like, “You just need to have a little bit more faith. You just need to trust Me more.” So few people who are in the midst of their struggles feel God’s nearness and God’s favor. And once we start talking about that, we are in the territory of shame.

0:28:55.9 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. I think about how, just in my own wrestling with shame, and it’s not that… No one alive, I mean, no one who’s ever lived can escape that there is shame working itself out in their life. And so it’s interesting to think about how I’ve grown out, been on a journey of growing out, of this sense that God is disappointed in me. So learning how to listen to the reality that it’s not the voice of God. Whatever voice that is floating around in my mind that says you’re not worthy, you’re not enough.  [So I want to go back to that term, you know, I am enough, or I’m not enough, like those things.] But that voice that floats around in my head… it’s been learning to lean into the reality that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So if it’s the voice of condemnation that you’re hearing right now, it’s not the voice of God. You may have done something that is shameful, but the voice of condemnation—that’s not the voice of God. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And so repenting of my view of God being this God who’s just kind of mad at me has been really good. And, but then leaning into, okay, well show me how to experience Your joy. And it really has been, it hasn’t been a how-to project. It’s been a, “Am I free? Am I really free to enjoy this? Am I really free to enjoy doing a podcast, having a podcast conversation? Am I really free to enjoy preaching a sermon or free to enjoy leading worship in front of people? Am I really free to enjoy this? I really enjoy this. Do You enjoy this, God? Or are You looking critically at me?” And God’s like, ” I’m the number one person in your life who loves you, and I take great pleasure in you doing this thing.” And not obeying so that I can earn the pleasure of God or earn the favor of God or work my way out of His displeasure, but obey Him because I just know He loves me. And I love that He loves me. And I think that it’s a sign that I love Him.

0:31:43.1 Esther Liu: It reminds me of… Yeah, I feel like I’ve gone through seasons where I just assume that God wants me to have a hard time and suffer.

0:31:49.1 Jim Lovelady: That’s it.

0:31:51.3 Esther Liu: And so even what you’re saying about, like, Is it okay for me to enjoy this, like, this good gift? And I feel like I also have a warped relationship with enjoying something in the moment and being like, is this too good to be true? Or yeah, is the Christian life just like suffering and me dying to myself and surrendering my desires and unfulfilled longings and all this stuff? And it just, all of that ties back to just this view of God that is so different from how He presents Himself in the Bible.

0:32:25.8 Jim Lovelady: Right.

0:32:27.4 Esther Liu: And I don’t know exactly where that comes from. I feel like there are probably so many origin stories or sources to that idea that lead to a lack of permission to experience His gifts and His blessing. Maybe it’s tied to unworthiness at times of like, Am I good enough? Or am I lovable enough to even deserve this blessing? Or am I such a wretched person that all I deserve is actually His condemnation or suffering and punishment or whatnot? I can’t really capture that into words, but that’s something that I’ve been wrestling with. And I feel like a lot of people just feel like the Lord… feeling like the Lord is always calling them to the hardest thing. Instead of seeing the generous heart of the Father, who’s actually the most excited to see us succeed and flourish. And sometimes, He doesn’t give us exactly what we want.

And sometimes, He does withhold certain things that we want for ourselves. But His heart posture in that is always out of a heart of goodness, generosity, and love. And I just think, too, there will be a day where we will look back on our life and all of those no’s and unanswered prayers will make sense to us, where we realize that was actually the best thing for me. And I couldn’t see that at the time because I had such a small view of all the variables and all the things that were going to happen. But there will be a day when what we have to live by faith now will be made sight. And we’ll be like, “Man, all of those things, they made sense.” And it was a heart of goodness. And so whether it’s unfulfilled longings and unanswered prayers, or it’s fulfilled longings and enjoyment in what we’re doing. All those are from the hands of a generous Father, that if we really knew how He felt about us, and how much He cared, how much He wanted to see us flourish, in the fullest sense of that word, it would transform, I feel like the way that we live our lives but…

0:34:34.7 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. Another aspect of this that I’ve had to wrestle with is, “Hey, don’t you know that God loves you?” And I’m like, “Sure, yeah, whatever. I don’t really care.” And I have been confronted with the reality that I care more about what this or that person thinks about me. And that’s really what it is. Well, it’s always couched in prayer, ’cause Jesus is like, “Okay, I hear you. Yeah, I love you.” Doesn’t change the fact that I love you. Keep telling me, and so like, why? And He becomes the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, who goes, “Oh, yeah, so who do you care about?” And I’m like, “Well, me, I care about what I think about me.” And He’s like, “How’s that going for you?”

0:35:20.0 Esther Liu: That question. Yeah.

0:35:20.0 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. Or I care more about what other people think. And Jesus goes, “So what is that?” And it’s like, Oh, that’s idolatry. And that’s going to ruin my life. To let other people, the voices of other people, and especially when a lot of shame is about the voices that are floating around in my head that say I’m not enough. So tell me, I want to know what you think about this. In our culture, if I Google, “Am I enough?” Well, right now, it’s like Google fills it in, I am Ken-uff. That’s what it… Because of all the Barbie movies and everything. So, or the Barbie movie. So it’s like, all right, well, shoot. Apart from that, if I Google, Am I enough? Books and books and books of stuff. So talk about what… Okay. If shame is all about feeling I’m not enough, what does I am enough mean? And what does that even mean? 

0:36:25.8 Esther Liu: I feel like it probably means so many different things to, or probably different things to every single person. Even dovetailing to what you had just said, David Powlison, in his book [Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness], when he talks about self-hatred, which, yeah, dovetails well with the topic of shame. He presents these three questions that I find so helpful. He says, Whose eyes matter? What standards are you trying to live up to? and, Who saves you, and who makes it all okay when you fail to meet those standards? And so even what you’re saying about like whose eyes matter, that connects so much to what you had just said about, well, thank You, Jesus, for loving me, but actually the love that I want is this other person, not You. I just remember an illustration that, again, Dr. Ed Welch said… I think growing up, he had a crush on a girl and had just gotten rejected. I don’t know if it’s okay that I’m sharing his stuff.

0:37:27.6 Jim Lovelady: I know; I am a spy.

0:37:32.3 Esther Liu: I mean, he’s shared it publicly, but… Sorry, Ed. But he shared this in a lecture in a public forum.

0:37:35.4 Jim Lovelady: So there I am.

0:37:39.5 Esther Liu: So yeah, it was about how growing up, he had a crush on a girl and had just gotten rejected by her. He came home and was feeling very defeated and heartbroken. And his mom was like, “What’s wrong?” And he said… he told her the situation, and she was like, “Well, I love you.” At first, I thought the story was going to go: “…and that made all the difference in the world.” But he was like, “That meant nothing to me in the moment because I wasn’t concerned about my mom loving me at that moment. What I wanted was this girl’s love and affection for me.” So whose eyes matter is like whose opinion of us really matters to us? Whose approval do we seek, and whose disapproval do we really fear? And who are we trying to impress when we do XYZ? Who do we want to be accepted by? Who do we want to hear them saying, “Good job! I’m proud of you.”

0:38:36.4 Esther Liu: But then also going back to the question that you just asked, what standards am I trying to live by? What are the standards that I’m trying to measure up to? And I feel like that’s where we get to the territory of I am enough. Because everyone has different standards. There are some people where the standard they try to live up to is something to do with physical appearance in which I am enough would mean a certain weight, a certain physique, a certain symmetry to your face, a certain whatever that might be fill in the blank. But then someone could really not care about their physical appearance but what matters to them and the standards that matter to them is intelligence or career or wealth and how much money you make a year. Or it could be am I married with kids? 

So everyone has different standards, and whatever standards we’re trying to live up to, whatever standards we’ve internalized as important determine the sense of whether am I enough or not. And those who feel like they measure up and feel like they have accomplished what they’ve set out to do, they’ve met the standard, or they’ve exceeded it, they’re like great, I am enough. I’m more than enough. And then those who fall short of it and feel the failure of it every day are the ones who live with that sense of I’m not enough. And so the interesting thing of this, though, is that whether you’re on the success side or the failure side, I’m actually finding that there is an element of shame in both.

And I think that’s been… The ones who are feeling successful might not be the ones coming into the counseling room. So I think the imbalance is those who feel every day I’m not enough, I’m a failure, I’m not worthy are the ones who I’ll see in the counseling room because they feel that negative weight on their souls and feel that distress. It’s the ones who are successful who feel like they have measured up who are making a lot of money or have their dream career or have, they’re married with kids and have a good reputation in front of other people.

And whatever the standards are that they’ve adopted that they feel like they’re successfully measuring up to, there’s still that sense of I need to maintain this somehow. And so even if you have your dream job now there’s a sense in which what if I lose that dream job? What if I might have the perfect body now? But we all know with aging, just inevitably our bodies change. And for women, it’s like, well, for men and women, the wrinkles will show up, and your body isn’t the same as it was when you were an adolescent or in your twenties. And so those standards that we feel like we’ve succeeded in obtaining… there’s still that fear of this might not last. And if I’m still trying to live by those standards and if that’s where I’m finding my worth and my value then I’m still at risk and threat of losing that sense of self and that sense of worthiness. And so both sides, success or failure, there is still that element of insecurity whether it’s I have it and I might lose it, or I don’t have it at all—on both sides, there’s a sense of this might not work out for me, and I need to keep working, and I need to keep doing something to measure up to those standards. 

Dr. David Powlison talks about the ladders… about people who are trying to climb the ladder. Whatever the standard is is the ladder you’re trying to climb. So if you’re trying to be the wealthiest and you’re climbing the ladder of wealth, the higher you climb on that ladder, the better you feel about yourself. And if you’re lower on the ladder, then you’re not making that much money, and you’re looking at the people higher than you, and you’re like, I should be there, but I’m not. People who are high up on the ladder are looking at those lower and being like I’m better than them.

0:42:52.7 Jim Lovelady: Glad I’m not that guy.

0:42:56.2 Esther Liu: And just like but that ladder game, I call it the ladder game, it’s like you can never win that game because there’s always that sense in which even if I’m on the top of the ladder now that doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be someone down the road who’s going to catch up and surpass you.

0:43:13.9 Jim Lovelady: The records are always going to be broken.

0:43:14.6 Esther Liu: Yeah. And so even back to what you were saying about caring about what other people think, or it doesn’t make a difference to me, Jesus loves me, but I want the love of someone else right now. I think with shame there is so much of this element of insecurity. We can’t live a life in full security if we are finding our worth and our value and our enoughness in these standards that the world or our peers or our family are trying to indoctrinate us in of like this is what makes you worthy. Because we can’t ever guarantee that those things will stay even if we have them. And so it’s like building our house on the sand where, if the storms come, if the rain falls, there’s a way in which that house might not last. And then what? When your house gets destroyed versus building our house on the rock, I think where Jesus is starting to point us is we can play this ladder game—physical appearance, wealth, popularity, the love of another person, whatever that might be—but those things will never be guarantees. And those things are in some shape or form things that moth, rust can destroy and thieves can break in and steal.

So what does it mean to live in a way that there is security that is far beyond what we could imagine as we’re… In contrast to just the fleetingness or the transience of some of the other loves that we might have.

0:44:50.8 Jim Lovelady: It reminds me of two stories from the Bible that you talk about in your book: Leah, who’s failing to be worthy in the game, the ladder game that she is in. I don’t think that she necessarily wants to play this game, but in the ladder game that she has found herself in, she has been deemed unworthy. [Genesis 29:14b-35] So there’s that story. And then there’s the story of the rich young ruler who has everything. He’s won the game and everyone around him, even later in the story Peter’s like, if that dude can’t make it into the kingdom, what hope does anybody have? ‘Cause he’s like the best. He’s the GOAT. And even the greatest, the rich young ruler, he still has this nagging question of like he says, what do I lack? I lack something. I know it. I just know I lack something. What is it? And Jesus looks at him, and I think Mark in the book of Mark it says Jesus looks at him and loves him and tells him exactly what he needs to do to find himself living the life of the age to come, and he points right at the thing that he doesn’t want to relinquish. [Mark 10:17-31] So what does it mean? How do you couch? How does a Christian couch this idea of being enough in Christ-ness? 

0:46:22.5 Esther Liu: Yeah, I mean, I probably won’t be able to do this question justice but…

0:46:24.1 Jim Lovelady: Well, it’s kind of like a lifelong exploration, right? 

0:46:28.8 Esther Liu: I’ll give a stab at what comes immediately to mind. But there are probably so many different ways to approach the question. There is a sense in which Christ shows the way of what an honorable and good life is, and it doesn’t conform to worldly notions of what being enough is. I think Isaiah’s suffering servant passage portrays that so powerfully, just like he had no majesty and no beauty that you’d want to look at him—all this stuff—and it goes on and on, which I wish I could read the passage [Isaiah 52:13-53:12], but there’s a sense in which Jesus’ life didn’t conform to what we think and deem as this life was enough. If you think about His ministry, even, 12 disciples, I mean, yes, there was success, there were crowds and such, but when you think about it, by the end of His life, there wasn’t that much to show for.

0:47:27.7 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. By any worldly standard.

0:47:29.7 Esther Liu: Yeah. It’d be like if your church was 12 people, and then a bunch of you betrayed you when you left. You’re like, I don’t know if this was a successful ministry.

0:47:39.6 Jim Lovelady: That wasn’t fun at all.

0:47:42.4 Esther Liu: It wasn’t like a megachurch. It wasn’t like all these things. And so Jesus shows I think all of us when we look at Jesus we’re like He’s the most beautiful glorious man that has ever lived who lived the most beautiful life that any of us could. Well, we can’t, but the most beautiful life that could be lived in full obedience to the Lord in servant-heartedness in His death and His resurrection. And it starts to pivot our own notions of what the good life is and what being enough is. ‘Cause when I look at Jesus on the cross, His shame he’s the recipient of mocking and such disdain, and people didn’t even want to save Him. They had a chance to save Him and they’re like, no yeah, let’s crucify Him over someone who was actually a criminal. All these things He was so disgraced on the cross, and it was bloody. It wasn’t a pleasant sight. Crucifixion was one of the most shameful humiliating ways to die in that time.

0:48:50.0 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. Naked. Out of decency, every picture of Jesus dying on the cross has a loin cloth, but he was naked. He may or may not have had skin even. It’s just horrible… The humiliation is off the charts. Yeah.

0:49:09.1 Esther Liu: Degraded and all this. And so that’s not how we usually… when we look at that, we’re like that’s not how we would measure a good life. And yet, for us as Christians, we’re like that is the most beautiful thing that we could behold, sobering and heartbreaking, but also to us, that’s our hope, and that’s our pathway to redemption is through Him and in Him. And so even what is seen as ugly becomes beautiful in Christ. Even what is deemed as not honored or dishonorable becomes honorable in Christ. He starts to just overturn all of these standards and all of these notions of where worth and value and enoughness are found. And He shows us as the best of us what a true flourishing life is. And it’s not anything that we often will live for to try to secure our own sense of self-confidence or accomplishment achievement et cetera. And so now that we are united to Him we get to follow in His footsteps and realize the joy of that realize the joy of I get to be more and more like Christ. I get to live that life that is not going to be appealing or draw all this attention from all these people and be super impressive. I myself didn’t grow up as a Christian. I come from a non-Christian family. I became a Christian in college. And so, me growing in my faith—there’s nothing honorable about that to my family.

They’re like, what are you doing? And so to give up… originally, I was going to law school, which is in Asian culture respectable. Either you’re a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. So it’s like the vocational pathway that I was on was respectable, and all of a sudden, I’m pivoting, and I’m like I actually want to go to seminary, and I want to do biblical counseling. And my family’s just like, what is that? And will you even find a job after you graduate? How will you make money? How will you even support yourself? Which are very legitimate questions. But all that to say, following Christ and wanting to do ministry and wanting my life to be in service to Him in this particular way that I wanted, that I felt was a good fit for how God made me, it wasn’t honorable to other people and in fact, was somewhat disdained and like what are you doing? And yet to know, I get to live more and more conformed into the image of Christ. And when I really stop to think about it, what could be more beautiful than that? It gives me hope and courage to continue pursuing those things even if it’s not the sexiest or the most impressive to those around me. And so it just gives me a different value, a different goal, a different orientation in my life that I hope other people will experience too.

You might never be at the top of that ladder that you want to be on, but that’s actually a ladder that you can never fully win and a ladder that you’ll never fully find security in. But in Christ, you’re chosen, in Christ, you’re adopted, in Christ, you’re forgiven, in Christ, even the most broken of your moments can be redeemed. In Christ, He chooses you. That’s something that I’ve been humbled by lately like, why would You choose me? If I were drafting my own team, I wouldn’t have chosen myself. I’d have been like, okay, I’ll pick this person and that person ’cause they’re good at this. This person’s good at that. This person could offer this. And I look at myself I see the messiness. I see the not put-togetherness. I see the weaknesses, the sins, and I’m like why would I be chosen? And yet, in Christ, that’s true of me. Before the foundation of the world, I was chosen before I could do or not do anything. And once we start getting into those categories, it’s just those realities of the gospel that are just starting to come to life. Like all that is ours because of Christ and because of us being united to Him. Those are the most beautiful and secure and lasting blessings and gifts that we can enjoy in this life that nothing else can really provide us with in the same way. Everything else will fall short.

0:53:52.7 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. Oh, that’s so good, man. Well, as you were talking I was thinking, there are these signposts of God’s pleasure all along the way even as we have these doubts. And it’s like as you kind of unpacked the journey of your life as you’ve… He’s like coaxed you, “Hey, come over here.” And it’s like He looks at you in the eye, and he goes, “Hey, come over here.” And you follow. And you’re like, this is not what I… I wouldn’t go here, or this is scary, or this is embarrassing, or all of those things. And it’s like he’s just continually coaxing us with, “This is the place where you’re going to experience My love. This is the place where you’re going to experience My dependence. This is where you’re going to experience real life. And so jettison that voice, practice jettisoning that voice for the rest of your life. Don’t listen to them. Listen to Me.” So yeah, Jesus, what do You say? And Jesus is like, “I love you. Let’s go over here.” Anyway.

0:55:02.4 Esther Liu: Yeah, that’s beautiful.

0:55:03.0 Jim Lovelady: Thank you so much for hanging out. This was really good. I feel like we’re just starting to… There’s just the tip of the iceberg for this thing that’s just so huge. And so I really want to encourage folks to start the journey of investigating where shame is working itself out in their lives. And there is this wonderful thing that when the Lord starts to liberate us from these things, He sends us out to be people that go, “Hey, check this out. I got liberated from this thing that was just so oppressive in my life,” and everyone wants that. Everyone wants to experience that kind of freedom. So thank you for writing this book, and yeah thanks for coming on the podcast. This is so good.

0:55:49.0 Esther Liu: Thank you so much for having me. I hope this is a blessing and just one seed of many for all of us who are figuring out shame and wanting to know who God is in the midst of that. And knowing the hope of redemption that is there as he sends us out on mission, with even our testimonies of shame becoming testimonies of His glory and His grace. So thank you for having me. And yeah.

0:56:15.8 Jim Lovelady: Right on.

0:56:17.4 Esther Liu: Blessings to you guys.

0:56:26.0 Jim Lovelady: What if shame is one of the central hurts in our hearts that Jesus actively works against? Part of His mission was to put shame to an end not only in your life but in the entire world. When you’ve experienced freedom from shame, you’re going to be compelled to share that freedom with others. That’s life on mission. One shameful person showing another shameful person where they can go to hear these words. You are my beloved child, and I’m so pleased with you. 

So go pick up Esther’s book called Shame: Being Known and Loved and start your daily journey of freedom from shame. I’ll have a link for that in the show notes along with other resources that Serge offers that bring the liberating power of the gospel to bear on your life in your lived experience on mission in God’s kingdom, as Jesus meets you with His grace at the frayed edges of life. 

So I’m fascinated with the symbolism of Adam and Eve being naked and unashamed and the significance of the moment when they encountered shame and felt the need to cover themselves with fig leaves and hide from God in the trees. Before that moment, nakedness wasn’t even a thing, and shame wasn’t a thing. And when God asked them, “Who told you you were naked?” He wasn’t saying, “Who made you realize that you didn’t have any clothes on?” What He was saying is, “Who introduced shame into your world? It wasn’t Me. I know all things. And there is nothing that you can hide.” 

So what would it be like to be fully known and still not experience shame? It would look like Jesus. In Christian iconography of His baptism, Jesus is depicted as almost naked because He’s without shame, a glorified human with nothing to hide. In icons of His crucifixion, He’s stripped naked, taking our shame for Himself. But in icons of His resurrection, He’s clothed in white because how else are you going to depict the glory of God in humanity? And that’s your future, beloved. Fully known and fully loved, clothed in glory. 

Now, go share that glory with a world in desperate need of generous friends. And as you go, go with His blessing. May the Lord bless you and keep you, and make His face to smile down on you. May the Lord be gracious to you, turn His bright eyes to you, and give you His peace. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—one God, life everlasting. Amen.

Esther Liu

Esther is a faculty member and counselor at CCEF. She has a master of arts in religion with an emphasis in biblical studies from Westminster Theological Seminary, as well as a master of arts in counseling. Since joining CCEF in 2015, Esther has served various roles, including as a counseling intern, the executive and faculty assistant, and a content editor. Esther has a passion for bringing biblical reframing to a person’s struggles and also holds deep concern for the importance of attending to multicultural aspects of counseling. She is the author of Shame: Being Known & Loved (P&R Publishing, 2022).


Jim Lovelady

Jim Lovelady is a Texas-born pastor, musician, and liturgist, doing ministry in Philadelphia with his wife, Lori, and 3 kids, Lucia, Ephram, and Talitha. He is passionate about the ministry of liberating religious people from the anxieties of religion and liberating secular people from the anxieties of secularism through the story of the gospel.

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