Getting Back the Me I Lost with Dan Allender

Getting Back the Me I Lost with Dan Allender

The heart wrenching whirlwind of divorce, or maybe the trauma of losing a spouse to death can leave us completely depleted of our identity. Trying to navigate the chaotic and exhausting world of all the demands of raising our kids on our own can leave us at a loss of who we are. Maybe we don’t recognize who we were, who we are, or who we’re supposed to become. And that concept can even seem elusive and out of reach—we’re just struggling to get by. 

So, what can we do to reclaim our identity and discover confidence in who we are and how we fit into this new reality? Today on the podcast, we invited a special guest, Dr. Dan Allender to help us explore all of this as it fits into our final week of self-care. 

Dan is the founder and lead instructor at the Allender Center. For over thirty years, Dan’s theory, the Allender Theory, has brought healing and transformation to hundreds of thousands of lives by bringing the story of the Gospel and the story of trauma and abuse that mark so many. He is the founder of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, The Allender Center, and the best-selling author of nine books. 

How Story and Self-Care Go Hand-in-Hand

If you’re solo parenting, whatever has brought you to that place involves some degree of death. Death itself is a finality that brings immense heartache and stress. If you’ve gone through divorce, it is a death that keeps giving daily. In one sense, you could say that you’ve entered solo parenting . . . not by choice, but through trauma. And trauma always fragments. It always creates an internal numbness. And as a result, we find ourselves isolated from a community of good people who can be with us through it all. 

Self-care is another way of saying, “You need water. You need food. You need air.” Because you’re not going to be able to do all that you’re called to do and be all that you’re called to be without some commitment to help yourself first before attempting to help young children (or anyone else) help themselves. But that requires the ability to engage what brought you to where you are. And that is your story. 

“Your story is this intersection between brokenness and beauty. We’re made in the image of God. We’re stunningly beautiful. We have all been affected by the fall and therefore, we’re all broken. How we tend to engage in both realities simultaneously . . . that’s the issue of how self-care occurs. Do you have enough self-care to have the humility to admit you’re broken? Do you have enough self-care to have the humility to admit how beautiful you are? And all good self-care is returning our hearts to a taste of Eden. None of us can get back into Eden but we’re meant to have tastes of Eden that allows the framework to be able to say, ‘there is great beauty in being beloved.’” 

Using Our Story Helps Us Examine Who We Are

“We have a sense of who we are. And maybe a part of the is a sense of who we’re meant to become. We are always playing between the past and the future. In that sense, our past is unaddressed and utterly leads us to repeating the past into the future. But the future can be as you said at the very beginning. . . the framework of a new being, a new becoming, and in some sense, the incredible defiance to be able to say my suffering will not limit me from becoming who I’m meant to be.” 

Psalm 27:13 says, “I would’ve despaired if I did not believe that I would see the goodness of God in the land of the living.” We are free to engage the heartache of the past, in part because of the promise of the resurrection. We don’t erase our past. We aren’t just a compendium of stories. We’re an actual story. Each of us is a story of God. A story that reveals God. 

So, what are the things of your experience with death (literally but also in the sense of all losses that gave you the tragedy of ending)? Can we look at themes that come out of your life? Because those themes just don’t get erased when you come to Christ. Here’s the bottom line: We each have themes to our lives that we need to have some handle on to be able to engage this question of broken and beautiful. 

Entering into Your Own Story

Entering into your story is all about opening your heart to grief, and therefore comfort. Dr. Allender invites people to begin cataloguing their losses—especially in regards to their younger life. Here’s how it works:

Think about events that happened when you were ages four or five all the way up to 15 or 16 years old and beyond. Then rate those memories or events on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being barely impactful and 10 being a major loss. What are some of the major or minor events that would have said, “I tasted death here.” Keep cataloging until you have anywhere from five to 15 events. From there, start with the events that you rated as a 3 or 4 and commit to writing 12-15 sentences about what occurred. Then move to the events you rated an 8, 9, or 10. 

There’s actual research that indicates that 12 to 15 sentences about past events of suffering begin to alter our brains by a chemistry. Our brains have plasticity. They change when we begin to get just even a little closer to the heartache that is there. And let yourself tell the truth. 

“Here’s the key: The Spirit of God loves your courage. I think the Spirit will bring you a kind of deepening of the colors of one story, or open the door to that knock of ‘I want you to tend to this.’ If you’ll listen to the spirit as you begin to do this work, you’ll be taking a journey you’ll be on until your last breath. The discovery of who we are is a lifetime growth . . . a thrilling journey.” 

Facing the Fear of Our Own Story

Dr. Allender explains that part of our fear in past trauma is how we weren’t able to bring goodness to our own bodies and hearts. You have more to offer that 8-year-old version of you who had no capacity to do anything other than to survive. Recognize and bless that 8-year-old’s courage, wisdom, and capacity to get through that moment. But survival isn’t thriving.

Can you engage that 8-year-old who went through some very dark moments? But you get to engage her (who is you) as let’s say a 38-year-old (who’s also you). You get to mother. You get to father. You get to befriend that young one within you. That labor is actually a restorative act of bringing the goodness of God to what we could not have known well at that age and in that time. But you have a choice today that you didn’t then. You can say: “Enough for now, enough.” And come back to that spot another time. 

There are ways to soften the fear and to create generosity. Romans 2:4 says, “It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance.” We’re not asking the 8-year-old version of ourselves to repent. We’re asking who we are to come to an understanding that there needs to be a different way to engage our heartache. That’s repentance. 

Dealing with Regret in Our Story

Dr. Allender shared that regret is worry about the past. And worry is something of regret with regard to the future. You almost have to say that worry and regret are different sides of the same coin. But regret will never resolve the past, and worry will never form or establish the future. Regret is a failure to grieve and receive comfort. 

“God’s omniscience knows the reality of my sin in the future and his engagement with me is: It is finished. You are beloved whether you wish to participate in the joy in that or not. I struggle with regret like any other human being. But I have to have that ability internally to go, ‘Oh, you’re choosing regret here rather than grief.’ Grief is letting yourself feel the sorrow of the heart to yourself and others. In that, the issue is this: Is your heart open to comfort? Is your heart open to the comfort of ‘It is finished’ and ‘I delight in you’?” 

Dr. Allender went on to say, “In our regret, we’re actually succumbing to self-righteousness. In the same way, worry is just another form of self-righteousness versus a kind of surrender. A kind of ‘I’m a mess and I give you my being which is so broken.’ But to get back to that framework and recreate it in the image of God in Christ means that I always get to come back to this phrase: I am beloved. I am beautiful. And I don’t even have to say the phrase in your presence. His presence is in me. There’s nothing narcissistic or self-righteous to say I’m beautiful. I’m beloved. You don’t have to always come back to “I’m broken” but both are true.” 

Entering into our stories means entering into our brokenness. But it also means reframing our brokenness through the beauty of Jesus Christ. You are beloved. You are beautiful. And you are worthy as you work to reframe your story in light of it all.

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