For Youth Workers Post


Lanecia A. Rouse

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for May 26–June 1, 2014.


“On the evening of Tuesday, August 27, I got results back from a test that turned my world upside down and started me on a journey that would change my life forever. Within minutes, I reverted to my 16-year-old self, who believed that she was not good unless she abided by a particular set of rules. Immediately, I began to speak to myself negatively about me and about my behavior. The lies I told myself gave birth to shame and guilt. I wanted to hide while I figured out every possible way to cover my nakedness—no matter what the cost to myself and to those who loved me. Finally, I told my dad, who had known me and loved me all my life, and was embraced without hesitation in love and affirmation. Only then was I able to begin stepping out of the death-dealing dark hole of shame and guilt into the life-giving light of love and grace. I started doing the hard work of changing the way I talked to myself so that I could live freely, boldly, and lovingly with gratitude for the gift with which I had been entrusted. I started nurturing my shame resilience.

“Every day we all need to hear the truth that we are ‘imperfect and wired for struggle, but we are worthy of love and belonging’ (Brene Brown) and that nothing we can do can separate us from the love of God. I am thankful to have had a number of people who were able to speak love into my life, as well as the resources to hire a good therapist to support me as I did the work to understand what is so amazing about God’s unconditional grace. Love empowered me to transform the way I talk to myself and to develop new practices of discerning what I needed glean from feelings of guilt and what I needed to let go of in order to live into the fullness of life God desires for me.

“Vulnerability researcher, Brene Brown, stated in her Soul Sunday interview with Oprah Winfrey that “shame [is] highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying, and aggression. Guilt? Inversely correlated with those.” If we are going to embrace the fullness of life that God desires for us, even in messy, ugly, and painful situations, we need to let go shame and guilt. The more we learn about healthy ways to embrace our vulnerabilities and to affirm the goodness of who we are, the more we are able to authentically live into our stories with grace, forgiveness, and love for ourselves, others, and ultimately, God. Like a plant that has struggled through the dirt, once we learn how to walk out of the dark hole of shame and guilt with wisdom, discernment, courage, and truth, we will discover the freedom, growth, and life that light offers as we bloom.” — Lanecia

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” —Brene Brown


Lanecia-Feature-SQLanecia A. Rouse is my name. I am beloved, and I receive most of my days trying to discover the implications of this reality. I live in the tension of “the already but not yet,” with people living on and off of the downtown streets of Houston, Texas, on the campus of St. John’s Downtown. I am an artist—a photographer, painter, musician, and writer. Daily I am learning how to play. Currently, I am serving as the Project Manager of The Art Project, Houston, a therapeutic art and self-empowerment project of the Bread of Life, Inc. for my neighbors living on the streets of Houston, Texas.  Prior to the move to Houston in March 2011, I served in youth ministry for thirteen years, most recently with the brilliant, bursting, beautiful youth of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.


  • a Bible
  • newsprint
  • markers
  • copy of Rembrandt’s painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son” (see “Exploring the Word”)
  • notebooks or large sheets of paper
  • images from magazines (Some of the images can be words. Prepare the images ahead of time, or invite members of the group to choose images from magazines you provide.)
  • colored pencils, acrylic paints (red, yellow, blue, white, and black), and/or crayons
  • glue sticks
  • (optional) books of empowering and affirming quotations that participants can use for inspiration
  • (optional) a playlist of empowering and affirming music. Include on the list artists such as Gungor, Kirk Franklin, and Nicole Bedingfield
  • a candle and matches
  • paper and pens
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session


Below are some resources you may find helpful as you guide conversations about shame, guilt, love, forgiveness, grace, and the importance of developing shame resilience.


+  Books by Brene Brown:
       >  The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
       >  Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
       >  I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”

+  A Spirituality of Living: The Henri Nouwen Spirituality Series, by Henri J. M. Nouwen; Upper Room Books, 2012

+  The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art, by Erwin Raphael McManus; HarperOne, 2014

+  “Are You Motivated by Good or Guilt,” by Donald Miller; Relevant, May 17, 2011


+  Saved! is a 2004 American teen comedy-drama with elements of religious satire. The film touches on the issues of religion, ostracism, homophobia, teen pregnancy, divorce, disabilities, shame, guilt, and the voices that shape our understanding of self and our relationship to the world.

 Lump, by Rob Belle, is a short film that addresses issues of guilt, shame, forgiveness, and unconditional love.

+  “Brene Brown: Listening to Shame” (TED Talk)

+  “Dr. Brene Brown on Shame, Guilt and Addiction” (from Super Soul Sunday, with Oprah Winfrey)

+  Dr. Brene Brown speaks on “Shame and Vulnerability” (on the website The Work of the People)

+  Parker Palmer speaks on “Choosing Life” (The Work of the People)


+ has a number of films with authors, theologians, and other creative people who speak about God, faith and life. You may find a number of helpful resources for exploring the topics of shame, guilt, freedom in Christ, unconditional love, and grace.


Before diving into this session, receive some time to think through these questions and to talk about them with your leadership team:
       What do you believe about guilt, shame, and God’s unconditional love?
       Which has the most influence on your life?
       When have you experienced shame?
       How has God’s love healed your wounds of shame and guilt?
       Do you still need healing?
       What are some of the practices that help you to talk to yourself in ways that are positive rather than negative?
Conclude the time with prayer for one another and for the time you will spend with the youth.

Every day receive time to be in prayer for those you are called to lead and the ministry you share. Before group members arrive, pray for the time you will spend together, for those who will participate, for those who will not be present, and for the life of your church community.

When the community gathers, welcome everyone, extending a special welcome to those joining you for the first time.

Invite discussion:
       When you hear the word guilt, what thoughts or emotions come to mind?
       What does guilt mean?
       What causes people to feel guilty?
       Can guilt be life-giving? Why? Why not? In what situations is guilt life-giving? When is guilt death-dealing or life-draining?
       When you hear the word shame, what thoughts or emotions come to mind?
       What does shame mean?
       Is shame life-giving? Why? Why not?
       When you hear the words “Nothing can separate you from the love of God,” what thoughts or emotions come to mind?

Read aloud Romans 8:35, 37–39. Ask:
       What does this scripture mean to you?

Ask group members to think about the words guilt and shame, as well as the words of God’s unconditional love. Then ask them to answer the questions below, encouraging them to be honest and to realize that to respond is to practice vulnerability. As people respond, write their answers on a sheet of newsprint so that everyone can see them.
       Which words shape the way you talk to yourself, your inner dialogue about who you are, what you have done, who others are, and what others do?
       Which are most powerful in your life? Why?

Write on another sheet of newsprint the following definition of guilt and shame:

“The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad’ or ‘I am a mistake’ and ‘I made a mistake.’ It is a difference between self and behavior.” –Dr. Brene Brown


Scripture: Luke 15:11–32

Ask one or more group members to read aloud the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–32. Then ask:
       What does the parable say to us about guilt and shame?
       What does it say about forgiveness? about what is required for forgiveness?
       What does it say about God’s love?
       At times when you have experienced shame or guilt, how would this parable have helped you deal with your feelings and bring about healing?

Show the group an image of Rembrandt’s painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” Invite people to reflect on the painting, to think of something they are ashamed of or feel guilty about, and then to imagine telling God about it and being gathered up in God’s embrace.
       What feelings and thoughts does the painting create for you?
       What does God’s embrace mean to you? What does it say about who God is? about your relationship to God? about your relationship to yourself and other people?

Reread Romans 8:35, 37–39. Then read or say the following in your own words:

God’s unconditional love is the heart of the gospel. God loves us and nothing we do can separate us from God’s love. We are God’s beloved, good and beautiful creations filled with creative potential and possibility. We will stumble and make mistakes, but our sins do not define us or determine who we can become.

Too often our identity as God’s beloved is lost in feelings of guilt and shame, which devalue who we are, pull us away from God and our community, and move us to prove our worthiness. Guilt and shame are often expressed in words such as these: “I am not good enough.” “I am a bad person.” “I am a mistake.” “I am not loveable.” “I am not gifted.”

Research has shown that we have thousands of thoughts every day. The majority of our thoughts are negative. When our thoughts about ourselves are negative, we deny our identity as God’s beloved, good and beautiful creatures, full of creative potential and possibility. Negative thoughts, shame, and guilt often lead to addiction, aggression, depression, violence, and other behaviors that do not build up the self.

Positive affirmations and messages (scripture verses, quotes, song lyrics) provide opportunities to transform our negativity into words that give life as well as to identify times when we need support from other people (counselors, pastors, therapists) to help us heal. When we start making conscious positive thoughts, we become more aware of the negative thoughts that can lead to unhealthy behaviors and distorted perceptions of ourselves, others, and God. Filling our thoughts with more affirmation and growing in our awareness of God’s unconditional love equip us with the mental strength and courage to live through life struggles, the mistakes we make, and our imperfections without being destroyed by them.

Next, choose one of the following activities to do with your group. If you wish, play some empowering, affirming music as people work.


Invite group members to use art supplies to create a cover for a journal of affirmations. Encourage them to make a cover that expresses the good news of Romans 8:35, 37–39 and Luke 15:11–32. The journals will reflect their daily conversations with God and may include words, photography, art, collage, positive affirmations (scripture verses, quotes, song lyrics) about who they are and pondering about God’s love. The journals can be a sacred space for participants to risk being vulnerable about their feelings of guilt, what they need to learn from their feelings of guilt, and what they need to forgive so that guilt does not turn to shame. These are examples of affirmations they may want to include: “I am good.” “I am beautiful.” “I am lovable and capable.” “I am gifted.” “I am smart.” “I am a dreamer.” “I am full of potential.” “I am not the mistakes I make.” Invite people to include on the cover of the book a quotation or verse that helps to free them from guilt and shame.

Provide quote books or examples for inspiration. Invite group members into a daily practice of writing or artistically expressing three self-affirmations, which they can turn to during the day when they feel guilt or shame. Then invite them to reflect each day on a feeling of guilt, what they learn from it, and what act of forgiveness is needed for themselves or others.


Invite group members to use the art supplies to create a painting, drawing, or collage that expresses three affirmations that begin with the words “I am . . .”


Bring the group together for prayer. Light a candle to symbolize the presence of Christ.

Distribute paper and pens. Invite group members to reflect silently on these questions about your time together:
       When in this session did you experience the presence of God?
       What gave you life or joy?
After a few minutes, invite volunteers to tell the group their response to one of the two questions.

Then invite group members to be in prayer as you pray:

“Creating and Re-Creating God, thank you for love that will not let us go. Teach us to live by love and to walk in grace. Give us grace to see ourselves as you see us and to trust you with all that we are. Teach us how to forgive and be forgiven, to love and be loved. Holy Spirit, shape our words and thoughts to nurture growth in ourselves and in others that we may grow in the light of your love. Amen.”


  • Consider showing and inviting the group to discuss one of the short videos suggested in “Plugged In.” Create a space in which group members feel safe being vulnerable and speaking truth about the things that weigh on their hearts so that restoration, transformation, and healing can occur.
  • If group members have created artistic masterpieces, have an exhibition. At the opening, invite the artists to talk about shame, guilt, love, grace, forgiveness, and life filled with the joy God desires for us. Provide an art table so that people attending the exhibition can create their own masterpieces.
—from devozine In the Habit (May/June 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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