Kerry Washington: A big part of my spirituality is just humility and realizing I am not in control. And that also helps me with some of my perfectionism, right? Sometimes I think my perfectionism and my people pleasing is just me acting out to try to be perfect enough and be liked enough so that everything’s okay. It’s actually not my job to make everything okay. It’s not up to me. It’s not my job to control the universe. I know there are people who can wake up every day and think like, It’s not my job to control the universe on their own, but for me, I tend to need more practices to remember that, and I need my faith.
Casting Out the Shadows of Shame With the Power of Love: Kerry Washington and Anh Lin – Episode #375
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. It doesn’t matter how much we achieve, or how much we do to show ourselves as worthy, haunting doubts can creep in, making us question our value and undercutting our confidence. Sometimes these feelings stem from an internal comparison with others around us, as we measure our lives against others’ highlight reels. However, there is a hope for the dark feelings we have that tell us we’re not enough, or that no one truly cares. The transformative power of God’s love encourages us to shed layers of self-doubt and replace them with an armor of self-acceptance and appreciation. In the face of this love, shame dwindles, losing its power to control our emotions and actions.
This week, actress Kerry Washington plumbs the depths of her family history to vulnerably reveal her own history, and found that she carried shame which made her feel unworthy and unlovable—which manifested into anxiety she would carry into adulthood. Through the help of therapy, prayer, and understanding her story, Kerry began vulnerably sharing her deepest secrets, and learned to love herself by letting go of shame.
Let’s start with Kerry’s story.
Kerry: Hi, I’m Kerry Washington, and I am an actor and a producer and a director, a mother and a wife and an activist, and now an author.
I grew up in the Bronx, New York, and I’m an only child. I kind of stumbled into theater because I guess you could say I was a dramatic child, a very emotional child. I have great parents. My mom’s an educator, a retired educator. My mom worked hard to find places where I could both stay busy and stay out of trouble in the Bronx, but also where I could express all of my big feelings.
I wasn’t shamed for being a dramatic child by my parents. I am really lucky that my parents sort of welcomed me to have a life in the arts and to express myself on stage, even though we weren’t a home where we talked about big feelings openly together. I spent a lot of time in the arts after school and ballet and gymnastics and children’s theater companies, and that’s where my love of acting began.
Kerry Reveals Her Early Struggle with Panic Attacks
My home was a very safe home in many ways. I was provided for materially. You know, my parents were and are—they continue to be—extremely loving parents, but there were trouble spots in their marriage, as in most marriages. They went through some great times and some harder times, and because I was a child during some of those harder times, I didn’t understand the ebbs and flows of marriage or of their relationship in particular.
I had a sense as a child that there was something that kept my parents from being fully present and intimate with me—emotionally intimate, spiritually intimate. I think that distance, that sense of slight disconnect, and I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t know why it was. And that made me feel unsafe.
My panic attacks started very early on. I was around seven and I didn’t have a language for what it was. I didn’t really know that it was a panic attack until much later in life. In college and after, I began to identify this increased sense of panic and stress and anxiety in my body. When it was labeled as a panic attack, I thought, Oh, I’ve been having these for a really long time on and off throughout my life.
They happened usually alone in my room at night when I was feeling stressed out or scared or unsafe. You know, as kids, we fill in the story of like, What could that be? There must be something wrong with me. I must be unlovable, and there must be something terrible that I don’t know about. So that is, I think, where a lot of the anxiety came from.
In my late twenties, I went on medication for anxiety and depression, and that was really helpful, because I was so far from being able to access my tools because the anxiety and depression were so loud. And when I could, with medication, quiet the anxiety and depression a bit, it actually allowed me to lean into my tools more and then my tools kind of helped pull me out of it more.
I’m not on medication anymore, but I’m really grateful that I had that tool to kind of bridge me toward some other kinds of tools and frameworks, and that was therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, prayer, meditation, exercise, nutrition. I really have been on a journey to figure out how to take care of myself and provide a sense of safety for myself that helps me stay out of depression and anxiety.
“I really have been on a journey to figure out how to take care of myself and provide a sense of safety for myself that helps me stay out of depression and anxiety.” – Kerry Washington
Shaking Shame and Believing We Deserve Love
I think that one of the things that keeps us from feeling lovable is shame. And I think that often family secrets contribute to that sense of shame. Just the fact that we’re kind of invited or tempted, seduced into holding back these secrets about ourselves and our families perpetuates the idea that there’s some part of who we are that is unlovable, that if people knew this secret, that we would no longer deserve or receive love.
And for me, that’s the big risk, right, in like revealing things about myself that I’ve never talked about before—because I have been somebody who lives in the public eye but has been very private—there is the risk that some people might like me less or respect me less or judge me more. But I also know that there will be people who still love me and that I will get to love myself more by letting go of the shame, and so it’s worth it to me.
When I let go of the need to keep things secretive, then I’m affirming that truth, you know? I mean, you don’t have to be liked by everybody. It’s like tapping into that deeper sense of love with the people that really matter and who do love me unconditionally so that I can shake the need to have people who want to judge me and like me less, then I can shake the need for their approval.
Because I’m sharing some of my family secrets and talking about my journey and kind of metabolizing and understanding my family secrets, people start to tell me their family secrets. And I love that, because I know for me, the process of sharing a secret and still being received with love and respect and kindness is a reminder that I’m lovable no matter what. When I get to hold space to receive somebody’s family secret, and love them—express love and respect and gratitude for them sharing that secret—I know that they are getting to experience how much they deserve to be loved, no matter what.
You know, in our house we say, “We are each of us a child of God. We all deserve to be loved unconditionally. We are all worthy. We are no less than or no greater than any other person.”
“We are each of us a child of God. We all deserve to be loved unconditionally. We are all worthy. We are no less than or no greater than any other person.” – Kerry Washington
We Are All Crazy, Brilliant Miracles
We are all living these incredibly complicated, meaningful lives. We are all in complicated, beautiful, challenging relationships with our children, our parents, and coworkers. We all come from somewhere. And some of us are, you know, open to the call to adventure. And some of us are resisting the call to adventure, but whatever the story is, we all have one.
We take the time to engage with other people’s stories. One of the magical things that happens is that we start to see ourselves in each other’s stories, and we’re not all the same. We don’t all have the same journeys, but we do share these common human, unifying experiences of wanting to be loved, wanting to be seen, knowing what it’s like to be afraid, knowing what it’s like to love, knowing what it’s like to have our hearts broken. We all experience fear. We all experience rage. We all are navigating these dynamics in different ways and to different extents, but when we can connect to that, I think it helps us feel a little bit less alone.
“We don’t all have the same journeys, but we do share these common human, unifying experiences of wanting to be loved, wanting to be seen, knowing what it’s like to be afraid, knowing what it’s like to love, knowing what it’s like to have our hearts broken.” – Kerry Washington
I feel so, so blessed to be a wife and a mom, and the miracle of finding a person to share my life with and to have him share his life with me, I don’t take that for granted. My life as a wife and a mother is so much more wonderful than I could have ever imagined. It’s proof to me of a power greater than myself because it’s more special and more rewarding and abundant and challenging and beautiful, and it’s just all the things that I couldn’t have designed alone.
And then just the absolute miracle of having these kids, just three amazing humans who chose us to come to and entrusted us with their lives. I feel so honored to be their mom and to get to witness their growth and to shepherd it and to try to not screw it up. My children and my husband are 100% proof of God to me. Each of us is a crazy, brilliant miracle, just a God blessed miracle to be here and to make it. And I want each of us to see ourselves that way, to see how special we each are.
“My children and my husband are 100% proof of God to me. Each of us is a crazy, brilliant miracle, just a God blessed miracle to be here.” – Kerry Washington
An Ever-Evolving Relationship with God
My relationship with God is always evolving. It’s sort of like in marriage, like, sometimes the date night is like a fancy night at the opera, or you get dressed up and you go see a show or a concert and you do your hair and makeup and you have a cute new outfit you just bought. And sometimes date night is like we just stumbled upon this spot at the park and we decided to make it a date, or there’s a new museum exhibit that we’re going to check out together because we both have the same hour off at work.
I think prayer is the same way. I meet God and meet myself in meditation in different ways at different times and different places. So I do try to take time in the morning. Sometimes when I’m sitting down, it’s a lot about gratitude. And sometimes when I’m sitting down, it’s a lot about asking for help. And oftentimes it’s all of the above, right?
My deepest relationships with God have come in my most challenging times. There was a day this week that I was having a really—it just was a harder day for all kinds of reasons. I was just dealing with more emotions. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. I was just struggling more, and I thought, I just have to stay closer to God today. And sometimes I think those ebbs and flows in life happen to invite us to get closer to goodness, closer to faith, closer to God. For me, a big part of my spirituality is just humility, and realizing I am not in control.
“My deepest relationships with God have come in my most challenging times. I think those ebbs and flows in life happen to invite us to get closer to goodness, closer to faith, closer to God.” – Kerry Washington
I think that when we have the courage to be in the reality of who we are, and that we all come to this world with limitations, I’ve been able to do that more courageously, knowing that when I’m not perfect, there is this greater sense of a Heavenly Father that I can lean to to get the things that I don’t get from my earthly mother and father.
I feel like having a deeper spiritual practice allows me to let myself be human. There’s room for people to not be perfect and for us to still love each other unconditionally. And that, for me, is one of the real gifts of stepping into my truth with my family, is that I also get to step into more faith, and I also get to love them more as humans.
Narrator: Kerry tells more of her story in her new book, a memoir about her life called Thicker Than Water. You can find it wherever you buy books.
Stay tuned to Anh Lin’s story after a brief message.
Spreading Hope With Samaritan’s Purse
At Samaritan’s Purse, we bring spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. We go into dangerous situations because in disaster and disease, in war, Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, to heal the sick, and feed the hungry, restore the broken. All who work and volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse follow the example of Jesus. We go to serve, not to be served. And we go in Jesus’ name. Join us at www.samaritanspurse.org.
With a mixture of home design styling, DIY projects, and preaching from God’s Word, Anh Lin has created a truly unique space on her YouTube channel, Girl and The Word. Anh recalls one of her darkest moments when she thought to herself, No one truly loves you, when she felt God comforting her and assuring her of her worth. Now, she works to help others transform spaces into healing sanctuaries of peace and reflection.
Anh Lin: Hi there, my name is Anh Lin. I am a YouTuber by trade, now an author, and I create devotional videos encompassing my daily reflections as well as home makeovers.
If I had one dream as a child, it was to be an artist, and here God has allowed me to have this giant canvas to do what I’ve always wanted to do. I had so many different creative visions for my life and no way to actually put it all together because I love writing, I love painting, I love singing, I love storytelling.
It wasn’t until I graduated that I began dabbling in home decor. Just due to circumstantial reasons, I had some problems back at home and had to move out and really had to maximize the resources that I have to create a more livable space. And that was when I took pictures of my space and uploaded it on Instagram, and it really took off and allowed me to, I guess, expand Girl and The Word to make it reach a much different audience than I had originally intended.
I was a sophomore in high school or a junior in high school—very young, underage, and yet completely intoxicated. I was depressed. I was anxious. I had just gotten out of an abusive relationship. My home life was a mess, and I felt like I had nowhere to turn. And so as every troubled teenager out there, I started hanging out with the wrong people and got into substance abuse very quickly.
One particular night, I was at a house party. I was on all sorts of substances and so messed up I couldn’t even feel the temperature around me. I was physically numb and I was emotionally numb, and then I remember just stumbling into a stranger’s car, and the car quickly filled up with all of my friends. And then the stranger just took off into the night, and then they started blasting techno music really loudly and it just drowned out every sound in the car. And so in the backseat, I just sobbed. I cried so hard because I had kept it together for so long. And in that moment, I just let it all out. It was like I had a come-to-myself moment where I thought, Wow, nobody truly loves you.
Everything looked totally beyond repair. I did not know how I would ever get out of this mess because it was so bad. In my mind’s eye, I kind of saw this vision of my childhood altar, of this painting of Jesus that my mom had erected in our childhood home. And when I saw that painting of Jesus, I felt this comfort just wash over me from head to toe, and it just felt like the safest, warmest hug from your favorite person. And I had never felt that kind of visceral experience of the divine before. And it truly reminded me of when the Apostle Paul said, “While we are still sinners, Christ died for us.” I had that experience of Him coming to me when I was at my darkest stage, when I had wanted nothing to do with Him or anything to do with any religion, He still saw His broken daughter and it broke His heart. And He reached out to me.
“I had that experience of [God] coming to me when I was at my darkest stage, when I had wanted nothing to do with Him or anything to do with any religion, He still saw His broken daughter and it broke His heart. And He reached out to me.” – Anh Lin
I know that when it really feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel sometimes, it feels so hopeless and you feel so worthless that you can’t foresee a better future. You can’t foresee a way out. But only when you demolish the old can you rebuild something new and better.
Our Surroundings Impact Our Spiritual Health
We as humans are so impacted by our surroundings, our physical self, our mental and spiritual, it’s all interconnected. And so when you create a space for yourself that is peaceful, that is decluttering, that is organized and all of that, it really allows your brain and your mind to rest. And by resting, your frontal lobe actually activates, allowing you to be more creative, more yourself, able to think abstractly. So now you’re able to think about things like purpose and so forth. So your environment matters a lot, and you do have a level of control over the kind of an environment that you live in.
I generally just look at the things that surround me, such as land or paint or whatever I have within my vicinity, and I really allow the Lord to inspire me in what He wants me to do next, creative wise. So for example, now that I have a backyard, I get to do a lot more gardening content where I can use verses from the Bible and from Matthew talking about how God is the water, the One that makes the seed grow. And we are the ones who sow the seeds, things like that.
“I generally just look at the things that surround me, such as land or paint or whatever I have within my vicinity, and I really allow the Lord to inspire me in what He wants me to do next, creative wise.” – Anh Lin
There are so many instances in the Bible where nature is being depicted as the overall analogy as well as like more hands-on, crafty things. I feel like there’s no shortage of creative elements that we can draw from the Bible, especially in pottery. You know how God is the potter, we are the clay [Jeremiah 18:6]. I feel like if we are searching for that next creative project that would really glorify Him, just allow Him to inspire us in unexpected ways, and then open the Bible and see what the scriptures have to say about that. Because more often than not, we will find just an incredible amount of creative inspiration from the scriptures that we can apply directly to whatever DIY or creative venture that we want to pursue.
“I feel like if we are searching for that next creative project that would really glorify Him, just allow Him to inspire us in unexpected ways, and then open the Bible and see what the scriptures have to say about that.” – Anh Lin
And now, my overarching goal and purpose is to just demonstrate the sweetness of God to as many people as I can, because that is His character attribute that really touched me the most and changed my life the most. It’s just His nurturing side, His gentleness and kindness, that really changed my life.
Creating Safe Spaces in Your Home
Five powerful steps for rebuilding a forever home—which is a life that you can feel fulfilled by and that glorifies God—is to first remove the unsafe patterns of your past. Renew the foundation of your life. Rebuild the framework of your resilience. Reinforce the integrity of your boundaries, and restore the beauty that God promised to you.
When you think about framing in a construction site, it looks a little intimidating. They are the bones of the house, so they have to be strong. They have to be able to keep the bad things out and the good things in. And that’s exactly what strong boundaries do for our relationships and ourselves. It allows everyone to know what the limits are, what to not cross, what to respect.
And then after you have your framework, you start layering the electricals in. And you start layering the drywall in and put all the finishing touches there. And guess what? Next comes the inspections. You’ll never know what blind spots that you have. And so the inspector that you want to search your heart would be the Holy Spirit. You invite the Holy Spirit into your life to confound you with the truth to show you the blind spots that you might have. And by doing that, He reinforces the integrity of not only your boundaries, but also the foundation of faith that you now have. And then after you pass inspections, you get to adorn your life with the beauty that God promised you.
Start with a small nook, and I have a place of peace, which is my tea corner. I have a place of hope, which is my DIY altar that I made. And I have a place of joy, which is my plant corner. You can start with just corners of your home, places that are created just for you that remind you that you can be at peace and you can have your quiet time with the Lord undisturbed.
Jesus Calling is a beautiful resource that allows you to tap into daily reflections and think deeper about faith and things like that.
Jesus Listens, September 18th:
Help me to trust You and not be afraid, remembering that You are my Strength and my Song. It blesses me to ponder what it means to have You as my Strength. You spoke the universe into existence—Your Power is absolutely unlimited! When I face my weakness and entrust it to You, Your Power can flow freely into me. When I relate to You in confident trust, there’s no limit to how much You can strengthen me.
In Your joyful Name, Jesus,
Narrator: To learn more about Anh, please visit www.girlandtheword.com, and check out her book, Forever Home: Moving Beyond Brokenness To Build A Strong and Beautiful Life, at your favorite retailer.
If you’d like to hear more stories about letting God’s love wipe out shame, check out our interview with Carley Summers.
Next week: Kelly Lang
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from singer/songwriter Kelly Lang, who shares how her relationship with God brought her hope and healing amidst a frightening breast cancer diagnosis.
Kelly Lang: I just simply went through the mindset of, God, I don’t know what this is about, but I know you’re going to get me through this. And if this is what I’m supposed to go through, give me the grace to go through it in power, but get this behind me as fast as possible.