Shelby Abbott: It’s All About the Process
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morePaul Tripp Ministries and works to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. This vision has led Paul to write 17 books on Christian living, produce 14 teaching series and travel aroun...more
Real Life Loading podcast host Shelby Abbott knows his podcast isn’t the only work in progress. His life story reminds him Jesus is all about the process.
Shelby: Students will come up to me afterward, or someone will approach me and say, “I’m so thankful you talked about this, because that’s my story too.” That’s when the real work happens; because people feel like: “I’m not alone here! I’m not the only person who’s messed up in this way. If the speaker” or “…the guy behind the microphone” or “…the author can go through these things, and still be in process, what does that say about me?” That’s comforting.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So one of the things that was interesting, in raising our three sons, was their perspective on: “If you’re going to reach our generation with the gospel of Christ, you’re going to have to do it differently than you do with your generation.”
Ann: Yes; what do you think that means?
Dave: Well, I’m asking you! Because when they first said that—I mean, I can remember sitting at lunch with one of my sons; and he just basically said, “You know, Dad, I don’t think I’d bring my friends to your church,”—[Laughter]—I’m like, “Well, what do you mean by that?” He goes, “Well, it’s just/it’s not going to reach a 20-year-old/a 25-year-old.” It was not speaking the language of their generation.
Ann: I really give you credit, because you did not get defensive. You said, “Tell me more. What do you mean by that?” And that was huge, because you founded our church! For him to say: “I wouldn’t come,” and “I wouldn’t bring my friends,”—that was a blow!
Dave: Well, I knew he was being honest, and I knew I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So I remember looking at him, saying, “Tell me more.” And I think every 40- 50- 60-year-old parent should be open to the fact that our kids/it’s a different generation. If we’re going to try to reach them, it’s going to look—it’s going to be the same wine in a different wineskin—so we need to learn. So today is Next Generation 101.
We’ve got Shelby Abbott back in the studio with us. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Shelby: Thank you for having me, once, again.
Ann: Shelby, we’re excited to have you here. Not only are you the voice now—you are now replacing Bob Lepine on the back-ends—
Dave: —which no one can replace Bob Lepine.
Shelby: That’s true; I agree.
Ann: —but you’ve had a ministry with young adults with Cru for how many years?
Shelby: I was in Campus Ministry for 20 years, and it’s always been my target audience. In fact, I’m still, even on staff with FamilyLife, I’m still running a summer mission with college students; so I feel like I’m rubbing shoulders with them on a pretty consistent basis.
Ann: So what Dave was talking about with our sons, you know that heartbeat.
Shelby: I do, yes.
Shelby: And I think the heart of older people, when they look at younger people, is to say, “Well, if we’re—
Dave: You’re not looking at us as older people; are you? [Laughter]
Shelby: I’m not looking at you directly. [Laughter]
Dave: I noticed that you tried to—
Shelby: I’m looking over your shoulder—
Dave: Yes, okay; good.
Shelby: —toward the back of the room. [Laughter]
Dave: We’re not grandparents or anything—not us—no. [Laughter]
Shelby: —is to say: “Well, this is what works; and we’ll continue to do it, because it works.” And now with—generationally, things shift just naturally—with the oncome of the internet age and social media, that has rapidly shifted the way that young people process—not only information—how they process themselves, how they view God, how they view others. The pace is so quick now, that I’ve found that an older generation has the tendency to just feel kind of dizzy by looking at: “How are we going to do this?”
And there are solutions that get thrown out there that are good. We always need an older generation to look toward for wisdom, to listen to, and to learn from; but the strategy does have to be different.
Dave: Yes; so what’s Real Life Loading…? That’s the name of your podcast—
Dave: —that’s trying to reach 18-28-year-olds.
Ann: And it’s Real Life Loading, dot, dot, dot.
Shelby: —dot, dot, dot; right. Have you ever plugged in something, even in your car, and it says, “Loading…”? Or you get the three dots on your phone when you text someone, and you know that something’s about to happen. It basically infers: “This is life in process.” We don’t want to say: “We have it all together. We have your answers; come to me, and I will give you the answers that you need.”
It’s like: “No! I want to be a trusted friend, who comes alongside you—maybe throws my arm around your shoulder, and say, ‘Let’s do this together. I’m a little bit ahead of you in life, so I can be that trusted older brother, so to speak, or older trusted friend—but I’m also still very much in process.’”
And the tagline of the show is/it’s: Real Life Loading…Somewhat Anxious, Always Authentic. For example, with anxiety, we hear a lot of times: “You shouldn’t be anxious. Anxiety is a sin.” Matthew 6 points that out to us, yes; but it’s more nuanced than that sometimes too. If anything, the Bible gives us permission to wrestle with those things. It’s not always about these end destinations of where we need to get to; it’s about that process. And Jesus cares just as much about the process as He does those end destinations; so what can it look like for a young person to be with me/be with us in this process of not having it all together?
Ann: Yesterday, I loved that you shared your own story about your dad. You said that you were in process of forgiving him for some of the things that had happened in your own life, with abandonment as your parents were divorced. The thing that I loved about that is you didn’t wrap a bow on it yet.
Ann: And I think sometimes, when I was younger, I used to go to church, and I thought, “Why does every story have to be like, ‘I used to do this, but then everything is perfect; and I’m perfect now!”
Ann: And I thought, “Why doesn’t anybody share about it when they’re in the midst of the pain?”
Shelby: Yes; and it’s funny that you said that, too; because when were talking about that yesterday, I felt this twinge of embarrassment that I hadn’t come to the point that you are at, Dave, with your father.
Shelby: I felt this little tiny thing in me that said, “But I’m doing better now, and I’m writing the letter!”
Ann: Yes, you wanted to put the bow on it!
Shelby: I did; I do want to put the bow on it. I haven’t written the letter.
Shelby: I haven’t made the call to my father yet.
And I’m very much in process when it comes to anxiety, even struggling with dark feelings of loneliness and depression.
I don’t do social media right all the time; I don’t.
To say that I do gives people a standard that they feel like they need to shoot for and “That’s when I’ll arrive.” And if they do get to that point, they’ll realize: “This is not the solution.
Shelby: “This is not the solution.” Having it all together is not the solution; the solution is Jesus and allowing Him to work on us in that process.
Ann: Well, the thing that’s so great is that God’s using you right now! You don’t have it all figured out and perfect yet.
Ann: But God still uses us in the midst.
Shelby: Yes; I have a lot of ugliness in my past—not only with my family, and that kind of stuff; and divorce, and wrestling through a lot of that—but like personal ugliness as well. I think one of the most dangerous places someone can be, spiritually, is thinking that they can buy their own salvation through their good works or religious behavior. That was me for a very long time! Even through my 20s and early 30s, wrestling with: “Oh, I don’t need God’s grace. I’m doing pretty good; I’m a full-time missionary!” That’s a really ugly, dangerous place to be; but that’s part of my story.
In addition to that, I’ve got sexual abuse in my history—that’s ugly and disgusting—and I don’t want to talk about that very much. I’ve got opioid addiction—not a long time ago—just a few years ago I had that in my life. That’s embarrassing to me! I don’t like to talk about those things.
But I’ve found that, the more that I’m willing to engage with those conversations—the more areas where I talk about the broken parts of my life—those are the areas where I find that students will come up to me afterward, or someone will approach me and say, “I’m so thankful you talked about this, because that’s my story too.” That’s when the real work happens; because people feel like: “I’m not alone here! I’m not the only person who’s messed up in this way. If the speaker” or “…the guy behind the microphone” or “…the author can go through these things, and still be in process, what does that say about me?” That’s comforting.
Dave: Yes; talk about that a little bit; because the church is typically, we mentioned yesterday, the place where that is all hidden. There’s darkness, brokenness, ugliness as you said, wasn’t talked about. You’re saying you’ve talked about that. Help us understand: “How do we talk about it?” You don’t want to just live in the darkness and ugliness.
Shelby: Right, right.
Ann: You didn’t mean to be, on the elevator, and you’re like, “Let me tell you about—
Dave: Yes. [Laughter]
Ann: — “Let me tell you about my sexual abuse.”
Dave: You know, how do I appropriately talk about—you mentioned sexual abuse; you mentioned opioid addiction—wow!
Dave: I mean, right away, it’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!
Dave: “Nobody says those kinds of things in church! Some sinner outside the church struggles with that, but somebody who knows Christ doesn’t struggle with that stuff!” You struggled with that.
Dave: How do you appropriately talk about that in a way that is appealing to anyone, including the next generation?
Shelby: Yes; I think coming to a place of being honest about who we are: “I am a sinner in need of God’s grace. I will always be a sinner, on this side of eternity, in need of God’s grace. I will never”—a friend of mine says, “There is no such thing as grace graduates”; and it’s true!—“I have never been in a position where I will not need God’s grace.”
Jesus is the friend of sinners. When Jesus walked into the city, He could have met with all the religious leaders; but He chose Zacchaeus, this awful, sinning tax collector, who swindled people out of money; and He changed his life. And He picked him why?—because it was about Jesus and not about him. So to say: “Oh, we don’t talk about those kinds of things here,”—number one, you should!—because the more you sweep stuff under the rug, it’s just going to come out again.
I’ve discovered that with students, who have been forced to say, “I am not allowed to ask questions about my faith,”—well, that will come out again—I’ve seen people walk away from the faith because they stuffed it, or were told to stuff it for a long time. To think that: “Oh, if we just ignore it, it will go away,” it’s never true! It will not go away; we need to deal with these kinds of things.
But to [tell] myself: “Well, that’s the stuff we talk about outside the church; that’s not stuff that we deal with in here,” that’s just a naïve picture of reality, because everybody is going through difficult things all the time. The more real we are with them, to admit the struggle, we can then begin to get on the solution side. I do mean the word, “begin,” because once we admit that there’s a problem, then we’re able to bring community around us, and deal with those things in a healthy way in the context of being in the body of Christ, and then get on the solution side of things.
I’m not saying: “Admit it, and then let’s wallow in our misery all the time.” No; allow the Holy Spirit to break us of those things; and then we can begin to get on the solution side of things, which is allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through our lives to sanctify those dark areas of our hearts that we’ve refused to allow people in[to] before.
Ann: I’m guessing a lot of listeners have kids between the ages of 18 and 28. Talk to them. What do they need to know? As parents, should we be confessing some of the stuff we’re struggling with? How can we win that age with that?
Dave: There’s a good question!
Dave: I can remember our youngest sitting at the dinner table. The other two boys were off to college; so it was like: “Oh, we only have one son here!” Remember?—he starts going, “Hey, Mom and Dad! Can you tell me about your sexual history and sins that you committed?” [Laughter]
Dave: And we looked at each other like:—
Dave: —“Uh, should/should we answer this question honestly?
Dave: “Should we cover it all up?”
Dave: Help a parent answer that question, because there are going to be questions like that.
Shelby: Sure; and I think to answer in a uniform blanket way would be a mistake on my part.
Shelby: I think there’s an intentional level of discernment that you need to have, as an adult, when you’re dealing with your kids specifically. Some things may not be ever appropriate to talk about with your kids; but at the same time, approaching things with a level of humility.
I think parents are constantly in a position of always feeling like: “I’m the one who needs to correct my kids, and shepherd them, and guide them; so I’m taking the moral high ground, whether or not I actually have the moral high ground in these areas.” That trains us into thinking that: “I will always be that for my kids.”
But you know your kids the best: you know them, when they get to a certain age, if they’re able to handle these kinds of things; or if you’re even willing to break the ice with them in certain ways, and see what God does there. I would say, number one, what you need to do is approach it prayerfully. Prayer is one of those things that we often neglect and underestimate. Just ask the Lord: “I want to talk to my daughter”—or—“…my son about this kind of stuff, because I think it will be helpful for them to talk about my shortcomings,”—for example.
But I don’t want to look at it as: “Look at all the areas in the past where I’ve failed, so that you can not do those things!” That might work for one kid; but for another kid, it’s like, “I never want to talk to you again, Mom! Please don’t ever mention anything like this.” You need to thread that needle and figure out what would be best for your kid, because you know what your kid would respond to the best.
That being said, being willing to take steps of vulnerability on your part and admit that you don’t have it all together. One of the best things I think a parent can do for their kids, is to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” While they may or may not take you up on that initially, continually owning your areas of shortcomings so that [you can], in reality, convince your kids that you don’t believe you have it all together.
When you get to that point of authenticity/of reality, they’ll be willing to talk to you about more things; and maybe, perhaps, talk with you about their own struggles with that kind of stuff. They’re going to somebody with it—it’s usually their friends; maybe their siblings; maybe even people out there on the internet—but they have to talk about that kind of stuff. They’re bottling it, yes, quite a bit; but they are talking about it. Would you rather them go to their friends, who may or may not know Jesus?—or would you rather them come to you?
So what do you need to work on, personally, as a parent, so that you can free up those roads for them to travel down and come to you? It may take some time, but live with authenticity. Live as if you actually believed what the Bible says is true. [Laughter]
Dave: There’s a concept!
Shelby: Pretty simple! Pretty simple, but very difficult to live out.
Dave: Alright, here’s a question for you personally: “How old are your kids?”
Shelby: My kids—I have two daughters—they are ten and eight.
Dave: Alright; so when they’re a little older—maybe 13, 15, 17—and they ask you about the things you just mentioned as ugliness in your life—opioid addiction—what are you going to do?
Shelby: This is Shelby Abbot, and you’re listening to my conversation with Dave and Ann Wilson. We’ll get back to that in just a minute; but first, I want to jump in here and say that I joined FamilyLife’s team because I believe in the mission! Biblical truth applied to today’s family is, arguably, more important now than ever.
If you feel the same way that I do, would you consider supporting FamilyLife Today with a donation? When you give any amount this week, we want to send you a copy of my book, called What’s the Point?: Asking the Right Questions about Living Together and Marriage. It’s our way of saying, “Thank you,” to you when you give anytime this week. You can do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. That can be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to my conversation with Dave and Ann, and how I’ll talk to my kids when they’re older about the ugly parts of my life, including opioid addiction.
Shelby: Opioid use came to me—not like I was walking the streets looking for pills—it came to me through an injury that I had in my back, and then a long period of time of using opioids to manage pain.
Shelby: Then having to wean off that medication, and the process of withdrawal, going, “Okay, I’m not going to do this; but I get it why people choose heroin over withdrawal. I get it!”
Shelby: I got it.
I think that’s one of the things that I think would be helpful—letting my kids understand that I’m not perfect, and I don’t have it all together—“I screwed up a lot while you were here,”—not a long time ago, before you were around—like: “…while I was raising you,” kind of a deal.
I will speak frankly about those kinds of things—the ugly areas—but I will also speak about the areas that I’m super-excited about; namely, I was a virgin when I got married. I’m not ashamed of that! I’m not afraid of someone calling me prudish or [saying,] “Oh, yeah? Nobody can do that.” I want to give glory to Jesus for that! So the good things and the bad things, and say, “I am not a person that has arrived. I will never arrive—neither will you—and when you fail, I will extend to you grace in the way that God has extended me grace; because I want to be here with you, because I am for you.”
Dave: Yes; and part of me thinks our kids long for this—the next generation that you’re passionate about—I think everyone longs for it. Tell me if I’m right or wrong. I’m asking both Shelby and my wife Ann.
I’m hoping, when people listen to FamilyLife Today, this is what happens/this is one of my hopes: they listen and they go, “Wow! This couple is just like us! They struggle with the same things we struggle about,” and “Some of this stuff, nobody’s ever talking about! But they’re bringing it into the light but, at the same time, they’ve got a victory. They’ve got a hope in Jesus that’s just as strong as the struggle, and just as real. I’m not sure I know that victory like they do. I want to keep listening.” I’m hoping that every [topic]/every program that we do. I’m sure there’s more than that but, at least, that’s happening.
Part of me thinks that’s what our kids long for/that’s what the next generation is longing for: “Can I be around a person, who’s real about the struggle, not hiding it—but at the same time, has hope and victory, and even a power, supernaturally, in Christ that meets them right in the victory—that I’m drawn to it!” Is that what the next generation and everybody is longing for?
Shelby: Yes; they want things to be real. They don’t want something to be plastic and fake. They want honesty; they want authenticity. The struggle that you were talking about, that people have with bringing things into the light: that struggle is real. I think all of us know that struggle is real.
It’s not something to be like: “Yes, just drag it into the light.” Come alongside them in that process, because they need a trusted friend to help take them there; but also remind them that, when you bring things into the light, that’s where darkness dies. That’s where Jesus wants us to be—not that we have to be perfect; it’s not that—but discovering that, in the light—though it might seem scary, and it might seem painful, and we might squint our eyes really hard when we get there—it’s where the darkness dies.
I wouldn’t know of any young person, who would say, “Nah, I want to keep the darkness in my life.” We would never admit that; yet, we live like that all the time. It’s really about putting legs to it and helping them in that process. And that’s what I want to do with this podcast.
Ann: And what I would add, too: “As we bring things into the light, don’t forget that there’s a spiritual battle going on that will try, with all the enemy has, just to keep it in the dark.” The first time I decided, at our church, to kind of talk about my abuse on the stage, in front of thousands of people, my heart was just beating.
Shelby: Sure; yes.
Ann: Because you risk rejection to share that.
I’ll never forget that I got a note soon after. As soon as I shared all of that, I thought, “I’m going to do this; because I know other people are locked up. I know they’re in shame! I know they’ve never told anybody.” I was doing it in hopes of bringing other people into that light/of having the courage to expose it.
Right after I was done, I got a note from a woman; and she said, “I want you to know that today, as you shared your story, you glorified Satan.” I’m telling you, it knocked me down!
Shelby: Yes, that was the opposite of everything; yes.
Ann: It was the opposite! There was nothing she could have said that would have devastated me more,—
Ann: —because I’m hoping to bring glory to God. Because I shared, “But God—
Ann: —"has restored and is restoring. I’m in the midst of Him healing me.” Yet she thought, because I shared it, somehow, I glorified Satan.
Shelby: —highlighted it; yes.
Ann: And so I went into hiding; I thought: “I’m never doing that again. I will never share and expose anything like that again,”—because if it’s glorifying Satan—that’s my greatest fear, that I would do that, even though I had other people saying, “Ann, I’ve never told anybody.”
I would just say to anybody listening—and to your kids—“We are living in darkness that’s suffocating when we’ve never shared it. The enemy will do anything in his power to get you to hide! But man, when we expose it”—because other people went up to me, and I have since shared many times—“Jesus wants to set us free when you bring it into the light.” That’s what I’m so excited about your podcast: you’re going to expose things that young adults are dealing with and suffering with.
Dave: —that a lot of people aren’t talking about.
Dave: They need a place to go to hear and to talk.
Ann: —and to say, “That’s me; that’s me.”
Dave: The first year we started our church, I stood on the stage one night at our mid-week service. I was scared to death to say this out loud, but I did. No one at that time was ever talking about this; but I just thought, “I can’t keep this in the dark.” I shared my porn struggle. My co-pastor/co-founder came up to me afterwards; he goes, “Dude, you just changed this church.” I go, “What do you mean? Is that bad?”—[Laughter]—you know, like, “Am I fired?”—you know, type deal.
Shelby: Right; yes.
Dave: Because you could get fired for that then,—
Shelby: Yes; of course.
Dave: —just admitting you had a struggle.
And he goes, “No, I think we just created a community of honesty and no secrecy. If you stay in the dark, the dark wins. If you bring it into the light, there’s a community in Christ who can help you.”
That is what I think of when I look at you, Shelby, and think, “Man, you’re launching a podcast for the next generation, to say, ‘We’re going to create a space, where we’ll be honest and real, and you can be as well. We’ll talk about the issues you’re dealing with, because the gospel is just as great for your parents as it is for you.’”
Dave: Way to go!
Shelby: Thank you! And I do believe that—that’s the heart behind it—the gospel changes everything about our lives.
Shelby: It really does—not just as a pithy little one-liner—it actually does. It changes our lives, and we don’t have to be a certain age; we don’t have to achieve a certain amount of status or whatever. The gospel changes our lives right here, right now, in the midst of our mess; because everybody’s a mess.
I’m Shelby Abbot, and you’ve been listening to my conversation with Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today. If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today, we’d love it if you tell them about this station. And you can share today’s specific conversation from wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, it would really help us out if you’d rate and review us.
You know, it’s easy, as parents, to want to just tell our kids what to do and how to fix everything; but sometimes, what they need most is for us to just be in their world and to truly know them—you know—that whole: “…quick to listen, slow to speak” thing. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow when my conversation with Dave and Ann continues.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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