What’s the Purpose of My Pain? Noe Garcia
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Noe GarciaDr. Noe Garcia is the senior pastor at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona. He and his wife have four children. Noe holds a Doctorate of Ministry and Executive Leadership from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Noe is an adjunct professor at Gateway Seminary and a writer for Lifeway Voices. He is passionate about reaching and equipping people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, in Phoenix and around the world.
Ever wondered, How can God use the mess of my life? Author Noe Garcia shares his own rock-bottom story, and helps you seek the purpose of your pain.
What’s the Purpose of My Pain? Noe Garcia
Noe: If I don’t take my thoughts captive, they will take me captive; and I will become a prisoner to my thoughts. It’s like the enemy can whisper one thing—and if I’m not careful—I will take the one word and write a novel out of it.
Let’s say I lose my temper with my kids, and I’m telling myself, “You’re just like your father.” Now, I can take this, and write a novel, and make it true; or I can take the thought captive, bring it before God; and if it doesn’t hold up in His court, I have to fight to dismiss it.
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 the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We went to a counselor last year. [Laughter] Let’s just tell the world about that moment.
Dave: Actually, I did, as I was going through succession in my church. I really needed to sit down and work through some things; but then, this guy was so good—Greg Dempster—and he works with Christian leaders all around the country. I said, “I’ve got to get Ann; we’ve got to bring her back!”
Ann: —“because she’s super messed-up!” [Laughter]
Dave: No! I just thought, Ann, your wisdom and insight—we need help for our marriage—and one of the things that Greg drew out—that I knew, but never really put my finger on—was how you felt unseen, almost all of your life, especially in your family.
Ann: Yes; and I mean, I have a great family; my dad was great. But I also knew, as the youngest of four, I felt very unseen/unnoticed, like my life didn’t matter. And then, you put sexual abuse on top of that—and you put not being able to measure up to the standards of the family in performance—and now, you’ve got a problem. I did; I had a problem, because I was filled with shame. I felt like: “Do I not matter?” “Does my life not matter?” “Will I ever be good enough?”
Dave: Yes, and one of the things that hit me in that moment with Greg was, on our ten-year anniversary, when you said, “I’ve lost my feelings for you,” you felt unseen by me.
Ann: Right; because I felt like everything else was more important to you than me.
Dave: Yes, and so I think this shame that you just mentioned—that you carry; I carry; and I think a lot of us carry—is something we need to understand and get victory over.
Ann: Because, Dave, I don’t think a lot of us know, when we’re growing up—everything feels so normal: “It’s my life,”—it doesn’t feel like it’s broken; it feels like: “This is just my life!”
Ann: And so, then, you get older, and you see your brokenness; you see how you’re messed up. Suddenly, you’re starting to think, “Where did that come from?” That shame piece—that I think a lot of us feel and we carry—we don’t know what to do with it.
Dave: Yes, and we carry it into our marriages.
Dave: if we don’t do something with it, we’re going to give it to our kids; and it’s going to become a legacy.
We’ve got some help in the studio with us today—Noe Garcia, who was with us yesterday, is back to talk about—you didn’t know this: you’re going to talk about shame today.
Noe: Oh, I love it! [Laughter] Sounds good; let’s do it!
Dave: You’re a pastor in Phoenix; you’ve got four kids and a wife, and a busy life. As you wrote in your book, Repurposed: How God Takes Your Mess and Turns It into His Message—as I was listening to you yesterday—you described a life, where you carried shame.
Dave: So what is that? And how did it manifest in your life?
Noe: You know, the thing about shame is: it just paralyzes you. It makes you focus on the past. You’re stuck in the present, because you’re so focused on the past; and it blinds you to the future.
Dave: Now, how would you define it?
Noe: Man, I would define shame as this overwhelming emotional state that puts you in a position to where you are living in this false narrative. Here’s what I mean by that: I don’t mean the experiences were not real, but I mean it puts you in this emotional state—this paralyzing state—where you’re continuing to feed yourself these lies:
- You’re continuing to be stuck to what is true, but you tell yourself you can never get out;
- You tell yourself it can never change;
- You tell yourself nobody will understand and accept it.
You stay in this state, and shame lies to you. It tells you: “God can never forgive you,” “God can never use you.” Shame tells you that other people will never understand; they’ll judge you and look at you differently. It paralyzes you.
I think it’s produced from, really, traumatic circumstances—whether it’s decisions that we have made or things that have been done to us—it’s both.
Ann: Well, I can remember, as a five-year-old, going through sexual abuse; and it happening, again, to someone that I knew. As a five-year-old, after it happened multiple times, and this last time, I remember thinking, “Something’s wrong with me.” And that was the switch. That’s what I think shame is: “Suddenly, it feels like, ‘There’s something wrong with me.’”
Dave: It isn’t: “I did something bad,”/[it’s:] “I am bad.”
You mentioned yesterday, as you came out of the home of abuse—you were abused; you were in drugs and alcohol—at the same time, you know, thriving on a basketball court as a way out. But you described, yesterday, that you got to the point, where the shame you were carrying—which was somewhat hidden—put you in a place, where you almost tried to take your life.
Noe: Yes; you know, for me, when you’re sexually abused, your soul is shattered. It doesn’t know how to deal with that; you’re covered with shame. You feel like you’ve done something wrong, or you have done something that has brought that on yourself: “What did I do that opened the door for that?”
Then, you start living with these emotions, and you start feeling like, “Okay; there’s this shame on me, because of what took place. How do I suppress that feeling of shame?” Here’s what I did: drugs, alcohol, immorality—thinking that that would suppress the feeling of what took place when I was a child—but it only brought more shame.
Now, I was disgusted with myself ,and embarrassed, and shame-filled for what had been done to me;, but then, what I had done to try to cover it up. I can tell myself: “Maybe this wasn’t my fault.” The other: “I did this—I made these decisions—I’m horrible; I’m disgusting; I’m filthy.”
You feel this, and you feel like you’re drowning. You feel like nobody will ever forgive you. You feel like, if you say these things out loud, people may look at you differently; they’ll treat you differently. It changes your path of life, so you don’t say anything.
Ann: Did you fall into depression?
Noe: I fell so deep into depression. You know, if you’ve ever dealt with depression, you just begin to live in this false world, where everything is negative/everything is bad: every thought, every circumstance. And then, if you do have a moment that is a mountain top moment, you’re afraid to enjoy what’s good; because you don’t think it’s going to be there long. You wire yourself not to get attached to the good things; “Because good things don’t last,” is what I thought. When you’d have these good moments: “Don’t get used to this; this is not real life. This joy/this happiness is abnormal. Brokenness is normal, so don’t get used to the joy and happiness; because brokenness is where you’re used to living.”
I taught myself and trained myself how to not get too attached to good things. [In] relationships, I would push people away before they got too close; because I didn’t want to get hurt again. Everyone I let in, hurt me; so I taught myself to put people through trial runs: “Let me see how long they’ll stay. Oh, they’ve stayed this long? Let me show them another piece of me; see if they’ll go!”
I began to unfold it: “Oh, you’re going to stay? Let me show you some uglier stuff to see how long you’ll stay.” It’s like it’s so messed up, but I did that. And then, when they’d stay long enough, I thought, “Uh-oh! They love me, and I love them. How do I break this off? Is it too late? What am I going to do now?” I would burn the bridge; I would destroy the relationship so that I had the power to destroy it before they destroyed me.
Ann: And then, you got to the point, where you thought, “I don’t even want to do this anymore.”
Noe: Yes; and so—from five to eighteen—you live your life like that. You’re tired of the broken relationships; you’re tired of the shame; you’re tired of being guilty. And I was guilty. The shame has you running when nobody is chasing; it has you hiding when nobody is looking for you. And I got tired of running, and I got tired of hiding.
One night, I remember sitting there, not knowing if there was a God—but if there was—asking Him, “Please, my soul is empty,” and “I’m tired,” and “I’m broken.” And I’m eighteen! I’m saying, “I’m tired of life. I’m tired of pain. I’m tired of not having a father,”—there’s no affirmation; there’s no security; there’s nothing. And I asked Him for a sign. He doesn’t give me a sign, so I sit there and start crying.
I thought, “If God doesn’t want me or love me, I have no chance in life. There’s no chance if God doesn’t want me.” I thought He didn’t want me. I thought He was like my earthly father, who had just walked out and didn’t even come back. I thought, “If God doesn’t want me, if my earthly father doesn’t want me—if there are all these broken relationships—what’s the point of living through this?”
But thankfully, I didn’t succeed. I thought I locked the door; but my friend came in and found me. He was like, “What are you doing?” I said, “I don’t know”; and I just started crying. I sat there, and I knew something had to change. I’d hit rock-bottom; I was so desperate. My soul was so hungry, and I didn’t know how to feed it.
At this point, I’m playing basketball at the Salvation Army. For about two years, when I’d go play basketball, they’d make you stay for a devotion. I would always make fun of the Christian guys speaking; I just thought they were so cheesy; it was the same story. “That’s great for you, but it doesn’t match who I am!”
And then, a guy stands up, just got out of prison! [Laughter] Tattoos—I have tattoos!—and I’m like, “Okay, you know God?! How do you know God?” And so I listened. He was sharing about this Jesus, who would forgive you of your sins, and who would—he has my full attention because of the way he/”He looks like me!”
I’m thinking, “Okay, if this is real, I want some of this then; because I know what I just tried to do, and it didn’t work!” I get up during the invitation, and say, “I don’t know if You’re real, but if You are, will You forgive me of my sins? Would You take my life, because I can’t do anything with it.” I surrendered, and I confessed.
And let me tell you what happened: it’s like I came, out of living in the dark, out into the light. The things that I cultivated in the dark began to have so much power over my life, because—I didn’t know it then—but that’s where the enemy has his battles, is in the dark.
Ann: And it’s an interesting way that you put that: the things you were cultivating in the darkness.
Ann: What do you mean by that?
Noe: Well, I gave it life—
Ann: Yes, by feeding it.
Noe: —by feeding it.
Noe: I gave it life by feeding into this lie—whether it was in thoughts or in action—I cultivated it.
Noe: And it was so powerful, and it was so strong.
Ann: Yes, and it feels right to do it.
Noe: Oh, it feels normal. You don’t know you’re doing it.
Ann: Right; yes.
Noe: It feels normal. The enemy’s having a field day; he’s producing this fruit out of it. He planted the seeds, and I’m watering it; and the fruit’s being produced. But that’s where he fights: is in the dark.
Noe: When I came out into the light, it was like it lost its power. All these things that had shame over my life no longer had this power over me. It’s like, “You lost. Here I am, fully forgiven. And yes, that’s my reality—yes, I’m ashamed—‘But God, being rich in mercy…’—you know, here I am!”
This is why, even today/you know, I didn’t start speaking to me being molested until I wrote the book.
Dave: Until a year ago, this was all pretty silent?
Noe: I didn’t tell a lot of stuff.
Dave: Why did you decide to start telling it?
Noe: Here’s why I didn’t: I didn’t hear anybody else talking about it. I had never heard a pastor talking about this, ever!
Noe: I think, unintentionally, I was groomed to believe: “You don’t share stuff like that.
Noe: “It’s not okay.” I still lived in the dark, although I was free in that area of my life.
Ann: So Noe, here you are now: you’re a new creature in Christ; old things have passed; new things have come.
And that happened to me, and I was thinking, “Now, I am a new creature,” and yet, after a while, I was still battling those same thoughts. I didn’t realize, because I had cultivated them for years. I probably had neurological pathways that were deep, man! [Laughter] You know, I’d just go on that path every day. I was still feeding myself these lies of: “You’re nothing,” “You’re no good,” “You’re not worthy,” “You’ll never succeed,” “You’ll never do anything worthwhile.” Then, I remember reading Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
How did that work out for you?—did it change overnight?—or was it a process?
Noe: It’s still a process.
Ann: Yes; me too.
Noe: I know these truths; I preach them every Sunday. [Laughter] But I also know that we’re broken people, and that we live in our flesh, and that we have to still deal with the scars of yesterday.
Dave: How do we break free? Because, largely, your book’s based on Romans 8, verse 1—one of the most famous/powerful—“There’s no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ.” If that’s true—and you just said it/we just said it—then, how do we get stuck not living a free life?
Noe: Here’s what happens—and it happens to all of us—when you become a new creature in Christ, there’s still the renewing of your mind. What happens is: when I have moments of—say I lose my temper with my kids, and it reminds me of my father—the enemy will tell me, even day, “See, you’re not really different. Look at you; you’re just like your father,”—even today!
Then, the shame will overwhelm me; I have to battle: “Am I different?” “Am I changed?” That’s what happens today. Let me share this: Romans chapter 8, verse 1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ.” The word, “condemnation,” is a legal term; okay? So picture us in court: your crime is brought before the judge. The judge is saying, “He is dismissed; he is forgiven”; bang the gavel.
That term there is saying: “Now/today, your yesterday, today, and tomorrow are forgiven,”—which means the crime that you commit tomorrow doesn’t have any power before the judge anymore because of what Christ has done. Here’s what happens: when I sin, I have to retrain my thought by doing this—by taking my thoughts captive—if I don’t take my thoughts captive, they will take me captive; and I will become a prisoner to my thoughts. It’s like the enemy can whisper one thing—and if I’m not careful—I will take the one word, and write a novel out of it of how I’m horrible.
I take this one word—let’s say I lose my temper with my kids, and I’m telling myself, “You’re just like your father,”—now, I can take this, and write a novel, and make it true; or I can take this before the courts of heaven, and ask, “Is this a true statement?” I take the thought captive—bring it before God—and if it doesn’t hold up in His court, I have to fight to dismiss it. That takes a lot of work!
Dave: I was going to say—
Noe: That takes intentionality.
Dave: —that sounds exhausting; because we said yesterday,—
Dave: —we have thousands of thoughts a day—much of them negative—and you’ve got to grab every one and take it captive.
Noe: It’s exhausting, but the novel that we will write with the lies is devastating.
Noe: So we have to pick.
Ann: I found that I would have those thoughts at night, when I put my head on the pillow—you, Dave, you go right to sleep!—[Laughter]—I was like, “How does he do that?”
I would lay in bed at night and just go, over and over, my failures of that day. I will say this: the enemy/the accuser would go over those stories each day.
Noe: That’s right.
Ann: I got into this habit of taking—because it’s such a lie! It doesn’t do any good to go over what you’ve—you can confess it: “Jesus, I give it to You. I confess it; I’m free!” I picture myself handing the lie that I was believing—or maybe the sin I had committed: “It’s forgiven,”—so I would hand it to Him. Then, I could fall asleep at night.
It's hard, though, not to entertain the lies.
Noe: It’s hard; it’s hard.
Ann: Really hard.
Noe: And this is what the enemy’s been doing since Genesis 3—the Fall in the garden—what took place was they changed what they thought about God and what they thought about themselves. It’s why they hid, because they were filled with shame. They were hiding from God.
When we sin, what do we think?—“Oh, man! How does He view me? Does He still love me? Is He going to use me?” Then we view ourselves differently: “We’re horrible,” “We are defined by our failures,” right? And it’s just this ongoing battle, and it’s a lifelong battle. I don’t think it ever stops. I think we get better at the battle, but I don’t think it ever stops.
Dave: I mean, are you living in victory now?
Noe: There are days when I’m not.
Noe: Man, there are days, where—
Dave: You are way too honest. [Laughter]
Ann: No, you’re not! I love it!!
Dave: No, I’m kidding! I love that, because like you, so often the church and the Christian community just hides.
Dave: Like Genesis 3, we put on the leaves; we hide. It’s rare that somebody brings the darkness to the light, and the light sets you free!
Noe: It does.
Dave: When you bring it out into the light, you become free. That’s why I love you being that honest.
Noe: I’m a professional confessor. [Laughter] Honestly, there are people who, you know, if I ever go see a counselor, they’ll say, “Is there anything that you’ve never told anybody?” I’m like, “No! I can’t live that way, man. No! I’m getting it alllll out,”—probably, too much at times, but I just want to be free! I don’t want to have any secrets or dirty hands. I want to be free—not perfect—but free!
And so, I still have tough days; I’ve got to be honest. If I have a bad day—and I sin in my anger or whatever it may be—man! I’m shaming myself the rest of that day. I wish I could tell you, “No, every day victory!” But I’m not!
Dave: I remember the day I—the first year of our church: 1990; so it’s 30-some years ago—where I shared, from the pulpit, my struggle with pornography. I remember my co-pastor, Steve, came over and said, “You just changed this church.” I thought it was bad, like, “Oh, did I just lose my job?!”—you know, especially then. He says, “No, I think you just turned this church into a place, where people will bring their full selves—
Noe: That’s right.
Dave: —"and say, ‘I’ve got to be real here.’
Noe: That’s right.
Dave: “’Will I find acceptance here?’ ‘Is there victory in Christ here, in the middle of the struggle?’” That’s what you’re talking about, right?
Noe: —100 percent! This scares churches, and it scared our church. I’m not asking to lower the standard of holiness.
Noe: I’m talking about opening the window of grace; because for so long, we had this standard of holiness without this window of grace. But when you open the window of grace, I think it’s easier to pursue the standard of holiness. That’s what I’m trying to do. By me being vulnerable and transparent, I want to help people to know that we are imperfect beings, but it doesn’t stop our pursuit of holiness. It’s not one or the other; it can be both.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Noe Garcia. If you’ve ever been tempted to buy some anti-aging cream, well, stick around! Dave and Ann and Noe have something that’s even better. But first, Noe’s book is called Repurposed: How God Turns Your Mess into His Message. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com; just click on “Today’s Resources” to find it. Or you can call us at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Alright, here are Dave and Ann with Noe Garcia.
Dave: I think one of the things we’re talking about is: “If you hold onto the secrets and the struggle—and it’s just a hidden secret—
Ann: Yes, they’re in the dark.
Dave: —"the shame stays.”
Dave: First of all, you confess it to God—you find forgiveness—but when you tell a brother or you tell a sister, James 5 says healing is where that happens. I think that involves shame.
Dave: Because then, we can do work on the shame. As long as it’s hidden, it’s in the dark; and the dark wins. Once it comes into the light—am I right?—
Noe: —100 percent.
Dave: God’s like, “I can now take this and remove the shame,”—not instantaneously—"but I can put you on a path to healing, where you’re going to find freedom.”
Noe: It’s Psalm 32; David says it.
Noe: You know, when he kept silent, it says that he felt like “God’s hand was heavy upon” him. He felt like his body was withering away, day and night. He was miserable! But when he confessed it to the Lord, he found this freedom; he found his refuge!
Absolutely, it wears you—I believe shame and secrets will wear you down; it’ll tear you down; it will age you!—you will be exhausted! So man, I pray for my kids all the time/I pray that, if they have any secrets in their lives, they can’t sleep or eat until they confess it.
Ann: Oh, yes, we prayed that prayer a lot.
Noe: That’s my prayer all the time; I pray it over my church too.
Noe: Because I know that the enemy wants to take you somewhere with this stuff; so if you get it out into the light, he loses the battle.
Dave: The word for today is—here it is—“Take off the mask.” I’m not talking about the pandemic mask—[Laughter]—you’ve got to keep wearing that; maybe that’s the safe thing to do—I’m talking about the fake mask—
Noe: That’s right.
Dave: —of hiding your struggle. Tell God—tell a brother if you’re a man; tell a sister if you’re a woman; tell a couple if you’re a couple—and let God begin the healing process. I mean, that’s a beautiful story that you’ve shared; that’s the result.
Today’s your day to start.
Shelby: What if you were going through a crisis while you were struggling with the loss of someone close to you? That might make you angry with God. But what if that happened while you were pastoring a church plant? On FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined tomorrow by John Onwuchekwa, who explains the uproar this caused in his life; and how he dealt with the grief, the pain, and, frankly, the liar he became. That’s tomorrow.
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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