We don’t like to talk about shame. We all experience shame, but we’re afraid to talk about it. Even if we wanted to address shame issues in our lives, most often we don’t know how to talk about it, even less how to deal with it. For Drew Poppleton, opening up about shame and dealing with it has been the power that has broken a generational cycle of shame in his family.
Drew grew up in a shame-based home, where love often felt conditional. “My dad was very hard on my brother and me. He expected the best out of us and pushed us relentlessly. It was an atmosphere of intensity and toughness, the kind you might expect from a former Marine. As a result, I am very driven and very disciplined, but I also carry around a lot of shame, this sense that I am inherently flawed—not good enough—and the only way I will be worthy of love and belonging is if I earn it.”
Shame not only distorted the way Drew viewed himself, but it also distorted the way he viewed his parents, especially his father. In the relational dynamic, Drew always felt “down,” while his authoritarian father was always “up.” Moreover, the many incidents of his father shaming him, in public and in private, led Drew to view his dad as a “villain.” Subconsciously, a couple of vows started forming: “I will never love my father” and “I will never be enough.” For two decades those vows governed Drew’s life.
Then, in 2010, Drew experienced a major breakthrough. He attended his first 101 retreat and there, Drew was born again… again. “101 created the time and space for me to listen to the Holy Spirit,” Drew says. “I had a fresh revelation of God’s love for me and the rest of the world.” Part of that revelation involved inviting Jesus back into a traumatic, shame-filled memory involving his parents. In a profoundly healing moment, Jesus helped Drew to understand that his parents had his best interest in mind but couldn’t help but act out of their own woundedness. Convicted that he had unfairly judged his dad, Drew felt a tremendous urge to “right some wrongs.” Ten days after the retreat, he flew to Florida to apologize to his father for loathing him the prior 20 years. It was a cathartic moment for Drew, as releasing some of his contempt toward his dad initiated other paths of relational healing and growth.
Keenly affected by a newfound experience of God’s unconditional love, Drew was challenged to love others as he felt God loved him. The problem with shame, though, is no matter how much we hate being shamed, the pattern of shaming is cyclical and can be easily passed down to the next generation. And this is what Drew started realizing as he evaluated his parenting style and his leadership style as a pastor. Tired of having grown up in the “down” position, Drew had now put himself above others in a strongman “up” position.
As he went through the 201 process, he began to see that this well-developed “way of being” stood in the way of loving others well. “This really limited my potential as a leader. I am a natural leader and have led almost everything I have ever been a part of. Now, after Faithwalking, I am a much more mature leader, able to love others as I lead instead of leaving a string of bodies in my wake.” Drew also became present to the negative impact his forceful style was having on his relationship with his young daughter. His voice chokes with emotion when describing the type of dad he was, and the type of dad he is striving to be. Today he and his daughter enjoy a close, safe relationship, the fruit of breaking a generational cycle that came by way of dealing with his shame issues.
Drew summarizes his Faithwalking experience this way: “Faithwalking led to some major transformation in my own life, but then my own transformation became a transforming agent in others’ lives.” A pastor friend who has known Drew for many years agrees: “Drew’s transformation has had a huge, direct impact in my own transformation. I can point to a lot of people who have been involved in my own transformation, but I would say that none have had more impact than Drew. He is someone I can be completely real with, with no fear that he will judge me. I really cannot describe his transformation except to probably say that Drew became and is becoming someone who really loves others well. Before, I didn’t feel that from him.”
And one of Drew’s mentors, a Faithwalking leader, says of him, “When I first met Drew, I experienced him as a pretty self-centered and angry guy. He was impatient and often insensitive. He was virtually unaware of how his behavior impacted others, and that quality often interfered with and undermined the group process. It is amazing to me how much Drew has changed. Today he has become a strategic partner in the Faithwalking work where he embodies our core values of authenticity and integrity.”
Starting in September 2014, Drew will be a Ph.D. student at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. His concentration is Practical Theology, which allows him to explore all things Faithwalking: Spiritual Formation, Discipleship, and Mission, especially missional church and missional discipleship. This is his second time moving to Fuller for theological education. Fifteen years ago, Drew was heading there to obtain his Master of Divinity. His then-pastor, concerned about Drew’s spiritual condition and motivation to pursue his degree, expressed that he “discerned a deep pain and anger” and wondered whether Drew needed “healing or a touch of grace.” Today, Drew’s life is a testimony to God’s touch of healing grace, grace that has him on the path to a fully human life, unfettered by shame.