Sermon: From Compulsion to Change to Freedom to Grow

Main Idea: Knowing that you are liked is discipleship.

Text: Matthew 11:28-30

Intro: My personal experience

Over the past couple of years, I've been grappling with the fact that, deep down, I feel unlovable.

Specifically, I'm dealing with the fact that my early childhood was deeply traumatic. What researchers call "complex developmental trauma."

It means that early on in my life, I learned that the people who were meant to be a source of safety and comfort were, instead, sources of fear.

That led to deep shame, the belief that I am inherently flawed and broken.

That means that as a teen and adult, while on the outside I was perfectly behaved and attempting to achieve my best at all times, on the inside I trusted no one. At any point those who were supposed to care for me could turn on me. I had few to no friends throughout most of my middle school years because getting close to someone could mean risking pain, abuse, or neglect. In college, I would randomly vanish from social settings—earning the nickname the Wanderer—because I would get overwhelmed by friendships that were veering to close to discovering how broken I was.

And all this had profound effects on my spiritual life. I knew that I was unlovable. And therefore I knew that God knew that I was unlovable too. Whatever shame I had, God agreed with. So, I had to do everything I could to prove to God that They should like and love me.

And now I'm paid to be a professional Christian. Look at me now, God.

A primary force pushing me along in life has been the a deep sense of compulsion to change. To transform myself, from the inside out. To be better.

And for years, I thought that that force pushing me along was God. I was trained to believe. Any voice of conviction, any feeling of guilt or shame, well that had to be God, right?

As psychologist and researcher Dr. Hillary L McBride says,

Spiritual trauma is someone handing you an inner critic and telling you it's the voice of God.

But what I'm slowly waking up to is that shame, condemnation, and compulsion to change is not God. It is a symptom of my childhood that I can heal from. But it is not God.

What God offers, instead, is freedom. Not compulsion to change. But freedom to grow. And heal. And freedom to not.

Now, not everyone here had the same childhood as me. But I suspect that many of us were handed lessons and scripts from our childhood and adolescence that led to various forms of anxiety, stress, or shutdown behaviors when it came to how we handle people and our relationship with God.

What I want to do today is take a look at a saying of Jesus, connect that to some psychology, and offer a path forward.

Matthew 11:28-30

Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. [29] Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Jesus offers this to you without condition.

There is no state you must get to first to have this sort of relationship with God.

This can be hard to believe. “Sin separates you from God.”

Attachment Science

Study and research on the effects of connection and relationships on our brains and how we interact with the world.

Set during prenatal and early childhood.

Can be healed.

Categories are good for research. Not people.

First category: Secure.

Second category: Insecure. There are three types of insecure Attachment.

Anxious. I don’t know if we’re really connected. Need to prove myself. Clingy. Performance.

Ambivalent. Emotion is not okay. Your pain is a problem for me. So push down emotion. Logic and reason yourself out of it.

Disorganized. The source of connection and comfort becomes the source of pain and fear. Deep shame and a sense of brokenness.

What all three have in common is an internal and external compulsion to change.

Read Jesus through these insecure forms of attachment.

Insecure Matthew 11

Anxious. “Take my yoke upon you.” Oh thank goodness. There’s still a yoke. There are still things I can do. Anxiously attached Christians can be deeply pious. Passionate worshipers. But the worship music is so unsure. “God I just need to know you’re there. You’re listening. Here I am. Here I am. I’m here. Look at me god.”

Ambivalent. “All who are heavy laden and burdened down.” Ah, not me then. I don’t have a bad emotion. Good thing, because emotions don’t get me anywhere. I will logic myself into believing in God. Reason can save the world. Mysticism is for people whose brains are underdeveloped.

Disorganized. “For I am and gentle and humble in heart.” Oh thank God, a deity i can trust. Except, no, God is a tyrant, I want no part of that. I am dirty and broken. Oh, but God can fix me. Phew. But I need to prove to God how unfixable I am. God saved a wretch like me. A wretch.


  • Sin is not separation from God
  • Have you felt like God cared more about expanding the kingdom than caring for your heart?
  • Aside: some folks have trouble calling God Father, because perhaps they had bad Father experiences or no Father at all. I feel the same way about calling God Mother. The first part of my life I had no father; and my mother was mentally ill, abusive, and neglectful. So I'm fucked either way.

Reflection Questions

What do you hope is true of God?

What do you want to say to the part of you that doubts that God loves you just the way you are?

Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Washington, DC