“I was just self-abusive. I would look at myself in the mirror and smack myself. I found myself lacking in every way.”
It was a never-ending cycle for Shannyn. A young Catholic girl with alcoholic parents, she worked hard to earn their approval– and God’s.
“I knew what a sinner I was. And I was trying to not be a sinner.”
Throughout junior high and high school, Shannyn worked hard to earn others’ approval as well – immersing herself in the performing arts, radio work and other activities.
“I was on the high school quiz team, and I was a cheerleader, but my self-esteem was at zero.”
So, when a popular lifeguard asked her out the summer before her senior year, Shannyn readily accepted. But the evening didn’t go as she expected.
‘“He gave me a little kiss and I thought, ‘Okay. I’ll kiss him. Why not?’ But then almost immediately he was on top of me. So, I said, "No." and I thought that would be that. ‘Cause that is what we learn. You say no, they stop. That isn’t what happened.”’
The rape left Shannyn in shock, but she kept it to herself, aware that speaking up would only cause her further shame. Now, she was anxious to earn her way back to God.
“In the culture of the church, it’s clearly communicated that sex waits till marriage. So, I had to find someone to marry me!”
She found that someone, and then, during her sophomore year in college, they married. But the relationship fell apart and her husband left just before Shannyn graduated.
“I had done my whole life trying to be good, perfect. And this was the result that I was getting. So, I said, ‘Okay,’ I’m seeing people very successfully do life, and they’re doing a lot of things that I was taught were bad things to do, you know? Drinking, dancing, whatever. And so, I just did it all.”
Shannyn married a second time and had a daughter. Again, her husband left after two years. The sting of rejection still fresh, she looked to her career and being a single mom to fulfill her.
“At that point I had a career that I was really enjoying, I was working in some radio stations that were legendary, and I was growing, and I was surrounded by a really strong group of friends and so my community held me up.”
Just a year later, her parents were killed in a tornado. For the first time, however, Shannyn didn’t hear God’s condemnation in her mind – she felt his love.
‘“When I was walking through the wreckage of the tornado, I could hear the voice of the Lord and he was speaking, he said, ‘Though I walk through the valley of darkness and the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.’ and then I found my dad’s walking stick. And then I really felt like I could feel the Lord saying, "I will help you walk and I will show you where to go."’
It would take Shannyn two years to understand what that meant. By then she was married to Joe, and unhappy with herself and her marriage. Then she met a neighbor, Megan, and the two became friends. Later, Megan bought Shannyn a Bible and suggested she start with the book of John. It was the first time Shannyn ever read about Jesus and understood she didn’t have to earn God’s love.
‘“The entire time that I am basically on earth I’m thinking, ‘We’re on earth and there’s heaven, how do we get there?’ and the answer most often looked something like "You do this, that and not the other; okay?" but Megan gave me a Bible that spoke differently about the answer to that question. There is an earth and there is a heaven and how do you get from a to b? Jesus! I wanted to follow him. I was like, “Oh wow! I think this is true.”’
Shannyn started attending Bible study and reading the popular Rick Warren book, The Purpose-Driven Life. Suddenly, it all clicked.
‘“The very first words of the book are, ‘It’s not about you.’ and I had never heard that before. I thought that I was responsible for getting me into heaven. This was amazing to me.”’
Shannyn discovered that God’s grace covered all her short comings and failures.
“I used to live in constant anxiety, but what I didn’t know then is that God – even as he sees us, little me, big me, us right now– he delights in us, as we are. Even if we’re broken, even if we’re making mistakes, he’s loving us.”
Today, Shannyn and Joe are happily married and following Christ together. Shannyn cohosts a program on Family Life Radio and has written two books. She says her life is no longer a struggle.
“I have no interest in measuring up anymore. I have one goalpost, and it’s the king’s.”
Check out Shannyn’s ministry, The Healing Season llc, and find her book, The 40-Day Healing Season: Moving from Devastation to Restoration.
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