August 24, 2021

Will You Accept This Rose?

Inside This Episode

Are you tired of people knowing who you are, but no one really knowing you? That is the question our guest, Ben Higgins, posed in his new book, "Alone in Plain Sight: Searching for Connection When You're Seen but Not Known". After being thrust into the international spotlight on ABC's The Bachelorette (Season 11) and The Bachelor (Season 20), Ben was forced to deal with his demons behind the scenes. Our other guest, Cam Ayala, was also a contestant on The Bachelorette (Season 15) and Bachelor in Paradise (Season 6), both of which resulted in him being branded as the bad guy. Since then, Cam has been forced to cope with waves of online bullying and harassment, but that struggle is nothing compared to the life-or-death battle he has fought against his debilitating disease. Through all of their pain and soul-searching, both Ben and Cam have come to understand the importance of being truly known - by the people around them, and by God.

Join The Community

Maybe God Newsletter

  • Be the first to know about new episodes
  • Exclusive content
  • Resources to help you reconstruct and grow your faith

Featured Book

Alone in Plain Sight: Searching for Connection When You're Seen but Not Known, by Ben Higgins


Eric Huffman: Welcome to the Maybe God podcast. On behalf of the entire production team, thank you so much for tuning in. I hope that the stories that we've been telling on this podcast have inspired you to have deeper conversations with your friends, your family, and loved ones. Because that's really what this podcast is all about. We think of Maybe God as a conversation. Some of our best episodes all time were born out of questions or ideas that you, our listeners, sent to us.

So whether you've been listening for years, or you're brand new to the Maybe God family, we would love to hear your feedback about our past episodes or your ideas for future shows. Simply email us at [email protected]. Also, it would mean so much to us if you would just take a moment and give Maybe God a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts, if you haven't done that yet. And if you're feeling super generous, just go ahead and leave us a glowing review there as well. That's the absolute best way to make sure more people find out about Maybe God. So thank you in advance for your help.

Okay, let's get started with this brand new episode of The Maybe God podcast.

[Maybe God intro]

Eric Huffman: You're listening to Maybe God. I'm Eric Huffman. Not long ago, the kind of question that I heard skeptics asking most often about God was: how can I even know if there is a God? But something has shifted in our culture over the past few years, something significant. I'm finding that fewer people are asking, what makes you think your God exists? And now more than ever, they're asking, what makes you think your God is special? What makes Christianity any different or any better than any other world religion?

And my answer is usually pretty simple. To no one's surprise, who knows me, it's Jesus. Jesus I believe is the only reason why Christianity can't simply be billed as just another world religion that's equal to all the others. That might sound a little offensive or narrow-minded to some but hear me out.

I know Jesus did a lot of the same things that other religious leaders claimed to do. He performed miracles and healed the sick. He drew large crowds and taught them with timeless wisdom. But while others have come pointing people toward God, only Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. And if He was right, then what He revealed to the world about God is nothing short of revolutionary.

Everyone knows Jesus was powerful and wise. But the aspects of His character that inspired me most are his human characteristics, like how Jesus got angry and emotional at times, and He felt fear and anxiety. One time He even wondered if His Heavenly Father had forsaken Him. He experienced excruciating physical pain.

And did you know that Jesus struggled with loneliness? Mark 1, literally says Jesus spent much of His adult life hanging out in the lonely places. How stunning it is to consider that the almighty, most high God would willingly subject Himself to all the demeaning limitations of human life that we all experience every day? And why did He do it? The Bible says it was simply so that He could know us more, so that we might trust Him more. And that is just amazing to me. And that, I believe is why Jesus stands apart.

If He is the true face of God, He is a God like no other—a God who knows firsthand what it's like to struggle like we do. And that's really what today's episode is all about, the solidarity that only shared pain and suffering can bring. These are the stories of two skeptics and how the pain that they've endured is leading them both closer to God and to the people around them.

Our first guest is Ben Higgins. If you haven't heard that name before, you're probably not among the millions who tune in each season for ABC's The Bachelor. Before he rocketed to fame almost overnight in 2016, Ben grew up in the small Midwestern town of Warsaw, Indiana.

Ben Higgins: My childhood was great. I got an incredible family who loved me deeply, who loved life deeply. They had incredible friendships around them. I'm an only child, and so being in the Midwest is a little isolating. There's not a lot of diversity of any kind within that town. But it was a great childhood, and it was one that I treasure.

Eric Huffman: Much of Ben's small-town life revolved around the church.

Ben Higgins: My parents' best friends was the pastor of my church and his wife. And it's a pretty big church for a town of 12,000. In fact, I think at one point, it was like 3,000 people were attending this church.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Ben Higgins: So like most of the communities. So being a Christian is not difficult, nor is it uncommon. But mostly growing up, it was just being involved in the church. That was the biggest part of it. It just felt like the cool place to hang out. Just church felt like the place to be.

Eric Huffman: This is where I can really relate to Ben. I grew up in a town that was even smaller than Warsaw, and the church was my home away from home. The question wasn't whether you went to church in [inaudible 00:05:37], it was whether you were Methodist or Baptist. And that's all there were. Church wasn't just about religion. It was about community. So I really get where Ben's coming from here. And I also understand what it must have felt like when his faith began to fall apart.

One funny thing that I share in common with Ben is that for both of us, the first domino to fall in our childhood belief systems was some sentimental supernatural icon. For Ben, it was realizing that Santa Claus might not be real. For me, it was the tooth fairy.

Ben Higgins: It was the first time that something had been ripped away from me. Like a belief I held dear, this idea, this thing that's not seen, that's not felt, that's not known seemed nice to me. Santa Claus seems good. He brings me gifts, he cares, he checks in if I'm good or bad. And if I'm good, I'm gonna get gifts. And up to that point, I was getting gifts every year so I was doing something right.

Eric Huffman: All good.

Ben Higgins: Jesus was presented in a similar way at times. If I'm good, I'm in. If I think that way, I'm in. I can't see, I can't touch, I can't feel but yet I'm told this God loves me. So when Santa Claus dropped, all of a sudden made my mind for the first time starts to go, what else have I been told? What else am I living within that's not true also?

Eric Huffman: For Ben, those questions snowballed once he ventured beyond his hometown.

Ben Higgins: I was just having a conversation with my buddy. He's a pastor, and we're talking through this, and he's like, you know, "I've always said, If you want your God to be small, just stay in your hometown." And I would say it's so true. I just went to college three hours south, and I was still in Indiana, and it was rocking my world.

Just wait till I started to travel the world and I started to travel, even within my own country, from east to west coast, and hearing the stories in between, God had to get a lot bigger. It wasn't as safe. It wasn't as comfortable. It wasn't as easy. It wasn't as straightforward. It wasn't as "if you're a Christian, you got it right, and if you're not, then there's something wrong with you." Because that was kind of the message in my hometown. That it was like, no, these people who don't believe what I believe most of them are great people who just have lived in a different area. So you start to work through, what in the world does this mean?

Eric Huffman: Ben admits those doubts about Christianity have never completely gone away.

Ben Higgins: I think I'm a professional doubter.

Eric Huffman: Really?

Ben Higgins: In fact. I think it's been one of the most important parts of my faith journey is processing through doubt, searching for truth, suffering within the doubt, getting perseverance in those times to move forward and find hope and faith. If I'm going to believe in something and base my life on it, I want to believe it. And I want to know it. And I want to know that God can come into those questions with me. And there's an intimacy to that.

Eric Huffman: The other pervasive feeling Ben has dealt with since childhood is an intense loneliness that he felt for the first time in second grade when his reading teacher told the kids to pair up.

Ben Higgins: So as part of the reading class time, she goes, "Everybody pick a partner." And then everybody picked a partner, and nobody picked me. and I asked my buddy, "Hey, you want to be my partners?" He said, "I already picked this person." So there I was sitting on the side feeling this tremendous amount of confusion on what in the world happened. I was disoriented. I was hurt. I was sad. I was angry. And then Mrs. B came over and said, "Hey, you looks like you're my partner today." And I knew what that meant, means I was the outsider. And as she was just being her sweet self and filling the space for the kid that was left out.

It was that moment that I started to feel senses of loneliness and feeling like the outsider. And the thing is if you just isolate that story and say, "Oh, that happened in second grade. Get over it," then I could understand. But that feeling existed throughout my life. It stayed with me. It's one of the most consistent feelings that I've experienced in my childhood up until my adulthood. But it was also part of my story that I couldn't understand and that I would find reasons to validate that feeling right?

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Ben Higgins: "Oh, I was invited to this party or this celebration, or hey, my buddies are getting together and they didn't even call me to ask. I must not be that light. I must not be that accepted." And then you move into adulthood and I was terrible at my first job. I didn't really get along with anybody there. People didn't really respect me there. So I started to use that as an excuse. "Of course, people don't like me. This is just because I am... I'm the outsider. I don't know my lot in life. Nobody can understand where I'm coming from." So it's been a story I've validated but it's also because it's a feeling that I've experienced.

Eric Huffman: If you've seen Ben on TV, it might be hard for you to believe that this popular, attractive young Ben who was once America's most eligible bachelor struggles with loneliness and self-doubt. One way that he masked his insecurities in high school was by building his identity around sports.

Back in Warsaw, he was the quarterback of his high school's varsity football team. During the second game of his junior year, Ben suffered an injury that not only ended his season, it stripped away the facade that he'd been hiding behind.

Ben Higgins: I was rolling out and I got hit in the knees and it just totally destroyed my knee. We're talking ACL, PCL, MCL. That mean it was gone. And I knew it.

Eric Huffman: While he was laying in the hospital bed awaiting surgery, reality started to set in.

Ben Higgins: I'm kind of divorcing from being an athlete. Like basketball season is not going to happen. I know that. Football season's done. I don't think I'm gonna get back for the next year. So I was hurting. I was figuring out that I had to become a student and I had to work and find a career path and that had never crossed my mind. It was definitely not anything I was as passionate about it like I was sports.

Eric Huffman: Ben was relieved when the painkillers that had been prescribed started to numb the pain that he felt in his knee. But those drugs also ease the pain in his mind and his heart.

Ben Higgins: So I had about nine to 10 months of painkillers prescribed to me that I was on. Now at the same time, I was enjoying it because I wasn't feeling any of the pain emotionally that I should have been feeling. I wasn't struggling and learning through any of it. I was just pushing it aside. And once I got done with the prescriptions, I was in college at that point, and I was finding it wherever I could. Because as soon as I would go sober, as soon as I'd take a day off, more emotional pain would seep in. I didn't want to feel anything. I felt worthless and getting high and sitting on a couch felt like the best I could do. So it ended up becoming years and years of struggling with a deep addiction to painkillers.

Eric Huffman: It took Ben many years to open up publicly about his addiction to painkillers. The first time was just this year when he released his first book Alone in Plain Sight. In one of the most vulnerable chapters of the book, Ben admits that while taking painkillers in college, he had completely given up on his childhood faith, he was starting to treat the people around him like objects for his pleasure, and the shame became too much for him to bear. It all came to a head one morning after a one-night stand.

Ben Higgins: And I walked into the bathroom at my house at that time, I looked myself in the mirror, I can't even tell you there was something that just like came over me, this like wave of emotion. And I looked at myself and I said, "You're not the man that you ever wanted to be and you're not going towards anything good. You're on a path of destruction. You're hurting people along the way and you're settling for it by numbing yourself."

And like, for years, I hadn't had this type of introspection. For years, I wasn't aware of the things going on. For years, I was like, "Yeah, you know what? I hurt this person, I'm gonna get high, I'm gonna sit on the couch. In a couple hours, that won't even matter to me and I'll move on. I don't want to confront it."

And then at that moment, I realized that if I wanted to be any type of the man that would make a difference in this world, any type of man that could try his best to represent Jesus well and represent love well, then I needed to make a change. And at that moment I did. At that moment... I did get help then. I don't want to say like I just cold turkey this thing and said the next day, "I'm good, I'm free." I did get help. But that was the moment I stopped.

Eric Huffman: Wow, that's awesome. And it's so awesome that you're vulnerable and real about it. Man, you could have just as easily left that part out of your book. And you didn't. And I know a ton of people are going to be blessed because of that.

Ben Higgins: I hope so.

Eric Huffman: After college, Ben moved to Denver for a fresh start. He didn't know anyone there. He just wanted to escape what he calls his bubble in Indiana.

Ben Higgins: So I moved to Denver. I know nobody. It's a very sad life, man. I'm not dating. I don't have any friends. I'm living in apartment alone. I'm going to work every day. I'm not good at my job at all and I know that. I was the youngest person in the office by far. It was a software company. And I was a business analyst at the time. And I was sitting at my desk testing code, sounds exciting, it wasn't, and I shut down our whole company system. Like literally shut down the company. Put in a code, test code, it ran, it bugged out the system. Everybody, 150 employees are like, "What happened to the program?" And I'm sitting there going, "I messed it up." I don't think I was gonna have a job much longer is the truth of that story.

So a week later, I'm sitting there and dealing with all this and the lady at my office comes up to me, she was the marketing director at the time and she said, "There's The Bachelorette casting calls in Denver today. You're the only person in here that I think would go on the show or could go on the show. If I take you down there and take you to lunch, would you do it?" I said, "I'm not going to do casting call." "Okay. If I sit beside you and we sign up for the show, if they call you, would you do it?" And I said, "Yes, that would work?"

Well, for two reasons. One, I knew I didn't have a job much longer. Two, I wanted to shake life up a bit. My story was becoming pretty repetitive and dramatic and kind of boring and sad. And I was like, "This seems like an adventure." And then a week later, I get a phone call from California on my phone, and I answer it, and it's ABC going, "Hey, so you sign up for the show? Let's start talking."

Then, all of a sudden, I find myself stepping out of a limo. There's not prep for this, and you walk out in front of 200 people because there's a lot of people working in cameras at this mansion that you've seen on TV, and you're in it. And you're going on dates, and you're living in a house with 30 other men dating the same person, you're trying to figure out what the heck you're doing there. It's odd. I'd say there's no prep for it.

Eric Huffman: Ben was 25 years old when he was cast on the 11th season of The Bachelorette, as one of Kaitlyn Bristowe's many suitors. He was already struggling to figure out his identity before he was labeled on national television as the software salesman from Denver.

Ben Higgins: I didn't feel like I belong there. I didn't feel like it made sense of why I was there. It sounds like I just really am self-deprecating. But this is the true picture of what I was experiencing at the time. I'm in a limo with a professional workout dude, a dentist, a doctor, a professional athlete, and some a business owner, and then me. That's my limo pulling up. So they're like, "What do you do?" And I'm like, "I'm in like software. I write user manuals for a software company." But what's your story?

Eric Huffman: "I shut down my company once."

Ben Higgins: Yeah. Like super great town, only child, loving family. I felt like I didn't belong. So as a result, I thought, Hey, if I just stay on the sidelines, and do what I've done my whole life, which is enter into conversations and relationships when I know I can be seen and then exit out when things get hard or when I feel like I'm getting pushed aside, if I can just exit out of that before somebody pushes me out, then I'll be safe. I'll be good. And I did. I did for the first four weeks until a huge moment for me that changed my life forever happened.

Eric Huffman: Several rose ceremonies into the season, a producer unexpectedly pulled Ben aside and told him-

Ben Higgins: "Ben, I don't like you?" I said, "What do you mean you don't like me?" That's like my biggest fear. He goes, "I don't like you because I don't know you. You don't let anybody get to know you." And as a result, you're a shell of yourself." And it struck me. It shut me down. Because for the first time in my life, somebody had lovingly confronted me.

I had somebody for the first time say, "I think I'm gonna like you enough if you allow me to get to know you enough, if you actually let me dig into your life a bit." So we sat down that day for four hours. And at the end, I admitted to him the thing I had never admitted before is which is I do, I feel like the outsider, I feel unlovable, I feel unlikable. I feel like nobody really wants to get to know me and when they will get to know me, they won't like me. So if I protect myself and never let anybody get to know me, and they don't like me, my excuse is, "Well, they just never got to know me." That's the moment still to this day that's reconstructed how I see myself and how I see others and how I see pain and vulnerability.

Eric Huffman: After that, for our conversation, viewers of The Bachelorette actually witnessed the wall that Ben had been hiding behind come crashing down.

Ben Higgins: I actually like started to allow myself to open up and understanding myself while at the same time being filmed and watched by 13 million people. I was discovering myself. You also have a lot of time on that show to sit and think. There's no TVs, there's no cell phones, there's no books, you just sit and you think a lot. So I had time to start to pray through this stuff to start to meditate on this stuff.

And then I was kind of like word vomiting myself anytime I got a chance. You know what I'm learning about myself today? I don't know if I like myself. You know what I'm learning about myself today? I feel unlovable. You know what I'm learning about myself today? I don't think I'm ever going to find a partner that loves me or likes me.

Eric Huffman: On the set of Bachelorette you're saying these things.

Ben Higgins: Yeah, because it was the only place I could. None of my friends were there. I was digging in as best I could. I think that was just what I needed. But it's also probably they're like, "This guy has some stuff to work out. What is wrong with this guy?"

Eric Huffman: Who knew that the Christian kid from the Midwest would find himself on the set of The Bachelorette! And it all escalated to this super vulnerable moment that you had with the bachelorette with  Kaitlyn.

[clip - Ben from the Bachelorette]

Ben Higgins: I think my fear, my biggest fear, I guess, is the idea that you could be not loved back or maybe possibly unlovable. And I do think that comes from past relationships. Because I haven't had many long-term girlfriends. I did have that one relationship I was telling you about. That was something that was serious at some level. And I don't know if there was ever a mutual love, right? I deeply cared for that person and I loved that person. Did she love me back? It's hard to say no. If you put yourself out there and get rejected, that hurts. And it definitely affects you.

Expressing now publicly allowed me a freedom. It was, "I don't have to hide this anymore. I can actually start to confront it. I can actually start to heal from it." So that was the start of me taking a deep breath and saying I've got a journey ahead of me and I know what it is I'm gonna go after.

Eric Huffman: Fans of the show watched months later, when the episode aired, been washed with his parents so nervous for the response that he'd get from the outside world.

Ben Higgins: The response was the best response I've ever gotten from anything I've ever done on television, which was "I feel that way also. You've helped me feel less alone. You've connected me to your story because you said something that I felt that I've never expressed."

Eric Huffman: What did you realize in that moment about the world and people living in it?

Ben Higgins: Wow, there's is pain, that there's hurt, that people need an outlet. They feel alone. They don't know where to turn. I was realizing that people felt more alone than I ever understood or I ever realized. All of us have pain. So our pain can actually be a beautiful connecting point for us to come into unison with each other in kinship and say, "I get it. I know you're hurting, and I just want to be there."

Eric Huffman: Out of 26 contestants, Ben was the runner-up on Season 11 of The Bachelorette. And almost immediately after, he was chosen to be the next Bachelor.

Ben Higgins: You go from beyond this bachelor show where you're not the focus, and you're sitting on the sideline to every other person and you can hide easily again. Then you get to be a bachelor, and everything's focused on you. You get invited to the coolest parties. You're on the cover of People magazine, you walk through the grocery store and there's your face. You walk through an airport and people know you. And then you get put on this show and you get, you know, 30 beautiful people from all over the world coming on to date you.

And at that point, I hadn't had a date other than the bachelorette in years. I was not a desirable Bachelor in Denver. I was trying to figure my way through this city. And then all of a sudden, all these people are showing up like, "Hey, I came all this way to see if we had something. This makes no sense. This got to be a funny joke at some point.

Eric Huffman: Ben called one of his closest friends for a reality check.

Ben Higgins: I called him, I said, "Here's the thing I need to tell you. I'm really liking this attention but I don't know where that goes. Is this how I'm going to make a living and how my family is going to see me, that I'm a famous guy?" And he told me this. He goes, "Ben, what if you started to use all of this for something other than yourself, something greater than yourself? What if this thing was never meant to be about you? That little piece of advice from him changed the way I saw everything.

Eric Huffman: Realizing he needed to do more with the platform that he'd been given, he set out to heal some of the pain and isolation that he and so many others felt. For the first time in his life, Ben felt connected to people, to fans all around the world, through their shared pain. And instead of being focused inward, Ben was able to hear their stories.

Ben Higgins: I'm talking to these people and it's wrecking me. But yet it was opening up something beautiful. And what that beautifulness was was truth and the truth of... Their stories are real. And so if God exists within those stories, and if God is here and present amongst us, then what do I learn from their stories, and what I do learn about God from their stories?

Eric Huffman: Today, Ben has 1.2 million followers on Instagram, a platform that He now uses to shine a spotlight on some of the most extraordinary people he's encountered due to his fame. People like Annie.

Ben Higgins: Annie's friend reached out to me at one point on Instagram and said, "Hey, can you make a video for Annie? She's dying of cystic fibrosis. She has three weeks left to live. She's big fan of the show." So her friend did an awesome and compiled all these videos from all these people that she was fan of. And Annie watched it and I got a message back from her friend who said, "Annie really enjoyed the video."

[clip – Annie]

Annie: This is really a sad time in my life because I don't want it to end. But every time I get these videos, it distracts me and it makes me forget about what's going on. And I couldn't be more grateful for all of it.

Ben Higgins: There's something in that moment that stuck with me because I had just spent 15 seconds on a video with a girl who has three weeks to live. She watched it and enjoyed it. So I asked her friend if I could reach out to Annie and she said yes. And so I did. And Annie and I started a friendship in her last few weeks that I'll hold on to for the rest of my life. Because she knew she was passing away. She had been declined her third lung transplant, that's why she knew she had much time to live.

And in that last few weeks, she allowed me the space to ask your questions that mattered. What does it feel like to know that you're dying? What lessons on earth do you wish you could still share with those around you? And Annie's wisdom, and I don't want to go too far, because I would love for people to read the book, but the whole section's called "But a Breath". Because she claims and says that death is beautiful, and can be beautiful but also I understand that for all of us, life is but a breath. So what are we going to do with it? At what urgency are we going to confront injustice? At what urgency are we going to stay curious? At what urgency are we going to love others well? Because we don't know when it's going to be taken from us? What am I going to do with this time that I have here, be it 100 years, be it, for her, 22?

Eric Huffman: After everything you've been through all the struggles, all the darkness all the seasons of doubt, you kept coming back to Jesus. Can you put a finger on why you came back to Jesus as opposed to going some other route?

Ben Higgins: One, is because in my most authentic pursuit to find truth, wherever it may lie, the words of Jesus always showed up. The way Jesus lived life always showed up, it always prove true. If we love others well and if we love God well, everything else seems to fall on line, everything else seems to make more sense. That's one reason.

The second is because there's moments in my life where I believe Jesus has interceded in my life in a way that I cannot deny that He exists. And then I think the final is that on my pursuit of trying to figure out this whole thing, the idea that there's a God that will give me endless amounts of mercy and grace, and that would suffer and welcome me in and also give me the, I guess, desired to love those who are hurting the most well, that's a God I want to follow.

Eric Huffman: Ben never found lasting love on The Bachelor, but he did find his fiancee, Jessica, on Instagram. After he saw a picture of her on social media, he slid into her DMs and a couple has talked every day since. And pretty soon if everything goes according to plan, Ben will no longer be a bachelor. He and Jessica are set to tie the knot this November.

As I listened to Ben's story, I couldn't help thinking about someone closer to home, the young man in my congregation who's walked a remarkably similar path. Like Ben, Cam is one of those guys who seems to have it all. He's tall, athletic, and handsome. And also like Ben, he was thrust into the national spotlight. But behind the scenes, he has dealt with more than his share of struggles, including serious injuries, setbacks, insecurities, and sacrifice.

Cam, how are you doing, man?

Cam Ayala: I'm doing well, Eric. Glad to be here with you.

Eric Huffman: I've been wanting to do this for several months now-

Cam Ayala: Likewise.

Eric Huffman: ...ever since we first got together at the coffee shop.

Cam Ayala: Mm-hmm.

Eric Huffman: Cam started watching my church's Sunday services shortly after COVID forced us to close our doors and together exclusively online. And like many men in their 20s, his motivations for tuning in weren't entirely pure.

Cam Ayala: I was interested in a girl who is a member here. To be honest, I hadn't gone to church in I can't tell you how many years. I grew up Christian and predominantly went to the church of Christ. And when I went to college, I didn't really, you know, participate in that. And then after college wasn't really something that I was on a constant basis.

And when this young lady had told me about your sermons, specifically ones about swipe right, the dating, in my mind it's like, okay, she is giving me the playbook. You know, it's like watching any romantic comedy. Like guys, I'm not gonna watch a romcom but it's like, no, that's the syllabus, that's the way to their heart.

So the specific one about "Are your dream date's dream date?", that really struck a chord with me because it's like I have had always really high expectations in what I was looking for in a significant other, girlfriend, and future spouse. But then I reflected into myself like, am I living that life?

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Cam Ayala: It's almost kind of hypocritical.

Eric Huffman: Cam didn't end up being his dream date's dream date, but he kept coming around The Story, and over time, I witnessed his attention shifting from girls to God.

Cam Ayala: All of my best friends are married or engaged or in serious relationships. So I kind of felt like the odd man out and literally have tried everything. I tried to find that person and I did feel incomplete because I've been single most of my life. The way that you kind of position that in some of your previous podcasts and sermons about singleness does not mean incompleteness, it really did take the focus away from me trying to woo this girl and be a godly man to have her be my girlfriend. And you know, more than that to me reprioritizing why I was truly brought back to my relationship with God.

Eric Huffman: Cam grew up here in the Houston area. And like Ben, sports became his identity throughout middle in high school.

Cam Ayala: Three-sport athlete: baseball, basketball, and football. But basketball was always my passion.

Eric Huffman: And how much did sports mean to you at that point in your life?

Cam Ayala: It was everything. I'm six-four so I'm not super short but I was a relatively small forward. And growing up in five-eight Houston basketball, I remember my freshman year of high school, I was literally guarding seven-footers. And Jimmy Butler, who's in the NBA, he was in my district. I had to guard him several times.

Eric Huffman: How did that work out?

Cam Ayala: Actually pretty good.

Eric Huffman: You locked him down?

Cam Ayala: I locked him down. I locked him down.

Eric Huffman: Man, I need your autograph.

Cam Ayala: But for me, it was one of my coaches said, "There's only two things, Cam, in life that you have control over. It's your attitude and your effort. You're not going to be the most athletic player, you're not going to be the fastest or the strongest but if you just really become the hard-nosed, gritty player and you're diving on the court for those loose balls, and you have that winner mentality, you'll be victorious on and off the basketball court."

Eric Huffman: There's a reason Cam's coaches knew that he could never be the fastest or strongest player. At age 11, Cam was diagnosed with a chronic health condition. His parents first realized something was wrong when he played in a YMCA summer league.

Cam Ayala: Some of the parents and coaches noticed when I was running up and down the basketball court that it looked like I was kind of limping. And I had a lot of lower back pain after every game and my parents were like, "We need to take you to the doctor." Because you know around that 11-year-old, you're going through growth spurts and puberty and everything's awkward for everyone. You're not super coordinated.

And when I went to an orthopedic doctor here in Houston, they said, "Well, your right leg is about an inch and a half shorter than your left, which that would explain the lower back pain. It's like playing with one shoe on and one shoe off. And then he also said, "I noticed some black spotting in your right knee that could be cancerous-

Eric Huffman: Good Lord.

Cam Ayala: ...and we need to basically do an emergency bone biopsy to rule that out. Just kind of picturing being age 11 and you hear the C word, cancer, and your mind really does kind of spiral out of control.

Eric Huffman: Your mom is probably freaking out.

Cam Ayala: Oh, she was. She was, yeah. And it was after getting that surgery on my knee that about two, three weeks after I started to develop this really bad, chronic, and progressive swelling. And I think most patients, anytime you have any surgical intervention, post-operative swelling is pretty common, right?

Eric Huffman: Yeah.

Cam Ayala: If you have knee replacement or ACL, any type of those standard injuries, you're going to have some swelling. That's inevitable. But mine was getting worse and worse even with physical therapy. So we're like, "Something's wrong here." So that led to this whole I want to say about a year of going to the top specialists in the Medical Center here in Houston, trying to get consensus and find a diagnosis too, which ultimately led to me being diagnosed with a condition called lymphedema.

The first thing is, is when they officially gave me the diagnosis. This was before, you know, where you could just Google things. The internet was still very much in its infancy. So I would get the trifold pamphlet. You have lymphedema, what's next? And when you open up the pamphlet, immediately you see these worst-case scenarios, like patients with elephantiasis-

Eric Huffman: Oh my gosh.

Cam Ayala: ...which is just a huge extremities arms and legs. And I was also told hey, "By the way, this disease has no cure and it is progressive in nature and you're just gonna have to deal with it for the rest of your life."

Eric Huffman: And you'll never play sports again? What were they saying?

Cam Ayala: Well, they give you this long laundry list of activities and things to avoid. Avoid bug bites. Avoid any type of abrasions or cuts on your knees. It's like I played basketball and football. That's inevitable. You're gonna get bumps and bruises. Any 11 or 12-year-old boy or girl is gonna go through that. So it really did kind of put this hypochondria, paranoia, and just kind of timidness to me that I was scared to just even ride my bike around the neighborhood, because (a) my leg was so swollen I physically couldn't. But I was scared if I fell off the bike and if I cut my leg, my leg would blow up to the size of these horrific images I was seeing in these pamphlets.

And finally, when they did say lymphedema, they said, "Well, here's the treatment protocol. You basically go to a therapist who's going to massage it and then wrap it in these very heavy, thick bandages, that you have to wear it 24/7 for eight weeks. Until we can get the swelling down, you then have to wear compression garments basically for the rest of your life. Like really thick grade. Not like the cool Under Armour, Nike, Lululemon compression that's pretty acceptable now in athletics but like medical grade, very thick, very uncomfortable, and kind of just looked like pantyhose.

And frankly, I got teased a lot playing sports. They would literally chant pantyhose when I was at the free-throw line playing the opposing teams.

Eric Huffman: That was like your nickname, a term of derision, pantyhose?

Cam Ayala: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: That'll traumatize you.

Cam Ayala: Well, and spice boy, too, because the Spice Girls were really popular during that time. And because of the leg length discrepancy, I had to wear a platform custom in my shoes. So I'd have really cool Michael Jordan shoes, but there would be an inch added to it. So it literally looked like a platform.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Cam Ayala: So just a lot of embarrassment and personal shame. But honestly, I use that at a young age to fuel my work ethic and to not only prove the coaches wrong and the opposing team wrong, but really to myself that I could meet a physical challenge if I really just stayed driven and focused on that, regardless of how much pain it was causing me on every single day.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, that's amazing. I can't imagine being in those shoes and what it was like for you to try and continue to live a normal childhood, to try and continue to play sports facing all those limitations, assuming it was painful.

Cam Ayala: Yeah, it is really. It really is. So it's a chronic, painful swelling that can only be addressed by compression and elevation. And it doesn't go away.

Eric Huffman: Have you been wearing those compression things ever since?

Cam Ayala: Every day. Yeah, yeah. We're in one right now.

Eric Huffman: Right now. Compression tights haven't completely controlled his lymphedema. In 2014, Cam's life was interrupted again by a series of surgeries. He was a 25-year-old bachelor, working at an advertising agency in Austin when one day he was climbing out of his truck and his knee locked up, leading to the most intense pain he'd ever felt. His roommates rushed him to the hospital, doctors had no idea what to make of his condition.

Cam Ayala: And he ordered some MRIs and he said, "I've been an orthopedic surgeon for 25 years and I've never seen this much swelling in a limb that didn't have a torn ACL or MCL or any other acute injuries. I think you have an infection." So that led to emergency surgery where they basically opened up and cleaned the knee out. That episode of infection in itself is terrible because when I'm recovering in the hospital from anywhere from two to fourteen days, then they put a PICC line IV antibiotic in me, which is really, really strong antibiotics, and that lasts for eight weeks. So that's one episode.

So from 2014 to present day here in 2021, I've had nine episodes of infection, which is equated to 13 major surgeries. It's like I get progress, I start going through physical therapy, I get my life back on track, and then sporadically I'm back in OR, I'm back on heavy antibiotics, my life is on hold. I've lost friends, girlfriends, job promotions, really anything that had positive momentum was two steps forward, 20 steps back.

Eric Huffman: Imagine the frustration of being a 20-something bachelor with your whole life ahead of you and then almost overnight, as all your friends are getting married and going on vacations, you're bound to a wheelchair, forced to learn how to walk again. Not only did Cam begin to pity himself, he couldn't fight the feeling that his potential dating partners started to pity him as well.

Cam Ayala: I just wanted to be this male figure of "I'm the one who's supposed to be the strong supportive one. I'm supposed to take care of you." And I think I know a lot of men, we get kind of prideful and we have this society that says, "You know, hey, chin up, muscle through it. You don't need to be weak." I honestly would feel like less of a man every time I had one of those infections because it's like regardless of how strong I thought I was, I wasn't strong enough to beat the infection, I wasn't strong enough to keep these women interested in me even when I was basically at rock bottom.

Eric Huffman: Oh, sounds awful. I can feel that pain from a second-degree kind of empathetic way. But how have you dealt with all this? It's a lot of... I mean, you don't want to be a sob story. I know that now. And you still look like a typical young athletic guy who could get most girls he wanted out in the world, right? But you deal with this reality too and you have now for years. So with all of that in mind, all that you've been through, how do you cope with it? And how do you think about God in terms of everything?

Cam Ayala: Well, to be honest, up until recently, every time I had one of these episodes of infection, I would blame God or I wouldn't talk to Him at all. I would just completely be numb to it. I would say mostly, it was bitterness. I was like, "What am I doing wrong to deserve this?" So there was a lot of disappointment. And instead of filling my life with prayer, and scripture, and turning to God, and using this as a learning opportunity, I just for lack of better words, I was basically an atheist. I was not a believer at all. I wasn't going to church and would turn to things like alcohol and drugs. And when I was single, a lot of dating, a lot of women.

Eric Huffman: And I'm sure you had your share of dark moments. Can you take me to like one of the ones that stands out, a truly dark moment?

Cam Ayala: I would say when I was about 26, so I was living in Los Angeles, and I was going through my second bout of infection in LA, I just felt so, so alone. I thought I was going to be alone for the rest of my life. I just remember thinking to myself, who's going to want to marry me? What kind of father am I going to be where I can't play with my kids, I can't walk my daughter down the aisle because I can't walk at all? I had suicidal thoughts. And I've never even told my parents that.

So if I'm being honest with myself, that was probably the lowest I've been is when I almost wanted to call the nurses in and say, "Hey, give me the drip that's going to end this all because this is not a quality of life at all." There's a daily pain. Anytime I'd make any type of progress in my life, personally, professionally, financially, one of these episodes of infection happens and I'm back worse off than where I was initially.

Eric Huffman: The exhausting rounds of ups and downs continued for years. And throughout his late 20s, Cam was in and out of the hospital, undergoing one surgery after another until two years ago during one of his healthy seasons, he was nominated by a friend for Season 15 of The Bachelorette with Hannah Brown.

Cam Ayala: I was 30 years old when I was casted. So I was one of the relatively older contestants. Most of the guys are like in their early to mid-20s. So it's like those boys, been there, done that. You know, I am so ready to be a husband and ultimately a father. That was kind of the platform and what I was running on. And those were the conversations that I was having with Hannah Brown. That like, "Hey, this is why I'm here," kind of thing.

But I think the problem is, is that we've seen such a shift in the prominence in social media that a lot of people do it just to get that social media fame. That they'll go and put on this front for the cameras, almost like you know, a movie star, and then when the show ends, you have all of these opportunities to do things on Instagram and Facebook and appearances, and you're a public figure. You weren't truly there for love or as the vernacular, everyone knows you're not there for the right reasons.

Eric Huffman: Right. But you were.

Cam Ayala: I can honestly say that I was. Because I didn't care about all the social media stuff. So, for me, it's like, If I'm going to do this, I want America to witness a real love story.

Eric Huffman: And you're gonna give it to us.

Cam Ayala: I was gonna give it to us.

Eric Huffman: Okay. So how did it go? Tell me about that experience.

Cam Ayala: It did not go great. But it started so strong. It started strong in the sense that the night that I met Hannah, this was even before we went into the Bachelor mansion, they had basically this live studio audience. It was the night she was announced as America's next Bachelorette. Their producers randomly selected five guys out of the 30 to meet her, and I'm backstage and the producer, "Hey, what are you going to do? You know, this is your first impression and you're getting a head start in all the other guys who aren't even going to meet her for three days after this. What are you gonna do?" I'm like, "I guess I'll write a poem or something." And they're like, "No, we want you to rap for her." And I'm like, "Okay."

Eric Huffman: They told you to rap?

Cam Ayala: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: Because that's how the first claim to fame is. Cam's rap.

Cam Ayala: Yeah, Cam's rap.

Eric Huffman: Let's hear it. Come on.

Cam Ayala: Okay, let me see if I'll remember it. When they said it was you it was a pleasant surprise / Now I'm standing here looking straight in the eyes / All the other dudes got me feeling so stressed / So I say all aboard, hot mess express / I'm ready for love and I'm ready to feast / I want to fall for you like I fell for Hannah Beast / So take my hand and let’s go for a ride / This is the only time an Aggie is gonna say Roll Tide!"

Eric Huffman: I love it. That's great.

Cam Ayala: She was a big Bama girl, Alabama Hannah and I went to A&M. So we were like sworn enemies on that. It was like Romeo and Juliet.

Eric Huffman: You found a way to bridge the divide.

Cam Ayala: I guess so. And doing that, she gave me, I guess, the first rose. I was actually the first contestant in Bachelor history to have a rose before the show even started. So there was immediately a huge target put on my back with all the guys because I walked into the mansion already having a rose. I wasn't being sent home night one. And that's always the big pressure for everyone. "You know, don't get sent home night one and don't cry."

Eric Huffman: Well, but it started so good. Why did you say that it didn't go great? What was bad about it?

Cam Ayala: So a couple of weeks into it. So about the second week that I'm out there, it was just really weighing heavy on my heart that I hadn't really had a whole lot of time with her, and I knew that eventually I would have to have this conversation with her about my lymphedema. And I was never public about my lymphedema. If you look at my Instagram or other social platforms, I never talked about it. It was something that I've always hidden. I didn't want any sympathy or any special treatment for it. It was just something that existed but wasn't like a big part of who I was publicly.

Eric Huffman: Right.

Cam Ayala: So I had a lot of anxiety talking to her about this. And in my mind, I was thinking, "Okay, well, if you're here to win this thing and if the prize is this woman's heart in marriage," I started thinking about wedding vows. And one of the wedding vows I think is most sacred is in sickness and in health. So I had to be very, very honest and transparent with her relatively early on about my sickness because I wanted to make sure it was something that she could handle.

So I pulled her aside one day at one of the group dates, and I was like, "Look, hey, I need to tell you about this.

[clip – Cam talking with Hannah, The Bachelorette]

Just a little forewarning. Like, this is not an easy conversation for me to have. But back in the year 2014, I was getting off work and all of a sudden, my right leg locked up on me and all of a sudden, I was running a fever, and they had to rush me to hospital. Essentially, they told me that I needed to get an amputation. So I didn't want to go in tonight's rose ceremony without being fully transparent with you and given you the full picture of who I am."

Hannah: Thank you so much.

Cam Ayala: And she actually received it very well. But that changed very quickly. So about 45 minutes after that conversation, she had talked to another guy in the house.

Hannah: I first want to say I did appreciate you telling me what you did today. But I just had a conversation with Mike and was told that, you know, you thought you were going home this morning and let all the guys know. And I just feel like it's an interesting time for you to bring up this story and like a ditch effort to stay. So I want to know if that's true.

Cam Ayala: Sure, sure. So this morning, I did want to make it clear to guys that I did have some very serious that I wanted to talk to you about.

Hannah: Well, I heard a pity rose.

Cam Ayala: Pity rose? That was literally the first time in a long time that I had felt like I had to defend myself for having this chronic disease. And what was really sad is our initial conversation about me talking about the lymphedema was so cut and spliced up that nobody in the audience or whoever watched it could even hear the word lymphedema or understand why I was telling her that.

Eric Huffman: Did they ever make it clear in that episode that you have lymphedema and what it is?

Cam Ayala: No.

Eric Huffman: So what does that do to you and your public persona? Like, what's the fallout?

Cam Ayala: The fallout fell immediately was I got sent home that night. So I got eliminated because she basically thought I was lying about my health and I was doing it as a way to leverage staying around longer. And when America viewed the episode, immediately, they're going to side with the lead because you know, I was naturally painted as a villain in that situation.

So I can't tell you how many hundreds of direct messages I got on different social media platforms, people making me feel like just the lowest piece of dirt for doing literally what the show had requested of us, to be honest, to be vulnerable, and to be real. When people would say, "Cam's the worst. Who would want to be with him?" type of thing. And I would get those on a daily basis. I even had death threats sent to me. So I just started believing all the things that these complete strangers who didn't know the true me were saying, and it truly was and still is PTSD.

Eric Huffman: And things online live forever.

Cam Ayala: Exactly.

Eric Huffman: So how have you coped?

Cam Ayala: Well, I did do one session of therapy, but I just didn't find that it helps, so I turned to other things. I turned to drinking, I turned to being single Cam again, and trying to fill it with unfulfilling relationships. But honestly, I think the biggest therapy that I had was listening to your early sermons on the swipe right. It really completely changed my perspective on how I should be viewing not just dating but myself as an individual. Because I'm single I'm not in complete.

Eric Huffman: Right, exactly. Yeah, you can be married and incomplete.

Cam Ayala: Absolutely.

Eric Huffman: You can be married and very lonely and you can be single and fulfilled. I mean, it's got to be disheartening, to say the least, to struggle for years with this disease mostly in secret because nobody understands it and then to finally come out, and then it's just completely turned against you. And you're just raked over the coals because of it. I can only imagine what that must have been like.

So how have you turned this negative around?

Cam Ayala: I'll never forget a phone call I received. It was from a gentleman who runs a nonprofit out in New York. It's called LE&RN, which stands for Lymphatic Education & Research Network. He said, "Cam, I read about you on a lymphedema blog." He was like, "There's someone very special I want you to meet next weekend in Dallas. It's at a breast cancer conference." And I'm like, "Well, I don't see the connect there. But I knew that I guess a lot of breast cancer patients can end up establishing lymphedema." So I'm like, "Okay, he just wants me to go there. This could be good for me" type of thing. I go there, and the person giving the keynote speech is Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates.

Eric Huffman: What?

Cam Ayala: And the first part of her introduction, she starts telling the story about this little boy who established lymphedema and had gone through many episodes of infections, and almost lost his right leg. And I'm thinking, "Holy crap, she's telling my story." She was like, "And he's actually sitting here right now. Cam Ayala, will you stand up?"

Eric Huffman: What?

Cam Ayala: In my mind I'm thinking it's Bobby Boucher's mom from Waterboy. You know, the lady from office in Titanic knows who I am. So I stand up and get a standing ovation from all of these oncologists and patients, survivors, and I'm like, "This is my calling." And never in a million years (a) would I think I would do reality TV but would I embrace this lymphedema that is something I had been hiding and running away from, now I can't avoid it.

So later that evening, Kathy asked me to accompany her in dinner. And that was a dinner that forever changed my life. She said, "Cam, one thing I need you to understand" because she has lymphedema as well, she said, "Your pain is your strength and this lymphedema community needs you. We don't have a male spokesperson. And there's so many little boys and little girls out there that can seek inspiration from your story. I'm asking you personally to join us in this fight."

[clip - Cam's speech at a lymphedema conference]

The theme of this conference is, it's all about you. So those of you who have lymphedema and you're comfortable, stand up right now.

Eric Huffman: Cam accepted the challenge and found himself giving the keynote address at a Lymphedema Patient Symposium at the Harvard University Medical School.

Cam Ayala: My name is Cam Ayala and I am a primary lymphedema patient.

Eric Huffman: From that day on, Cam began to pursue a new career in Houston, bringing relief to others suffering with lymphedema.

Cam Ayala: How great does it feel to be in a room surrounded by people who deal with the same daily struggles? One of my mentors, she told me a quote that I'll never forget, that just resonates with me. She says, "The purpose of life is to find your gifts. But the meaning of life is giving that gift away to others." And using my personal lymphedema testimony, I have a little name badge here that says "I have lymphedema". So when I'm going into a clinic and I'm talking to a physician, or when I'm into a patient's home, that's the first thing I point to. I say, "I'm one of you. I'm here for you. And beyond me lending my voice and my testimony, I'm here to just listen."

And though I've had all those negative things on social media, the flip side is, is I've had patients reach out to me from Morocco, from South America, from Italy, from Australia, all over thanking me for my courage in coming forward. And one positive comment to me trumps a thousand negative comments. And I've gotten that tenfold.

Eric Huffman: Of course. Of course. What you described just now is basically what we talk about all the time in terms of what Jesus did for us. I mean, Jesus becoming a person and coming to walk with us is like God saying, I'm here for you. I'm one of you. And I hurt like you. I believe like you.

And I think your story is, in a very specific way, kind of similar. No one can speak to what it's like to have lymphedema and to be misunderstood and misdiagnosed and to feel absolutely alone and hopeless and depressed at times, no one can speak to that like someone who's lived it again. So you're living that now. You're being Jesus to these people in a way that I'm not even sure you quite grasp yet. I think you're starting to.

Cam Ayala: Starting to.

Eric Huffman: I think that's the life in your eyes. What do you think Kathy Bates meant when she said what she said about pain?

Cam Ayala: Harnessing the pain that I've had experienced and still experience, I'm going to continue likely to experience, I count those blessings when I don't have pain and you learn much stronger appreciation for those moments that you don't have it. And you also, for me, I'd actually like to share a verse. This is one of my favorite verses that I recently discovered. It's in 2 Corinthians 4:8. It says, "We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don't know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us. And when we are not down, we get up again."

And I can't think of a better verse that describes what I've gone through, and actually just giving praise to God that you gave me a condition that has given me so much character and given me a work ethic, and now is my platform to show the love of Jesus to other people and to show God's mercy because it is a manageable condition, but you have to put the work in. And I try to preach that to all of my patients.

Eric Huffman: When we sat down together a few months ago, Cam was considering a major life decision. Having already endured 15 knee surgeries, he knew that he couldn't keep putting his life on hold every time he got an infection, and he felt that it was time to get off the sidelines and fight for a better life. So just a few days after our conversation, Cam headed north to the Cleveland Clinic, where he knew that the best doctors in the world were about to tell him one of two things. Either that a total knee replacement was a possible solution to his lymphedema or that an above-the-knee amputation was the only option left.

Cam Ayala: Today is Monday, February 8th, and I'm here in Cleveland, Ohio at the Cleveland Clinic. I feel optimistic. I actually had a really good morning where I had several of my patients and colleagues and obviously friends and families send me encouraging text. So this is definitely the most supportive I felt and definitely want to thank God for that.

Eric Huffman: So what happens if you go to Cleveland and they tell you, it's time to take the leg?

Cam Ayala: They're taking my leg, they're not taking my spirit, they're not taking my smile, they're not taking my love for God. I've had the esteemed pleasure of working with a lot of amputee veterans. So I know it's not the end of the world and I know it's just another opportunity, again, to provide inspiration and again, turning that pain into triumph. And I think that's something that anybody can learn a lesson from regardless of your health, your mental health really.

Eric Huffman: Ultimately, Cam's doctors cleared him for a total knee replacement to save his leg. That surgery was back in May. And the recovery has been his toughest yet. After he was discharged from the hospital, he was rushed back in for an unexpected blood clot just days later. That's when he thought to himself, "God wouldn't put me through this unless He knew He could get me through this." Today he's in physical therapy seven days a week learning how to walk again.

Cam still shows up to church and a wheelchair most Sundays, pushed by his amazingly supportive dad. But his spirit hasn't been crushed and he's getting better and better every day. He told us that Jesus in The Story community and his family and close friends have been the ones who've kept him fighting.

It's not every day you get to sit down with two of TV's most famous Bachelors. But neither of these conversations went the way that I expected they might. From the outside looking in. Both of these guys seemed to have it all. They're good-looking, well-spoken guys from all-American families. Most young men today would probably trade places with these two guys in a heartbeat.

But when Ben and Cam began to share their stories, it was their vulnerability that allowed us to see how beneath the surface these guys are battling the same demons of loneliness and shame that we're all fighting. They wake up every day and choose to wage war against their pain. And that kind of courage is so inspiring. No matter how good your life might look from the outside, I'm guessing there's real pain and shame hidden beneath the surface.

And I hope that the stories in this episode have challenged you to keep fighting the good fight. And most importantly, I hope you heard both Cam and Ben saying that they wouldn't be where they are today without the people God put around them, who loved them every step of the way. Although we're all bound to experience pain and shame in this life, none of us is meant to endure pain or shame alone.

As the Maybe God team worked on this episode, we couldn't stop thinking about the words of author and psychiatrist, Dr. Kurt Thompson in one of the most important episodes we've ever produced. So we decided to close with this clip of our interview with Dr. Thompson from the season three episode called Should We Get Naked Together?

[clip - interview with Dr. Thompson]

Dr. Thompson: One of the things that we notice about neural networks is that those things that tend to be afflicting, affective states that are afflicting, things that I don't like, negative emotions, I can take those in and encode those very, very quickly. For shame, I can encode it in less than three seconds and it will stay with me. For me to encode the felt sense of the compliment that you pay me will take somewhere between 30 and 90 seconds.

So the sheer volume and the work involved for someone to countermand the amount of shame that I'm collecting in my head requires a platoon of people. It's not just a single person's voice that I need to have in my head to counteract what is going on. I need the voices of many people. I need to hear them a lot.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Dr. Thompson: The very neurophysiological phenomenon that we experience is such that when I anticipate turning toward anybody, it ramps up my sense of what it is that I will feel that feels so bad. So naturally with shame, I turn away from anyone, but the very thing that I need is the other in order to help my neural networks be reconnected. But the very thing that I need is the very thing that I will not do on my own.

So this is where, from a kind of a, you know, the anthropology of the biblical narrative, when we look at this whole notion that here we sit as human beings who if we were just stuck in our neurobiology of shame, which we all are, we're not going to turn to other people for help on our own, which is why we got to have somebody come find us.

And there's not another narrative on the planet in which a God who made us comes to find us. Like, I don't know, any of our listeners, I, myself included, like, who doesn't want to have somebody come find them? Now, it's tricky because of course I want you to find me. But the minute that you do, I'm worried that you're going to see the stuff that I've been hiding from myself. And of course, this is what we would say evil tends to do. I'm going to be found and then you're going to see me and then you're going to go. And so it's really tricky. It takes risk to allow ourselves to be loved.

Eric Huffman: To be loved is to really be known.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: And in all of our shame.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: That's too heavy a thing to think about for many of us.

Dr. Thompson: Right.

Julie Mirlicourtois: This episode of Maybe God was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois, Andrea Gentle, and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. As always, our talented editors are Shannon Stephan and Justin Mayer, and our social media guru is Kat Brough. For more information about Maybe God and to connect with us online, head to today. And please don't forget to leave us your glowing reviews on Apple. Thanks for listening, everyone.