Breaking Up With Shame

Imagine yourself as Eve in the Garden of Eden. You’re walking around, completely at peace, don’t have to worry about what you’re going to wear, you’ve got a hot husband, and you’re in the presence of God! Amazing right? Now, imagine yourself as Eve as she and Adam realize the mistake they’ve made by eating from the tree.

Genesis 3:8-10 says, “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

At this moment, something came into existence that had never existed before – SHAME.

That word has become quite the buzzword over the past few years. There are so many books on the topic and I think that’s for good reason. Up until recently, we haven’t realized how much those 5 letters affect our lives. Brene Brown has done some amazing research in the area of shame and she defines it like this:

“Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame goes beyond guilt. Guilt is just as powerful but its influence is positive while shame’s is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.”

For years, shame was a very prominent feature in my life and I’ve spent a lot of emotional energy carrying it around. I was always a really shy kid. My mom tells a story about a time when I was just a toddler and, in a playpen with a bunch of other babies, I wouldn’t let anyone touch me.  Fast forward to first grade and I’m getting pulled out of classes for “testing” because the teachers are convinced that I have a learning disability (I didn’t). You can imagine how that eroded my courage! In high school and college, I was so shy that you could probably make a case that I had social anxiety, although I would never talk to anyone about how I struggled. I lost 15 pounds my freshman year of college because I was too self-conscious and ashamed to eat by myself in the cafeteria. It was almost impossible for me to use a public restroom until my mid-twenties. All of this led to a pervasive feeling that I just simply didn’t belong. I wasn’t good enough. Don’t get me wrong – I had huge blessings during these years as well, including meeting Jesus when I was 17. I’ll be honest though, even the really great stuff got overshadowed by that nagging thought. I continued to carry that heavy weight.

Brene Brown says that shame needs 3 things to grow exponentially – secrecy, silence, and judgment. The shame I felt about my public bathroom aversion was INTENSE, and I kept it a complete secret. When I was feeling like I didn’t belong somewhere, I would completely shut down and become silent. And my view of God was one of an accountant in the sky that was tallying up all the good things and bad things I had done and was just waiting to mark down the next time I screwed up. All of this was driven by my shame!

As I grew up, I knew that I couldn’t go through my adult life carrying so much shame. Years ago, I began talking with trusted friends and family about my public bathroom aversion and was able to overcome it. More recently, when I’m feeling like I don’t belong, I try to tell someone I know and trust about it. A couple of years ago I was in Portland for a dear childhood friend’s wedding. After her bridal shower the day before the wedding, I drove her back to her rental house and was blessed with some one-on-one time in the midst of wedding craziness. I knew that her family was coming over later so in the back of my mind, I was planning on vacating before that so she could have some quality time with her sisters, parents, etc. We were having such a great conversation that before I knew it, her family was pulling up the drive. Everyone poured in and it was hugs and laughter all around. And at that moment I was hit with my same old narrative –

“YOU DON’T BELONG HERE, this isn’t your family. They are probably wondering why you’re here. They were looking forward to family time and here you are – the outsider.”

As the evening went on, the voice got louder but I couldn’t find an exit point that didn’t feel completely awkward. I could feel myself shutting down and returning to the same patterns that had plagued me for a good portion of my life. At that point, I had a choice. Either wallow in this narrative and grip that watermelon as I would have done years ago or do something different and LAY IT DOWN. I chose to lay it down that night and I approached the bride’s older sister, who is also a great friend of mine. I said to her, “hey, I really didn’t mean to crash your family time tonight. I can go before dinner is served so you can enjoy each other’s company.” Her response was, “Oh my gosh! No, stay! You are a part of our family.” I spent the rest of the evening at ease that I did, in fact, belong there and I was worthy of spending time with them.

Friends, this is exactly what Jesus says to us. When we say yes to him, we become part of the family and nothing can ever separate us from that. Here’s what I love about the rest of that story about Adam and Eve. After God held them accountable for their sin, HE MADE THEM CLOTHES TO WEAR. These are people that caused the downfall of the world and God still took care of them. His grace knows no limits.

Romans 8:35-37 says Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

Ultimately, my journey away from shame has been fully led by Jesus. One of the biggest game changers for me has been knowing God’s Word and what it says about who I am in Christ. An important person for me was a lovely lady named Kathy Ferguson. For about 3 years, she was instrumental in teaching me the Bible in a way I had never experienced it before. It was this experience that allowed me to not only KNOW who God says I am but allow that knowledge to seep into my HEART. My life verse has become Proverbs 31:25 which says,

“She is clothed with strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future.”

I’d love to tell you that I am a Proverbs 31 woman all day every day. That would be a lie. Sometimes it’s a spiritual attack, sometimes I’m tired and haven’t been staying connected with God, sometimes I’m just BUSY… and I’ll look around and realize the weight of shame is right back in my hands. And in those moments, I need my trusted friends and family!

In Hebrews 12, it says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

Did you catch that first part? The huge crowd of witnesses that helps us run the race? Who is that for you? Who are your people? If we’re not letting others into our lives and sharing our struggles, it’s easy for shame to consume us. My choice that night to let my friend into what I was feeling was the difference that made the weekend such an incredible time. If I hadn’t made that choice, I would have robbed myself of that beautiful weekend. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your crowd and let them speak truth into your life! They will remind you of Psalm 34:5 which says

“Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”

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