Not Letting Shame Name Us
“I’ve just been grumpy today. No real reason, just grumpy.” I told her last night. I thought it was true at the time. Until this morning.
I lay in savasana and I finally recognized the feeling I was feeling. It wasn’t just grumpiness, it was shame, guilt, embarrassment. There have been a number of choices I’ve made this week that caused these feelings, things I said, things I did, things I left undone. I didn’t just feel grumpy. I felt ashamed, and that paralyzed me.
At Bible study this week we talked about the Samaritan woman at the well with Jesus. We talked a lot about how Jesus met her and the way he spoke to her. She says, “He knew everything about me.” He speaks truth to her and knows all that she’s done. But, there is nothing in the conversation that communicates shame. He does not shame her. He does not guilt her. There is just grace. Grace and invitation.
What’s truly amazing to me, is that she doesn’t get stuck in shame herself. And there’s reason to speculate from her story that perhaps she has felt shame before. She’s at the well in the middle of the day. She’s isolated. She’s not there when everyone else would be there. There’s also reason to speculate from her story that after this encounter with Jesus she finally feels free from her shame. After she meets Jesus she goes back to town and tells everyone that he knew everything she’d ever done. She’s not scared to draw attention to her past, which the town clearly would have known. She draws attention to it and tells them to come meet this man who spoke truth to her, truth without shame, and they come.
This is so amazing to me because guilt and shame are chains that have my name written all over them. I wear them. I carry them. By way of example, I spent years upon years feeling embarrassed and ashamed for having been mean to some friends at my seventh birthday party. I wouldn’t even look at pictures from the party I felt so much guilt.
This week has been full of new and old failures, new and old reasons to feel guilt and shame.
I’ve said things I shouldn’t have said, asked questions I probably shouldn’t have asked. And as I think about those conversations now, all I feel is embarrassment. There’s my crazy showing. Right there. I see it. I know other people see it. Ugh.
This week one of Sage’s therapists pointed out that I never followed up on a few different things I was suppose to do. Phone calls I was suppose to make, prescriptions I was suppose to fax to people, appointments I was suppose to get scheduled - there’s a lot of those things lately that I’ve been dropping the ball on. Guilt, embarrassment and shame feed on those failures.
To be honest, I have even felt some embarrassment and shame about some of my last few blog posts. The dialogues in my head often start with a resounding, “What was I thinking?!?”
Yesterday, my son was terrified that I wouldn’t show up at his school presentation. I told him that I would and he told me, “You are just going to forget. You always forget everything. You never do what you say you will.” Ugh. Mommy guilt might be the ugliest, right? I felt like I was stabbed right in the heart. Thank you for pointing out something I already know about myself, thank you for pointing out the many ways I fail you every day because you’re living with a broken mama who’s emotionally and physically exhausted. Ugh.
I spent most of yesterday binge watching Netflix and eating chocolate (also decisions which led to their own guilt). At one point Bryan came into the room and said, “I thought you were going to write?” He meant it innocently, an honest question, but it poked at my guilt and shame.
These are just a few little examples. But, the truth is it doesn’t take much for guilt and shame to take over the reigns. They’ve got my name and number. They are ready and waiting the second I slip, the second I start to second guess a decision, the second I feel embarrassed about something I did or said or didn’t do.
Most weeks I make a number of choices that became quick fuel for guilt and shame.
Here’s what I’m realizing about guilt and shame and even just plain old embarrassment… they are chains that grow and they keep us from moving forward into action. At least for me. When I let these feelings take the reigns then they begin to overpower other areas of my life. They create their own destructive cycle.
I feel guilt or embarrassment about one decision, so I start to beat myself up, to feel shame, which leads me to make another poor decision (like maybe eating a pan of brownies - yes you read that right), then I feel shame about that decision, and start to label myself negatively, which usually leads to another poor decision. It becomes a vicious cycle of inactivity and poor decisions. I don’t just feel shame, I start to say that it is who I am. I let it name me.
I start to say, “I am a terrible person. I never think of others. I always make poor decisions. I always say too much. I always fail. I never follow through on commitments. I never complete things I start. I always. I never. I am.” And on and on it goes.
When I believe these things about myself, I start to act out of them. I isolate myself as the Samaritan woman did. I pull away. I close off my heart. I make poor decisions. I drop all the spinning plates and decide I can’t do anything anyway so why try. I get stuck in inactivity.
That’s how guilt and shame and embarrassment work, right? They separate and isolate us. They lie to us about our identity. They aren’t truth tellers. They want us paralyzed and inactive and they are very effective at getting us there.
Grace does the opposite.
God does the opposite. He speaks truth, he knows everything about the Samaritan woman and he tells her the truth about her actions, even the less than pretty one’s, but he doesn’t stay there. He doesn’t label her with those actions. He tells her she’s had five husbands and is living with a man who is not her husband. He tells her what she’s done, but I think it’s interesting that he doesn’t say she is promiscuous, or label her identity in any way. He just speaks the truth about her actions without allowing those actions to define who she is. Then he moves on from there to extend invitation. Invitation to know the Christ, to worship him in spirit and in truth.
Isn’t that how he meets us? He meets us with grace and asks us, invites us, to move forward with him.
We are not to deny our actions. We are to speak truth. Live truth. Worship in truth. But, we are not to let those actions define our identities. We are not to let the past chain us and paralyze our futures.
I keep thinking of the Apostle Paul in all this. If anyone had reason to feel guilt and shame he did. And yet that’s not what we see in the book of Acts or in his letters. What we find instead is a man who writes in the book of Romans:
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
We see a man who is free. He truthfully acknowledges that he doesn’t always do the good he wants to do. He truthfully acknowledges that he still does what he shouldn’t. But, he doesn’t get hung up there. We see a man who is moving forward in active submission to the Spirit of Grace.
I am tired of this cycle I fall into when I do something that embarrasses me in front of others, when I fail at some project I set my heart on, when I just drop the ball on the multitude of menial tasks that are part of my daily to-do list, when I make a poor choice, when I hurt someone. I want a new cycle.
I want a cycle that starts with truth. Not the false truth that I usually let slip in, the one that starts making identity statements based on my guilt and shame. I don’t want that. I want just pure honest truth. Truth that acknowledges just what happened and why. And then I want to move forward from there to grace. To listening to the spirit about how I need to respond to this mistake, whether that be forgiveness or a new boundary, seeking help, or changing things up and trying something different. I want a cycle that doesn’t get stuck in the circular degrading dialogues of guilt and shame, but instead moves forward in grace.
Grace and peace.
I want to be so convinced that my identity is “God’s beloved” that nothing will shake that identity. Poor choices don’t change that identity. They are just that, poor choices, made in the past, not something that needs to control my present, or dictate my future.
I am God’s beloved. That’s it. And he invites me to abundant grace.
Grace and peace, Bethany