The Shame Epidemic
My vacation time barrels to an end. The more I think about the emails piling up, the changes happening day by day, and the reminders that are never as “friendly” as subject lines suggest, the faster time moves. Every blink of the eye is another hour gone, and I start to feel more anxious. The last couple days of my time away is met with topsy-turvy digestive issues, mental anguish, and a desire to have a permanent place to hide. “How in the world can I effectively lead a school,” I think, “when I am on the brink of breakdown?”
I do what I always do. I put on my brave face and my Superwoman cape and hope that no one will detect the fear and fragility that simmers just below the surface. I look at the number of hours in the day and question whether I will ever be the wife and mom I desire to be and whom my family needs me to be. There is a picture of perfect that rests in my consciousness, a sort of reverse Dorian Gray portrait, taunting me and ridiculing me.
I know I am not alone because over the last two weeks, I have had conversations with various people who have all expressed some form of the same feeling. There is a pervasive sense of shame rodeo riding our backs, and we are convincing ourselves that we are not good enough or, just as damaging, getting too big for our britches. My mentor says, “What are you going to do? You won’t make it through the year like this.”
Making any significant change feels like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff with a rubber band strapped to my ankle by someone eerily patting me on the back and commanding me to jump. Yet baby stepping like Bill Murray in What About Bob doesn’t quite feel right either. Instead, as stressful as my current condition is, at least I know what I am dealing with, and as crazy as it sounds, there’s a measure of comfort in that. Then the shame rises again: “How dare you be comfortable in this?”
The worse part is when I start to allow shame to infiltrate and taint my relationship with and understanding of God. Because that unattainable portrait of perfection hangs nailed to the wall of my heart, I begin to consider my sins as irrefutable proof that I do not deserve the grace and salvation of God. And guess what? I don’t! But God never gave it based on my worthiness. It is His free gift. And while He expects His children to repent and obey, missteps don’t lead to Him marching into our lives and snatching away that gift. God knows we are imperfect. He knows that we are flawed. And if we could fix ourselves all by ourselves, He would not have sent Jesus to pay it all for us.
The more I read and study the Word, the more I am convinced that shame is a tactic designed to keep us from growing into purpose and realizing our God-aligned destiny. If we are paralyzed by fear or consumed with replaying every misstep, we forget the majesty and power of a faithful God. He delights in loving us! Not the us of our idealized selves, but the us of our real selves. And if we love Him, we delight in serving Him. While there is a measure of guilt associated with recognizing the sin in our lives, our lack of obedience should never be viewed as a deal breaker. Instead, “obedience is our joyful adventure” (biblical.com). I quite like this phrasing because it replaces obligation and religion, which we know are obliterated with the new covenant, with a heart posture of submission as a result of sincere love and appreciation.
Friend, if no one has told you lately, let me say that I see you trying really hard to be the man or woman God wants you to be. I know that life is hard and that it is difficult to juggle all the balls you have in the air. Take a moment, though, and realign with God. Go back to the Word. Remember that Jesus says, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” Remember that Paul says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Remember that Peter says that we can “Cast all [our] anxieties on [Jesus] because he cares for [us].” Remember that John says, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Seeking perfection is draining and futile, but remember that God says to Paul (and us), “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” When we, like Paul, assume the heart posture of submission, we prosper! So let’s pray for each other that we may with the help of the Holy Spirit step out of shame and into intimacy with our loving Father!
“Therefore most gladly, I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)