What if You Finally Break Up with Shame?

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You suck, Instagram.” And I threw my phone on the floor like a toddler being forced to eat peas. The problem? I am not a toddler. I am a 35 year old grown up woman who wears her big girl panties most of the time, but obviously, not today.

I had asked for it—allowing myself to be sucked into the vortex of social media feed until I landed smack-dab in the dark, foul-smelling pit of envy. I resented her and barely knew her. She wasn’t some crazy friend from High School on her 5th round of selfie showing too much cleavage. This insta-prowess was a fierce preacher-woman—attractive and stylish. She was busy doing the hardest of work—loving others well, moving out in her gifts, and being glad in the fruit of her labors. What was this pride lurking so deep within me that I felt unable to simply celebrate her and move on? How crazy that the gnaw in my gut was the same now as it was for me as a 15-year old, acne-ridden freshman hiding out in the choir room during lunch to avoid the horrible pain of not being allowed access to the “cool kids” table. Since when are tiny, filtered squares that capture a millisecond of time the sum total of her life with the power to instigate a 20-year old feeling within me?

I sat like a limp noodle on the edge of my bed, wrapped in a towel post-bath and thought to myself, “Will I ever get over you shame?”

A BLIND DATE WITH THE DEVIL

As I sat on the edge of my bed, I remembered back a few months before when I received a text from a woman in my church saying that she had been intimidated by me for a long time. She wrote that I made her feel insecure and hurt when I did not include her in my friend gatherings. When I read it I felt awful—mostly because I had no idea, and also because me “making someone feel anything” is far more power and responsibility than I am comfortable with. Nevertheless, I went into overdrive with the invites to make it up to her—coffee dates, dinners, clappy-hand emojis, affirming comments on her Facebook posts—the works. But after a few weeks, I was exhausted and wondering if I had yet done enough to be less intimidating and less responsible for her feelings.

Even more recently, I thought back to this past week when I showed up to my friend’s “Christmas Cocktail Party” wearing jeans with holes in the knees. I sat down in a corner of her house, sucking the energy out of the room with my embarrassment and vowing not to move the entire night when I realized I had misread the invite. Finally a friend walked up to me in her gorgeous red dress, black hose, fabulous heels and said, “Hey. You’re pouting. Go change so you don’t do that anymore.” (It was brilliant. And I did).

All of the above scenarios dance with the same devil—his name is shame.

For many of us, shame has become so automatic that we are completely unaware of its presence in our responses. Shame sneaks in subtly through social media feeds, texts bathed in disappointment, and pretty much anytime we feel like a loser who just didn’t do enough. Shame lurks inside something as a simple as a condescending tone or critical glance, or, it can work itself into a tidal wave of bad decisions that effect people on a global scale. Shame tastes like envy, bitterness, resentment, embarrassment, and disappointment—basically every time we feel we have let ourselves or someone else down. And here is where shame festers, grows in strength and power.

The power of shame is in its elusiveness—we have worked hard to hide our secrets. Some secrets we have buried so deep in the closet of our mind that we have forgotten they were ever there in the first place. How loving of God to use something as simple as the inspiring Instagram feed of a stranger to remind us that we have some unpacking to do if we are to locate the garment laying at the bottom of the pile and stinking up the place.

JUST ANOTHER HIT

Like a toxic relationship that beats us down one minute only to pull us back in with words of honey in the next, so is shame. He is a relationship we just can’t seem to quit. We keep coming back to shame because he momentarily numbs the pain of our many imperfections. Shame tells us that there is something we can do, prove, or earn to finally be free of the death we feel when we are not enough. Shame wants to diminish the work of Jesus in our life—he wants to keep us co-dependent on him like an addict in need of a high. Shame wants to be our one and only—he makes it his job to distract us away from staying in curiosity long enough to consider the possibility of another man—a better man.

THE SMOKESCREEN

As a counselor (and on a personal level), I can tell you the majority of my clients stay in abusive relationships because they genuinely believe, with time, they will “fix” their partner—that under the surface, he/she is really a good person. Equally justified in this manner—toxic substances and addictions. Most people believe they are good at heart and have the power to “fix” or “cure” themselves with time. Across the board they believe the “fix” or “cure” will come for them when someone else does “something” (changes, gives them what they need, says they are sorry, and so on). Interestingly enough—the blame-shifting and personal superhero bit have yet to work, hence, they are sitting in my office.

They are hurting and confused because they are standing in smoke. Shame is only a smokescreen of something more sinister at work within us.

We keep coming back to shame because we think something will eventually change. But what we don’t realize is that shame burns from the fire of guilt—guilt that we do not have the power to “fix” ourselves or anyone else. Guilt is the fire. We can see the flame of the fire—we know where it is coming from. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked (Genesis 3:7). Guilt knows we are naked and tells us this is who we are at the bottom of ourselves—guilty. And we hate this. It makes us so dad-gum mad, because we really want to be God. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (3:5). So instead of getting to the painful part of our guilt, we just dance around in the blurred smoke that is killing us.

Exhibit A:

The Experience: I compare myself to another person via social media. > The shame-smoke: I tell myself that I am inadequate and will never be as successful as her. > The guilt-fire: There is something wrong with me. > The Fix: I will assume a false depiction of this person on Instagram until I feel better about myself.

Exhibit B:

The Experience: I am confronted with the fact that I have hurt someone unintentionally. > The shame-smoke: I feel angry that she put an expectation on me to be more than I capable of being and gave me the responsibility of her feelings. > The guilt-fire: There is something wrong with me. > The Fix: I will prove to her that I am not who she thinks I am. And I will prove to myself that I can really be a good friend to everyone.

Exhibit C:

The Experience: I showed up wearing the wrong clothes to a party. > The shame-smoke: I am embarrassed, because I feel vulnerable and stupid. > The guilt-fire: There is something wrong with me. > The Fix: I will pout in a corner until someone notices me, feels sorry for me, and makes me feel better about myself.

Back in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve decided they wanted to rule their own lives without God, they immediately felt naked. They had been naked before and were unashamed—they had nothing to hide from God or from one another. But the minute they both chose to “fix” themselves, they felt it necessary to hide and blame someone else for their problems. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And 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 (Genesis 3:7-8). He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate (Genesis 3:11-13).

Shame is the smoke we hide in when our desire for control is stronger than our willingness to receive or give forgiveness.

I DON’T WANT NO SCRUBS (EH-HEM, FIG LEAVES)

Will we ever have the strength to break up with shame? Absolutely, yes—else Jesus is not who he claims to be. But before I show you that part, let me preface with this: While we may end our relationship with shame, his presence left a mark on our brain this side of mortality. It’s why I can still smell the burnt churros from my high school cafeteria and see the black scuffmarks I made on the white choir room tiles to keep a record of every time I cried there. It’s how I can close my eyes 20 years later and still smell Cool Waters—the cologne worn by the most toxic, abusive man I have ever known, yet went back to over and over again for years. Shame has marked a memory inside of us. I don’t imagine God wants us to forget it, but I do believe he wants to heal it. Through forgiveness, the way we dance with shame can change. Our old relationship with shame reminds us that while it sucks not being enough, it sure feels great that we no longer need to be. Had I never dated a jerk, I would never know how great it feels to be loved by a real man. And whenever I am wronged or wrong another, my old shame-woman surfaces just long enough to make me grateful and gracious that there is a Savior for all that is wrong with me.

BUST IT UP

To bust up our love/hate relationship with shame, we must first acknowledge that there is something wrong with us—our tendency is not first to forgive others or receive forgiveness for ourselves, but instead, to hide in the poverty of our heart until offenses rob us dry, and leave only a barren wasteland of defenses. This first step is painful, but necessary. We must admit that we are in need of saving each and every day. We must confess that we will never be enough and seriously need Jesus to fill all of our gaps. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14).

Second, we must get to work clearing out the smoke. Fig leaves = our attempts to play god. Adam and Eve used fig leaves to hide who they really were and the pain they really felt from their guilt. We must identify our fig leaves as soon as possible—do we overwork ourselves, isolate, defend, send passive-aggressive texts, stalk strangers on social media and create a version of their reality to make ourselves feel better? Do we avoid confrontation and justify ourselves instead of humbly receiving correction? Do we believe that we are a sinner in need of saving, every-single-day, or, that we have arrived and there is nothing left for us to learn? Healing from shame starts only in the most honest version of ourselves.

Third, we must let others in to help us facilitate this process. This is the painful spot where most people stop—vulnerability and intimacy. Letting another sinner in to hear and speak into our dysfunctional relationship with shame feels brutal. But, it is the design of God, and the only way our brain will clear the fog and transform itself. Another person has eyes that have not become desensitized to our smoke. They can help us see through it to get to the root of it. We need people in our life who bid us to move when the smoke of shame begins to immobilize our hope.

Fourth, with the help of others, we look to God’s Word as the only power able to expose the truth of us —Hebrews 4:13 says, no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. We have to turn our shame into guilt so that we can see where it is coming from and put it out. There is no way to do this without Jesus. We cannot see our true self through psychology, science, or through an inanimate object. We can only see truth inside a relationship with a real person. To make a clean break with shame we don’t just need a law, we need a relationship. Why? Because you never feel loved by a fig leaf, you only feel loved by a person. The only way we will ever truly believe forgiveness for ourselves and gain enough emotional wealth to extend forgiveness to others, is if there is a real person behind it all who has forgive us first.

With one breath our Creator blows away the smoke of shame, shoves his love into our guilt and wraps our trembling, naked body into his. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them (Genesis 3:21). To give our most guilty self to Jesus is to simultaneously be awash in forgiveness. And who are those with the power to release themselves from shame but those with a wealth of forgiveness in their heart. Shame dissipates the moment we realize there is a real person—an intercessor fighting for us and loving us regardless of what we do and don’t do, who is attached to us.

Finally, the more deeply we fall in love with our one and only, the more grateful we are to never be enough. His love sets us free to disappoint others and to fail. His love replaces the smoke of shame with the crisp air of grace. We feel naked because we know that we owe! Jesus became a human being to agree with us—Yes! You owe. I will take it. I will become naked, weak, vulnerable for you, that you might never live in shame again. (Psalm 32:1-2): Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

I am preaching to myself this 2016, and I pray this for you as well, friend—let’s you and I make a clean break with shame this year, yes? When the smoke of not being enough blurs our vision, may we rest in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ for us. As we stand forgiven in him, he fills our gaps and overflows the reservoir of our heart to love and forgive others. As we fall deeper in love with our one and only, the desire to earn or exact forgiveness dissipates. In Jesus, we are set free to live, heal and no longer hide behind the fig leaf of shame.

“Fear not, you will no longer live in shame.

Do not be afraid, there is no more disgrace for you.”

Isaiah 54:4

{This is the 2nd installment in a 7-part blog series by KASEY VAN NORMAN, entitled DEAR 2016 SELF. Subscribe to this series at kaseyvannorman.org. Connect with Kasey on Instagram, facebook, & twitter @KaseyVanNorman}. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For audio, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Kasey Van Norman. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Kasey Van Norman. ©2016 Website: kaseyvannorman.org