Shame, the parasite
Shame is a beast. One who hides in the darkness of our memories waiting to appear at the surface in our most vulnerable moments.
“I will do better than you…”
These were the last words my friend’s ex-wife said to him as they parted ways more than thirty four years ago. This man remarried eight years later, raised children with his new bride and has spent the last twenty six years faithfully loving and living. Yet, over a cup of coffee, in the safety of deep friendship, he still recounts the sting of shame so long ago. He did not feel he was enough and the moment was so painfully powerful, he recounts the statement word for word. It shamed him.
Another confesses “I let my family down. I spent an extra ten minutes working on a client case and missed a portion of my daughter’s recital. She was crushed.” The inner shame of trying to hard to manage it all.
This parasite we call shame is often born in a brief moment then rides our experiences throughout life only to reappear in the worst possible moments. Perhaps we unexpectedly lash out at a loved one or find ourselves tempted to sin in secret. Upon careful examination of the heart we find shame in the shadows.
Shame inflicts subtle pain on us yet we are often unaware of it’s presence. As a motivator, it is so powerful. Not one of us can escape the memory of a scolding parent or teacher coercing us to act differently by saying “You should be ashamed of yourself!”
Then we are.
Years back, another friend recounted in great detail the moments he was let go from work. The IT staff had discovered pornography on his computer. He had to go home and tell his wife. The weight of the moment was so poignant.
This introduction to shame is interesting as one usually cannot remember when they first met. Our parasite becomes a lifelong friend who uses misery as the chief means of motivation. Our friendship with shame is like that kid one befriended down the street. His parents busted the friendship up. In wisdom, the parents knew he would lead their child into trouble.
In response, the human heart makes wild vows to avoid shame’s appearance. Any experience which resembles past pain awakens shame. And shame is simply these heart wrenching memories revisited on repeat. The heart does all which is possible to not let shame out in public.
We may develop an entire false persona, leaving our true selves behind in lieu of shame. Shame is like a warped back wheel steering and careening the car as the driver tries to steer from the front.
When I was a kid, I joined pee-wee baseball just like the other kids. In practice my father offered up an innocent well-meaning encouragement. “Don’t be afraid of the ball, Shea”. Unbeknownst to him or me, I could not see well. One eye worked fine. The other didn’t. It fooled us both and I simply could not see the ball coming. So I would step up to the plate afraid and walk away with a bloody nose and a heck of a lot of shame. I would make a vows I couldn’t keep. “I won’t be afraid.” And later agreements with the shame. “I am shameful. I can’t. I won’t play that game again.” There is a lot of joy in playing baseball yet I never made it to the junior high league. I quit. Shame was the one who asked me to. I accepted his call.
There is a difference between conviction and shame. Conviction simply repents when a man’s wrong hurt another. Yet shame robs the wrongdoer of dignity. Conviction leads a man to repentance and the acceptance of real grace. Shame leads a man to hiding. Conviction runs to the safety of others, drawn close by loving kindness. Shame trusts no one and asks a man to carry his own burdens. Shame often puts sin on repeat.
If there is an author of shame it is the devil himself. Sometimes, he is the chief historian, tracking all that holds us down.
Shame sticks with us like a remora on a shark. It revisits us in our most vulnerable moments. It’s intent is to always isolate us from those who would love us the most. Shame has a strategy. It is to leverage our most prickly moments of personal history and replay it in our heads. The stimulus is any and every situation which is remotely similar to our painful past. It’s compounding effect causes more shame, rejection and isolation. Shame is a liar and like mold cannot survive in the light.
There is only one antidote to shame. There is only one way to kill the imposter. It’s in the bright light of love.
On the Apostle John’s deathbed, it is famously told that friends asked him of the meaning of life. Coming in and out of delirium he would simply whisper “Dear friends, love one another.” Longest living apostle and purported survivor of boiling tar, John was most convinced that love is the answer to all which ails us. Consider this loving, dying old gentlemen, with the dignity of family around him, saying the following:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. — 1 John 2:1
And then saying:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. — 1 John 1:7
To John, walking in the light meant all out in the open. It meant loving and confessing shame. It meant exposing the imposter self and humbling oneself in front of others.
John beautifully invites us into life, out of the shadows:
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. — 1 John 1:1
Joy complete is the endgame of the Author of Love. His hope for you and I is simply to be with us and for us to be with each other. He is the destroyer of shame. He dismantles the cold dark places. He makes all things new in the light.
Lord, give me the courage to let your light of love shine on my heart. Expose the quiet hidden imposter called shame. He wishes nothing more to hide and haunt. Upon being discovered he always exposes us to shame us more. Help me find trusted friends and trustworthy fellowship. Help me repent. Help me to find the life of Your Presence.
In Jesus name. Amen.