Earlier this month I announced I would write on the topic of shame. Little did I know that we would be walking through this together. I uncovered a new layer of trauma in counseling and I can’t stop going over the tendrils of shame that still try to sink their way into my thought life, my relationships, and my daily outlook.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to write a Biblical, grounded way to define shame but I can’t quite craft a succinct definition that captures it. Instead let me tell you what it feels like (maybe you can relate).
It’s heavy. Pervasive. Dark.
It feels like an erupting volcano that spills its hot breath and messy lava over everything in its path.
It feels like piles and piles of laundry I can’t quite stay on top of, so I succumb to the pile and just lay there in the mess.
It feels like a knotted ball of string in the core of my gut, growing and getting more tangled as I try to ignore it.
It feels like treading water in the middle of deep ocean waters, with tired arms and legs and no land in sight.
It’s chaotic. Suffocating. Toxic.
While I’ve been wrestling through this place, I’ve thought of you many times, friend. I’ve thought of you wading through the lava mess, trying to untangle yourself, on the other side of this very same ocean. I want to call out to you and say, “we’re in this together.”
Shame doesn’t want us to link arms. It isolates us and keeps us in fear, secrecy, blame, and judgment.
But here’s what Brene Brown says about shame:
“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame…The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too. If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.”
Ann Voskamp’s words echo Brene’s:
“Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.”
So that’s what I’m doing this week. I’m telling my stories in safe places. I sit in my counselor’s office and tell her these new revelations to my past. She says, “Now it’s not a secret anymore.” We’re unknotting the ball and laying it down string by string.
I cry to my husband about my overwhelm, and then we dig into the laundry pile together (this is actually literal- I can’t stay on top of the dirty laundry ha).
I call my best friend and leave her a long voicemail filling her in, as I step out of isolation and the lava cools at my feet. She responds and says that she hears me and she loves me.
Friend, I may not have a perfect path forward for you to get rid of your shame. I’m just figuring it out myself right now, too. But what I can do is shout to you from my side of the ocean.
You’re not alone. We’re in this together.
There is something a little terrifying about the feeling of exposure. To be fully seen, uncovered, and vulnerable is just plain scary sometimes.
But what if the one who sees us already knows everything we lay bare? What if that One even already LOVES us? Pamela’s story is one of freedom from shame, healing from deep wounds, and a knowledge that she no longer has to hide or pretend in God’s presence. What a life-giving discovery. Pamela- thank you for sharing your story and heart with us.
Here’s is Pamela’s Freedom Story.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts, you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
As a child and teen, I was really good at pretending. It’s what you do in an alcoholic home. You dodge and hide because of shame. You don’t want people to know what your life is really like.
My role was to do everything perfect, so I wouldn’t cause any trouble. My thinking was, “If I just did everything right then I won’t upset my father.” I longed for his approval, but he preferred distance, self-pity, and the bottle of alcohol. He never seemed interested in his little brown-eyed daughter. I also learned at a very young age to keep quiet. Don’t say anything to upset anyone. I learned to hide my pain.
We were sporadic church goers at best at our mainline denomination. As a teen, my mom dragged us off to a full-gospel church. Can you tell I wasn’t too thrilled? The joyful, clappy worship was like nothing like I had ever experienced. I loved the music, but didn’t understand why I would cry in church. What was this thing I felt that welled up in my chest? Was it the love of God? Was it the goodness of being His presence?
We attended the youth group for awhile, but I always felt like an outsider. Those kids all had perfect families and perfect Calvin Klein jeans and high-top Reeboks. It was the 80’s after all. They were in another class of which I wasn’t welcome. The youth leader was kind and enthusiastic about Jesus, but I always felt less than there.
This was my perception: church was for happy, perfect families. Church was a place to pretend like everything was okay. Put on your smile, greet a few people, sing some songs, listen to a sermon and smile on the way out. With the brokenness and shame I carried inside, I felt dirty, and not worthy to be with all these pretty church goers. Eventually, we just quit going.
Imagine my surprise, when I met Jesus at age twenty and began to read about a loving Father. I was amazed. I thought, that’s it, that’s what a father is supposed to be. As I fell in love with God, He began to heal my wounds. I was enough, because He made me enough. His righteousness made me right, and it was the best news I ever heard. He accepted me just as a was. He loved me in spite of my broken family, and He covered my shame.
As I grew in the knowledge of God, I stumbled upon the Psalms and King David was my guy!
His words were like unlike any I had read in the Bible. He poured out his heart before God in a most honest, raw way. He painted vivid pictures of his suffering and angst. There was no pretense. He was vulnerable and transparent before God. And at the end of each Psalm, David says, but God. After unleashing his honest pain, he would reflect on the goodness of God. David remembered God’s faithfulness and how the Lord delivered him from difficult situations in the past.
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth has dried up like potherd and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircle me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display;people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength: come quickly to help me.” –Psalm 22:14-19
David became my model for how to relate to God. I was free from hiding, pretending, and not acknowledging my true feelings. I was free to express what I felt and then turn my thoughts to God’s goodness.
As much as I hid as a child, just to keep the peace in our home, I didn’t want to do that in my relationship with God. As I was ready Psalms one day this verse jumped out at me.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts, you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” –Psalm 51:6
As I had spent years trying to control how I appeared on the outside, God was more concerned about my heart. It gave me the freedom to do the inner work; the healing work. I was free to walk in truth and my identity as a dearly loved daughter, a sweet child of God.
Years later my husband and I were called into full-time ministry. We’ve spent 17 years leading churches in Minnesota and Iowa. We work hard to create environments where people can come as they are. A core value we have is teaching people to live open, honest and vulnerable before God and man. We all have issues and pain which need healing and restoration. We all need freedom from hiding something. Jesus provides a fresh opportunity to walk in wholeness and to live honestly before Him.
How about you? Do you pretend with God? It’s such a funny thought because there’s not one thing we can hide from God. He knows our thoughts and words before we speak them.
Have you tried pouring out your honest, broken self? He is ready to meet you with immense love, compassion, and empathy. Once we are truly honest, God can bring His wonderful truth. I challenge you to risk vulnerability today. God wants to meet you in the sweetest way.
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I smile a lot. I’m an enthusiastic encourager. I’m too pretty for math, and I’m woefully inept with technology, but I can whip up a mean pot of braised beef stew. My heart is moved by compassion for you, if you’re in a difficult season. I’ve experienced domestic violence, addiction, suicide, and chronic illness. But I’ve also found redemption, restoration, miracles, and intimacy with God. I want to spend my days sharing God’s goodness. I’ll share my story vulnerably in hopes you’ll have the courage to do the same. There will be no pretending here. I’ve created this space to encourage, inspire and help you draw closer to God.
Want to read more Freedom Stories? Check them out here.
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P.S. Special thanks to Cory Bouthillette of Unsplash for the image to accompany this post.