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.
Yesterday was one of those days where I viewed most of my interactions through the lens of past hurts. A work email, a misunderstanding with a friend, a rejection in my writing, a trigger to my trauma. I started wrestling with old lies that rear their ugly heads sometimes: “You’re not qualified, you’re not welcome, you’re a burden.”
There wasn’t anything in particular wrong or deeply concerning, but a wash of pain just colored my day. For how much I hurt, I wanted to curl into a ball and wait until it all felt better in the morning.
Instead, I asked God to speak truth over me. I recognized why a few things made me feel rejected and let myself cry. I reached out to the friend and we worked our way through the hurt in love. And when I covered my head with blankets in the dark last night waiting for Ryan to come to bed, I knew that I could easily fall asleep without telling him that my heart hurt. But I didn’t.
I pulled the covers down below my chin and he listened quietly as I said, “I feel like a burden and a broken record.” He responded:
“No, you’re human… and besides records are made of plastic.”
We laughed, I cried, and we prayed. And I felt closer to him because I stayed open, instead of shutting down.
Sometimes vulnerability has nothing to do with the words we share, but everything to do with the posture of our hearts.
If we’re used to being the strong ones, it can be hard to feel weak. But God meets us and strengthens us there, when we’re willing to offer up our weakness and surrender our hard days. If we’re used to covering up or pushing past our hurts, it can be tough to let ourselves sit in the pain. If we’re used to helping others, it can be challenging to receive support ourselves. If we’re used to wrestling through our hurts on our own, it can be hard to receive the words of, “You’re wanted here. I love you. I’m listening.”
But that is the posture that brings deeper connection, and that is the posture that ultimately brings freedom.
Like a field of wildflowers
Her heart was wide open
She wore it on her sleeve, for all to see
And that heart was welcoming, soft, unguarded
The trouble with her open heart is that she kept giving it away
She overshared and she over-trusted
She spilled her soul to those who would listen
And hoped they would hold her wildflower soul with gentle hands
But they trampled the flowers and broke her heart
So she built a brick wall around herself
“Now, no one can hurt me. No one can get in.”
The walls were so high, the sun couldn’t even reach her
In the shadows, her world grew smaller, colder
The grass withered and the flowers wilted
Her heart became hard like the very brick around it
After a while, she couldn’t feel anything…
Sure, the pain couldn’t enter in, but neither could the joy
She missed the warmth of the sun and the scent of the flowers
She asked for Someone stronger and wiser to help tear down the wall
Together, they removed the bricks one by one
He told her about a new way to keep her heart safe
“Let’s build you a fence,” He said
“There will still be sunshine and warmth, but you will be able to protect your heart gently.
I will guard your heart for you when you don’t know how, and this gate will help you let love in again, when you’re ready.”
She found a balance between that wide open wildflower field and the heavy brick wall.
They built a fence, and the flowers now bloomed in love and safety.
– – –
I can’t wait to share more with you this week about vulnerability with others- wisdom, healthy vs. unhealthy vulnerability, Biblical examples of the concept, and boundaries.
I’d love to hear–do you connect most with the image of the wide open field, the brick wall, or the fence?