Until very recently, I would say, I hate to look back.
Let me qualify what I mean by I hate to look back.
I am speaking of pain and shame. The sound of those two words alone are enough to send you running forward and not back.
My girlfriend Steph journals, reads her devotion/bible and prays all before the sun comes up. Her journals are dated and organized over the years. She has a spiritual practice of going back to read journal entries to mark her growth. In other words, she looks back.
Steph values vulnerability and, with courage, reads the psalms she has written in the darkness. Often times, her practice becomes a celebration of how far she has come – – even though many of her circumstances remain difficult.
Steph’s vulnerability is a testimony of the powerlessness of shame if we are willing to narrate a different story – namely, one built upon communion with God and community with others.
Shame was not part of my vocabulary until I read The Soul of Shame by Dr. Curt Thompson. I used to think of shame as something bad parents do their kids when they make a mistake or hurt themselves or others. Think humiliation tactics or intended embarrassment. Awful, right?
I had never expanded my understanding of shame to a big picture perspective.
It turns out that shame is an emotional weapon that evil uses on us. Evil’s intent in this regard is to corrupt our relationship with God, isolate us from community and prevent us from using the gifts we have been given as image bearers and light carriers in this world.
Heavy, right? It’s like pointing a flashlight down a dark tunnel where you have not seen the other side until now. You know: the tunnel you were afraid to walk down before you knew you had the power of the light with you.
Could shame be a stumbling block to knowing God and being known?
Could shame be preventing you from living out your God given calling?
I am not really talking lofty change the world calling (although it could be). I am talking about wholly and fully bringing goodness and light into this world.
To both questions, the answer is yes. The greater shame we feel, the greater the temptation to isolate. The more we isolate, the stronger the hold of the lie becomes about who we are and what we are capable of as image bearers.
For most women, the narrative sounds like – I am not good enough for one reason or another.
I hear it in my own head, heart and soul. I hear the language of shame in other women’s stories also.
It sounds like
- I am not smart enough, experienced enough, educated enough.
- I am not thin enough, pretty enough or wanted.
- I don’t have enough money, time or other resource.
- I have failed too many times. I’m not disciplined enough. Or, I’m not worthy.
- I am broken from abusive relationships, questionable choices or an embarrassing past.
Shame’s purpose runs deep against God’s love for us and his great desire for us to live out our gifts so that we can contribute to goodness here on earth.
I started with my friend Steph’s spiritual discipline and my extensive dislike of looking back.
While there are uncountable layers of understanding shame, I’m going to land on this little, but powerful spiritual discipline of looking back and the obstacle that prevents us from it.
There is no doubt in my mind that, to one degree or another, we all struggle with a voice that tells us we are not good enough.
I know that – You are Enough – has become an inspirational slogan for women, but there is truth here. The narrative of not good enough – a form of shame – is your obstacle to growth.
When it comes to shame, you probably can pinpoint your hot spot by thinking about the thorn in your side. The thorns in your side are the battles that exist in the past, present and future. They morph and change and so does your response to them. Nonetheless, the thorn has become a loud, side show to your story line.
Think about something that feels permanent or is permanent. Maybe a physical or mental illness that stays with you long term. Perhaps the thorn is a relationship you are not able fully to distance, end or heal from. It could be something hard about your job or career.
Maybe you have overcome addiction but you fight for your freedom every day. Perhaps it’s a moral failure that feels like a scarlet letter. Or a loss that just can’t be fully redeemed until heaven.
The thorn is part of your story, but it does not have to take root and remain as a disruption or interruption to your worthy narrative.
My Shame Story
I am going to crack open one of my summer revelations. Truly, I am shoveling through ten feet of shame to share. I have learned, however, that vulnerability is the exact step that evil wishes for me to hop over.
I grew up on a very tight budget. My step dad suffered from mental illness and demons of sorts, so he didn’t work regularly or consistently. That put the pressure on my mom to parent and work much like a single mom. I suppose that is where my tense relationship with money began.
As I headed into adulthood, working, saving and spending money, a narrative began to take form – a deep longing for security. Security that waxed and waned between dependence on God and dependence on what my work ethic could accomplish.
Work became a way to create security, but it also morphed into a way to make myself valuable, even to God. There began my walk with shame.
Shame told me that, when I worked very hard and for long hours, I was valuable and worthy. This pattern eventually resulted in burn out, neuralgia, boils in my nose, anxiety, panic and depression. Now, there were other influences contributing to this awful state I found myself in, but my narrative of shame was a powerful fuel to the fire.
For years, I didn’t know that I had a shame story impacting my life. I just hit a bottom that forced me on a different journey.
Most of us don’t recognize our shame narrative and that is exactly how Satan would like it to remain.
What is to be done about shame and the role it plays in your story?
The opponent to shame is cultivating a deep friendship with God wherein he helps you sort out your side show of shame. This is a great act of vulnerability for both you and God. We can remember, as we give our thorns to God, he also takes chances in pursuing us. Some of us reject him and some of us enter in. We can be brave by remembering that God practices vulnerability too. Dr. Thompson’s deep thought, not mine.
The opponent to shame is a life giving community that hears you, knows you and helps you scorn shame and turn away from it. This also is a great act of vulnerability. It certainly takes time to find your people. You can read more about that in This is a Messy Post about Authentic Friendship.
Community is your armor against shame.
The opponent to shame is looking back my dear sisters. I don’t really like to remember the days my step dad abandoned us by refusing to get help. I don’t like to admit that I used work as a debt to pay so that I felt worthy of love, rest and peaceful living. I don’t like to think about some of the moments and memories I missed out on because I was at work overtime night after night.
I can be like my friend Steph and battle shame by looking back. I can choose to break down the shameful aspects of my narrative and replace it with truth. When I do that, I begin to look like the image bearer God intended. I begin to see my value and contribute wholly and fully to goodness here on earth.
I no longer hate to look back.