Today’s texts discuss SHAME. Our sacred texts report SHAME inflicted by others. They describe being brought low by internal turmoil or worldly conflict.
SHAME is a primal emotion and a powerful, but destructive motivator, causing us to alter behaviors and conform to societal standards. Read more about it in Psychology Today. SHAME can inflict damage, pushing and pulling us in directions that often lead away from wholeness and integrity, even when the SHAME we feel isn’t of our own making. It can be blunt or subtle. SHAME may be heaped on us by social norms and cultural expectations. It is also internalized and self-inflicted.
SHAME becomes a critical, editorial voice in our psyches. It negates our capacity to believe in and feel our worth and value as human beings.
Yesterday we discussed STRENGTH. And remarked that becoming vulnerable, confessing even those moments and experiences about which we are ashamed, can be a form of finding strength. Of course, sharing experiences about which we feel SHAME ought to be done gingerly and with some safety in the process. Victims of other people’s abuse and oppression or systemic violence and injustice can also be hurt by openly sharing their experiences publicly, unless they are prepared to do so, and the community can receive such stories supportively and tenderly. So such sharing ought to be practices and have boundaries.
Yet such disclosures of difficult stories, about which we feel SHAME, often help others who otherwise continue to keep secrets and hide parts of themselves about which they are ashamed. AA is a wonderful example of openly sharing one’s not-best moments about one’s self. The community that receives the story will listen without contradicting the speaker. The listeners do so withour judgment, and offer support and appreciation for the sharing.
Listening, bearing witness, and simply being present as a person process these emotions is the most powerful act of solidarity we can offer. This is tough to do, yet a potent response.
When those we love feel SHAME, we often want to fix the problem, or negate it. We rush to point out all the reasons why that skewed self-perception is incorrect, inaccurate, or invalid. Huffington Post writes briefly but compellingly about this habit of wanting to fix problems. Trying to persuade someone of his or her own worth, and countering those shame-filled stories, doesn’t help.
Best practice? Start by simply listening and receiving the story. Be with the person expressing and enduring the SHAME.
Sometimes SHAME is buried deeply. And it drives us toward avoidance behavior and fear-based decision-making or coping mechanisms. Some SHAME may take time to uncover in ourselves. We can hide it from ourselves, too.
Becoming self-aware and identifying feelings of SHAME, and their triggers, is a long journey of self-discovery. Sometimes confiding feelings of SHAME begins in a confidential, intimate setting, with a trusted companion or counselor or mentor. Or sometimes in a circle of other people with similar experiences, who are also sharing. Or sometime it happens through acts such as journaling, spoken only to a blank and non-judgmental page.
Yet ultimately, the power of sharing stories rooted in SHAME is that someone else listens and acknowledges their validity. Someone else reflects back the value of our human identity.
Putting such feelings into spaces and times of prayer and contemplation, and entrusting them to God, also offers a healing process. We can open ourselves, through prayer. We can offer honesty and vulnerability. Such expression of SHAME mitigates the power of SHAME over us. that liberates and releases us from this emotion, and allows us to know ourselves as worthy of love and redemption, and God’s love.
Listening is a spiritual practice. Receiving another’s story, and helping them find the language for their experience of SHAME, is a powerful way to be a companion on this Lenten journey. In today’s texts, even Jesus shares his troubles with his companions, unburdening himself along the way, believing they are strong enough, at least some of the time, to hear and honor what he shares with them. At other times, such as in the Garden of Gethsemane, he offers all of his feelings to Godself in prayer and dialogue.
SHAME is part of the brokenness of our human condition. Yet we are more than our SHAME. Part of our worship experience, our encounter with the sacred, is to entrust our SHAME into the keeping of holy love and mercy. Our SHAME is not enough to separate us from Godself. God loves every part of us, including our hurt and wounded parts.
Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages:
- Isaiah 50: 7 — The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
- Psalms 70:2 — Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life.
- Hebrews 12: 1-2 — Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
- John 13: 21 — After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”