A number of weeks before Lent, those of us who are involved in the Lent services received an email from our pastor about this year’s theme “Ashamed no more”. The email noted that this year’s resources look at shame and how it can block our ability and willingness to be vulnerable and live wholehearted lives.” The email then went on to talk about how we, as a congregation, rarely talk about shame and that there was some concern about jumping into the topic with both feet.
Perhaps it’s the rebel in me, but there was something about the topic that called to me – and so I decided to jump in with both feet.
I really wish I hadn’t. Well, not really – but it certainly would have been easier if I hadn’t.
Its not easy spending a week being aware of the places of shame in one’s life. I had a headache and felt sad for much of the week as I was reminded of the shame I feel – that I should be a better parent, (there are a lot of shoulds connected to shame), should be a better friend, should keep my house and finances in order . . . the list goes on.
Brene Brown says that shame is the swampland of the soul, the gremlin who says you’re not good enough.
Often I can turn up the mental music and tune out the shame – but not on a week when I’ve CHOSEN to look it straight in the face.
And then in the midst of this, my sister emailed me about a situation where someone was treating her unkindly and making her feel bad about herself. I did my big sisterly thing and talked about not taking in other people’s opinions and making them our own and then I said that I’d know more after I did my sermon on this week’s topic “Ashamed No More”.
But what our email exchange did was remind me of a similar situation that I found myself in last summer, when one of the football moms – who had been a friend – stopped talking to me. And I had no reason why – I still don’t, when I asked her about it she said she needed to think about it but never told me.
And so, because I didn’t know what I’d done and didn’t have an action to pin her response to, I assumed that there was something wrong with me, something very wrong that this usually kind person wouldn’t talk to me.
And then shame took over. I wasn’t comfortable talking to the other moms who hung out with her. I felt inadequate for being there. It felt very high-schoolish. And I didn’t tell anyone – because I was ashamed. (Other than my sister who has a blood bond to support me). I didn’t trust others to support me because I know didn’t what it was that was wrong with me – and I didn’t want others to start seeing whatever that horrid truth about me was.
And so I built a bubble around myself. I got to know new people. But I never felt totally comfortable there.
I think that’s part of the thing about shame. It immobilizes us and cuts us off from others. And its closely tied to secrets. Brene Brown (again) says that shame needs secrecy, silence, and judgement to survive.
If we look at the places in our lives where we have secrets (although not the good kind – surprises for others) we’ll probably find it rooted in shame – and when we look at our shame, we’ll find it surrounded by secrets.
Thinking about the situation I just told you about, I certainly allowed secrecy, silence and judgement to keep that shame alive (and then felt shame about that).
Perhaps that’s why on some intuitive level I felt it important to jump into the topic with both feet. Because when we don’t talk about shame, we allow it to continue, to grow.
Brene Brown, who I’ve been quoting, is a researcher who studies shame and vulnerability. I’ve long heard of her from people that I respect but wasn’t familiar with her work until this week.
She says that shame is the fear of disconnection. It’s the voice inside our head that says, “I’m not enough” and that wonders “is there something about me that others won’t find me worthy?”
She also says that we all experience shame – except for sociopaths – so as much as I don’t really like talking about this, she assures me that I’m not alone and that we all have our places of shame.
So, beyond giving you a glimpse into one of my places of shame, where do we go with this?
Assuming that the theme “Ashamed No More” was connected to today’s Scripture passages, that’s where I went, with great hopes.
I’ve started walking on the treadmill every morning and so I thought I’d read the passages over and over while I walked – a bit of a variation on lectio divina. And so I read:
Deut 26 – about God rescuing the Israelites and delivering them to the land of milk & honey
Ps 91 – one of my all time favourite Psalms about God protecting us.
Luke 4 – the temptation of Jesus
But all I could think as I read them over and over was “Yeah, but . . . “
- Yeah, but they had to live as slaves for generations and then wander the wilderness for 40 years
- Yeah, but not everyone is protected from harm
- Yeah, but . . . the list went on
Clearly, it wasn’t helping me get ready for this morning. So I got off the treadmill.
Over the next few days, three doors opened up that helped me to make a little more sense of all this.
The next morning I wondered what the Scriptures would feel like if I treated the external dangers as metaphors for internal threats, like shame.
And so I read Psalm 91 in a new way:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you from the voices that say you’re not enough.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield.
. . .
“Because you acknowledge me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue you; I will protect you for you acknowledge my name.”
A second door opened for me when I read a blog by David Lose, called The Working Preacher.
He talks about the temptation of Jesus (and, before that, the temptation of Adam & Eve) as being less about power and more about insecurity and mistrust. With Adam and Eve, Satan had them questioning what God had told them (did God really tell you?). With Jesus, Satan is again sowing mistrust – you might go hungry, you don’t have enough, how do you know God is trustworthy, how do you know you’re good enough?
The technique is to cause Jesus to question, to doubt himself and his relationship to God.
IF you’re the son of God, prove it . . . turn stones to bread
IF you want dominion over all this (over God’s creation), then worship me
And each time Jesus replies by quoting Scripture.
So the third time, Satan takes Jesus’ armour and turns it against him by quoting Scripture,
IF you’re the Son of God and IF God is truly trustworthy when he promises to protect you, prove it
He – David Lose – also points out how we have often used this passage as a reminder that Scripture can be our armour. He doesn’t take that away but adds to the understanding. He says, “Maybe its not that he quotes Scripture but that he finds in Scripture the words to give voice to his trust. At the heart of his replies is his trust in and dependence on God.”
We’ll come back to this story. But before that – the third door.
There is woman who has started a bit of a movement (for lack of a better word) called “Five Minute Friday”. The idea is that every Friday she sends out a word to the people on her email list. They then set the timer and write about the word for five minutes, stopping when the timer goes. The idea is that you then post it on your own blog and go back and comment on someone else’s writing. I’m on the email list because I keep hoping to join the trend, although I haven’t yet.
Anyway, Friday morning when I got up the word was waiting for me in my email. BELOVED.
Or – if you make it two words – be loved.
And something felt like it was starting to fall into place.
Beloved. If you look it up, it has a simple two word definition: dearly loved.
It reminds me of the song from my youth – “I am my beloved’s and he is mine, his banner over me is love”.
Shame is feeling that we’re not enough, that we have to hide a part of who we are or something that we’ve done. Otherwise people won’t love us.
And Beloved says ‘you are deeply and completely loved exactly as you are.’ Our belovedness has nothing to do with what we do – it is simply a reality.
Our belovedness is about who God is – and therefore is at the core of who we are as God’s image.
Perhaps that’s what Jesus relied on while being tempted. Right before going into the wilderness, he was baptized and the heavens opened and the dove descended and God said “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
And perhaps it was remembering that declaration that he was beloved that stayed with Jesus as he was being tempted.
Henri Nouwen said, “We forget so quickly that we are God’s beloved children and allow the many curses of our world to darken our hearts. Therefore, we have to be reminded of our belovedness and remind others of theirs.”
Beloved. Deeply loved. The opposite of – and perhaps antidote to – shame.
Brennan Manning says, “Define yourself radically as one beloved of God. THIS is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
I’ve kind of taken you on my journey over the last week. A glimpse into my shame, my struggle to find the relevance in today’s passages, a reminder that God is with us in our shame – and that we are beloved, deeply and completely loved by God.
I really wanted to sew this up for you – and perhaps, even more so, for me. To say, tap your ruby slippers three times like Dorothy and say, “I am beloved of God, I am beloved of God, I am beloved of God” – and, voila! – you’re ashamed no more!
But I don’t have a quick solution. Maybe one of the other speakers this month will. J
But what I do have is God’s love, God’s deep, all-encompassing love. A love that doesn’t care about all those barriers we put in its way. That doesn’t let our shame end or even dampen it.
I want to say that when that light of God’s love shines on our shame, it burns it away. And sometimes it does. But other times its not that quick and easy. Because we hang onto our shame, we believe the voices that tell us we’re not worthy. Because no matter how often God whispers – and sometimes yells – you are Beloved, we still wonder how it could be true.
But it is true.
I’m not leaving saying that from now on I’ll be ashamed no more. But rather that I don’t have to be. Its something that I place on myself but its not my identity.
God calls me Beloved – and that is my deepest, truest identity.
— February, 2013 —