The Antidote for Shame

Yesterday my counselor told me that the antidote for shame is brokenness.

Brokenness, she explained, isn’t some weakness that gives me permission to say, “Woe is me I’m a screw up, and I’ll never be able to do it right. I’m doomed to fail.”  Rather, it’s a strength that comes through knowing I cannot do it without Christ.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:30:

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”

He said in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

“But he (Christ) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul was far from some broken down, weak Christian who couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, because he felt sorry for himself. Rather, Paul was a determined man once called Saul of Tarsus who had other Christians afraid for their lives before he became converted.  Paul knew what to do to “get er done” in his own strength, but that path had lead him to places he didn’t want to go anymore.  God revealed to Paul that the only way he’d ever truly have what he desired was to acknowledge his inability to get it on his own.  He needed to acknowledge that weakness in order to find his greatest strength and the ultimate fulfilment of his desires…Jesus.

I don’t mean to compare myself with someone as great as the Apostle Paul, but if you’ve made as many mistakes as I have you need to compare yourself with someone like Paul to make yourself feel better!

Seriously, I need to compare myself to him and all the other broken so-called heroes of our faith, because all of us humans are just the same. We are all broken.

Guilt comes about from doing the wrong thing. Guilt is good when we acknowledge the wrong and turn to God accepting His forgiveness. Shame, on the other hand, says I am wrong. As a matter of fact, I’m worse than anyone else. I totally screw up everything. I just need to stay home in bed before I screw up anyone else.  I have to keep reminding myself of this, because it’s so easy to forget!

My daughter revealed her own sense of shame the other day getting in the car after school. She shared with me how she’d misplaced her computer in class, and it was right in front of her. This was after the teacher had made an announcement of it being lost in front of her class at a brand, new school.  She also told me how she’d tripped earlier and everyone saw “the new girl do it.”

My heart went out to her. Oh the curse of self-consciousness that screams at you to be ashamed of who you are!  She told me she thought she just couldn’t do anything right. How she was worse than others.  It made me feel sick, because I knew that feeling only too well. However, this time rather than try to tell her it was going to be OK, tomorrow would be better, I found myself reiterating to her that everyone made mistakes, in essence everyone was broken and she needed to stop being so hard on herself.  The truth helped, because after a little she was better.  She, too, is beginning to see the truth that she doesn’t need to be ashamed of who she is.

I know I’ve said it in my other blogs, abuse results in a sense of shame, because in our self-contempt we think we are really keeping ourselves safe.  We don’t have control over what others do, but if we think it’s all our fault that someone abused us then we think somehow we can control the circumstances ourselves.  But I keep reaching the same conclusion.  I can’t control myself or the circumstances.

Alcoholics Anonymous began with this very truth.  A person is powerless to overcome an addiction on their own.  They need help from God.

I’ve known this truth for a long time, but finally I think some of this truth is taking root and killing my shame. I don’t have an addiction to alcohol, rather I had an addiction to control. I was and am still at times trying to find whatever I can on my own to make things better.  The alcoholic just does it quicker and more obviously by taking a drink.

Lately, it’s been about my job situation. The problem is I don’t have one.  I’ve spent hours on Indeed looking at jobs.  I don’t want to work at Dollar General, Staples or Pizza Hut. I don’t want to work full time. I’ve thought about selling real estate, but I don’t know if I have the personality for it. I’m interviewing today for a part-time at home medical records job.  I did medical transcription from home for 20 years and am not really excited about working from home in this type job again.  It’s lonely, however after all I’ve been through being alone feels safe.  Can you read in these words my ambivalence?  I’m the most conflicted human being on the planet!  See, there it is again. The shame.  I’m more screwed up than anyone else.  How can I get a job and be successful when I don’t even know what the hell I want to do!?!

As God often does, He uses my frustration to remind me, “Hey, Lori, I’m in control here.” He told me as much in His still small voice when my mind was swirling about with all this chaos the other day.  Then He confirmed what He said in my counselor’s words yesterday when she said the antidote for shame is brokenness. 

I get this picture in my mind often of the weakened, shame filled girl staring at herself in the mirror before going in to be abused by her pastor. She knew she was broken, but she believed the lie that that was all she could be. She gave into the self-contempt and went after what the abuse she thought would give her temporary relief.  But the relief was only momentary and led to an even deeper sense of shame. 

Notice how I went to third person in the paragraph above.  It’s still so hard to go back to that place and realize that girl was me. 

My pastor would remind me that there was no condemnation in Christ.  He’d even pray with me for forgiveness. There wouldn’t be any more sexual misconduct sometimes for months or even a year later, but sooner or later we’d wind up back in that place again…at least until I began seeing the truth that my way of finding satisfaction was not getting the hoped for result. I was also discovering that depending totally on my pastor was not giving me the hoped for result either.  I had no idea how really alone I’d been until he retired, and I was forced to see what life was like in an empty office without him.  

I don’t know if he intentionally meant for me to become addicted to him, but I know the lies I believed about myself and my faith were so destructive to me and my family.  The main lie I believed was that I was so broken that I should do whatever I needed to do to make it better and that included keeping secrets and manipulating my family by living a double life. It also meant calling my pastor every time I felt weak.   During that time and I could quote Paul and talk about finding strength in my weakness, but I as long as my pastor was in the picture I never found true strength.  That’s why the relationship was abusive.  He allowed himself to be my god when he was supposed to lead me to God, the only place I’d find true healing. Rather, he let me stay trapped in a very self-destructive and other destructive relationship with him. He should have known better, but he didn’t. He was broken, too. But thank God for revealing the truth.

The truth that humanity is broken, and that that’s not an excuse to try to fix the brokenness on our own through lies and manipulation, rather it’s a reason to run to Jesus and plead with Him for help!  He’ll never turn His back on us. Never tell us to be ashamed of ourselves. Never tell us He’s disappointed. Rather, He’ll say, “Welcome home. You’ve found the only strength you’ll ever need. Trust me.”

I can breath a sigh of relief. Yes I’m a broken down miserable sinner, but when God looks at me all He sees is the perfect righteousness of Christ.

There is my strength and the antidote for my shame.

Thank God!

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