Goodbye to Heaped-On Shame

This is your reminder!  We are praying during Monday “lunch” for good, God-honoring marriages, for men to walk upright and into relationships, and for women to be willing to change where we need to change.  And as we pray, here are a few thoughts to consider…

I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of “shame.”  Though I have heard the word used much more in the last few years, it has been hard for me to understand. Recently, though, one book—The Shame Exchange—has helped me.  It has helped me understand that there are two types of shame:  1) heaped-on shame (that latent sense of being lesser/bad because we don’t meet certain personal/cultural standards and 2) identity-level shame (the basic gut-level knowledge that we are flawed).  This book has helped me to see how these two kinds of shame can easily & problematically get smushed together.

Let me try to explain:  there has been a slightly elusive shame about being single which has dogged me for many years, nipping at vulnerable places in my soul.  Gratefully, the shame hasn’t been a pit bull, but little terriers can still nip and trip.  Periodically, this thought has gotten its teeth into me: “Normal and healthy people (unless they are called to a life of celibacy) get married.  I am not married.  I must not be normal and healthy.”   (Just a reminder—I know not everyone wrestles with feelings of shame in this arena.  If these thoughts haven’t bit you, awesome!  Maybe hearing this short story can simply help you in another area or help you set others who struggle free.)

Anyhow, the problem is that these thoughts—a form of heaped-on shame from failing to meet my own, albeit culturally pretty typical, definition of ‘normal & healthy’—can hook into my basic sense of being flawed.  The heaped-on shame is like a parasite which creeps up (at wedding showers, couple-filled events, during movies or lonely moments) and if I’m not paying attention, it taps into and draws energy from my identity-level shame.  On bad days, I am left inevitably concluding:  “My sustained singleness must somehow be a reflection of my flawedness.”  (And of course, then, the internal pressure to “find Mr. Right” and thereby cover up my flawedness intensifies.)

What makes this tricky is that I am flawed.  It’s true.  There’s the stuff I know about like my impatience, envy, laziness, pride…. the basics.  Then there are all those little impulses, thoughts, feelings and sub-conscious things that leave me knowing in my knower:  this girl isn’t all she should be.  Her garden, my garden, does have a lot of weeds in it.

But what I want to suggest is that as believers, slowing down to look at the garden of our hearts (even in areas which might feel tough, like, for instance, singleness) can actually help us shrink shame.  For even as I admit , “Ah yes, I’m filled with weeds,” if I’ll keep looking closely, if I’ll sit and be still, I can also see that thanks to Jesus, God’s Spirit is lovingly planted deeper still in the center of my garden, and he’s graciously and tenaciously turning kudzu and rocks into ivy and irises (Phil 1:6).  And to make matters better, the whole garden—weeds and wonders alike—is even now surrounded and protected by this same Jesus (2 Thes 3:3).  Our identity-level shame is covered (Ro 4:7).  That might be easier to say than to feel, but it is reality.  And let’s keep asking our Father to help us walk in this reality.

Likewise, it is then from this safe and secure place that we can begin to look with greater freedom at our life and thinking.  I, for example, can prayerfully study God’s perspective on what he considers “normal and healthy.”  I can explore what he says about marriage and singleness.  I can tell my story and get others’ honest feedback.  I can begin to parse my legitimate longings from my personal/cultural expectations.  And I can maybe even gain greater divine objectivity about who I am, where I’m headed, and what God is up to.

For those of us who are praying and fasting–please realize that it is worth paying attention to our hearts and to the Jesus who resides deeply and lovingly within, is transforming us, and is covering us in the process.  As we do, I suspect that our struggles with shame will slowly shrink and our freedom to love and laugh at the days to come (even in an imperfect world riddled with yet unmet longings) will grow.  From this safe and secure place, we can gradually see the heaped-on shame for what it ultimately is:  an ugly parasite which cannot suck our lives away, a wild but weeny dog who barks ferociously loud but lives outside the wall!

Blessings in the Journey,

Connally

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11 Responses to Goodbye to Heaped-On Shame

  1. meinmysmallcorner says:

    Having just written a post on my own blog about singleness and shame, I took a notion to search here to see if you’d written anything… Here’s my attempt at shrinking the shame : http://meinmysmallcorner.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/the-problem-with-being-single-3-shame/

  2. Amanda says:

    This post resonated with me. I realized that I have been bitter toward men for not being willing to initiate. For not being as intentional with friendships- leaving me wondering if they are getting to know me because of a desire to pursue marriage, or just adding another girl to their collection of girls who are “just friends.”

    The whole idea that marriage is normal, healthy, and timely for where I am at in life has become a thought that I have adopted as truth. I appreciate hearing your honest struggle with that as well.

    Thanks to all for your comments! Very encouraging:)

  3. Andrea says:

    The tricky thing is that some people’s singleness is indeed caused by a lack of maturity. So there is a real basis for fearing that you will be judged unhealthy if you have never been married. This doesn’t mean that you are unhealthy, just that there is a basis for the perception. In my years of singleness, I found it to be a long process of getting to the point where I could say (in my mind), “It’s OK if you think there’s something wrong with me that I’m not married. It’s all OK.”

    • Some single people are immature, but many married people are lacking maturity as well, so I don’t think God awards marriage based on maturity (and I certainly get sick of hearing that “when you are “ready”, God will bring you a spouse…not true)

      So is there some basis? Maybe, maybe some people chase away marriage by immaturity, irresponsibility, or just plain annoyingness, but I thing a good percentage of the time, singles aren’t necessarilly doing anything to chase away marriage, it just hasn’t happened for them yet.

      In fact, as far as immaturity goes, that is one thing I am grateful for in my single years. I have a lot of godly friends who got married young and both partners were immature in their handling of things those first few years, I hope and pray that having had a little more time to grow up will be a benefit in my marriage. Then again, its only a blessing if you actually use your single years as a time to mature. 🙂

  4. Judy says:

    Wow, Connally. You always write so expressively and beautifully, but this one is in the top 10 easy. Really, really great!

  5. Bob Adgate says:

    Con, this is powerful, meaty, life-giving insight! Thanks! This totally resonates. Yes, may that parasitic, weeny, pip-squeak called heaped-on shame find itself outside the walls while within the walls of our hearts we increasingly know in our knowers the life-infusing protection, covering, and presence of Jesus.

  6. Theresa says:

    I struggled with this more when I was younger, but ironically, at age 40 (and still single) not as much.

    What changed? Geographically speaking, I know a ton of single Christian women and they are great. I am not alone. It’s not “just me”. I think if I was the only single person in my social circles- I would struggle more with shame.

  7. Yes, nicely done Con. No shame on you! 😉

  8. I totally relate to this article. I feel like a lot of times, it isn’t even our own views that cause us shame but those stated by Christians….I started crying and telling a friend the other day how the hardest part of being single is everyone in the church wants to tell you why you are — maybe you aren’t friendly enough, maybe you are too forward, maybe you aren’t mature enough yet, maybe its because you are a working woman and too independent, maybe you have standards that are too high…. and even if people mean well, the message is always the same — you must be doing something wrong if God hasnt blessed you with a spouse.

    I guess we have to learn how to judge which is helpful critique from loving friends and which is people just trying to come up with a justification for our singleness…the truth is no matter how great or not great someone is, he or she will meet their spouse when God decides they will…some of that can’t be changed by dressing or acting differently.

    It’s hard to focus on truth instead of self imposed shame or shame imposed by others, but truth is truth no matter what we feel. Plus, I would rather spend my time focusing on actual improvements I need to make regarding sin and bad habits, than obsessing on what is wrong with me because I am not married (and feeling shameful because I am not)

    another encouraging post, thank you.

    • JRo says:

      Connolly has written another encouraging & insightful post and you, Miss Singlesouthernlady, have managed to enhance the post with your own insights. I was particularly struck by your description of how so many people deem it appropriate to tell us singletons how we’ve fallen short. As if we weren’t hard enough on ourselves. I’m blessed to be a part of a group of smart singletons dedicated to praying for each other.

  9. Gina says:

    Beautifully said, as always.

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