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,