I was five years old when I sat naked in the empty bathtub of my neighbor’s basement bathroom and asked her why she was stuffing a towel at the bottom of the door. She responded, “I don’t want my dad to know we’re in here.”
The memories of what occurred between me and my thirteen-year-old friend are fuzzy and fractured, but the feeling of shame comes to me vividly.
Not yet in the first grade, shame became my constant companion — a grim shadow that whispered, “You’ll never be good enough or smart enough or pretty enough.” On the days the shadow felt strongest, I felt weakest.
I lived with my shadowy companion and watched as it darkened milestones, celebrations, and relationships. It told me who I was and who I couldn’t be. It told me hope is wishful thinking and love is a fairy tale. It disguised cynicism as realism, and it coached me how to be the best at seeing the worst.
After suffering under shame’s firm hand for many years, I finally looked behind me at the darkness and mustered the courage to pull my shame into the light in front of me. In the light, I could finally see it for what it was.
As a child, I would leap to my bed after turning off the light, imagining the monsters lurking in the dark. As an adult, I find myself still imagining the worst when darkness invades my life. An overactive imagination can shift from the darkness outside of us to the darkness inside of us.
Shame causes us to hide parts of ourselves in the dark where we cannot see the truth. We forget what is true and real about ourselves and believe lies.
I believed things like:
· God won’t forgive me.
· Grace is for other people, not me.
· If people really knew me, they wouldn’t love me.
· This is what I deserve after the choices I made.
In the dark, these lies continue to grow until they smother the truth.
Bringing my shame to the light began with sharing my life story with a small group of women in a healing discipleship program called Freedom Session. As I shared the highs and lows of my life story and fought to keep reading through blurry eyes, the women responded with empathy and acceptance.
The voice of shame that used to snide, “If people really knew you, they wouldn’t love you” was a liar.
That first step gave me the courage to confess every painful, shame-filled part of my life to a friend and then to my husband. It was a deep confession — a painful confession. Yet neither one judged me for what I did or what others did to me.
They showed me grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love — the same things shame had always told me were out of my reach. Knowing the truth set me free (John 8:32), and I experienced a complete healing of my shame. There were no secrets left in my life; there was no fear that I would be “found out.”
That chapter of my life revealed a stark before and after story of dark versus light — of shame versus grace. Having an intimate knowledge of living life in the dark drives me to quick confession now. I still sin and fall short, but it’s easier for me to bring all the ugly parts of myself to God because the sting of conviction and confession pale compared to the pain of sin left to linger in the shadows.
Ken Dyck (the creator of the Freedom Session program) says that sadness, not bitterness, is the healthy response to our past pain. I believe we can say the same for our shame.
When I felt burdened by shame, I couldn’t feel sadness for my past and what I experienced. My shame told me that everything was my fault and I needed to punish myself for it. This deepened the pain and delayed my healing.
When I handed my shame over to God, I received the gift of sadness. We rarely want to feel sadness, but it’s a gift of grace. It allows us to extend God’s mercy and compassion towards ourselves.
If you’ve spent time in counseling or therapy, as I have, your therapist may have prompted you to do an exercise where you picture a moment of your childhood that triggers your pain, shame, or fear. Then, you were told to imagine yourself sitting beside the child you, offering the love and protection that you didn’t feel in the past moment.
It’s a powerful exercise.
It’s an image I bring to my conscious mind whenever I feel overcome by uncomfortable emotions. Sadness for my past drives me to wrap my adult arms around the five-year-old version of me and tell her I love her. Sadness heals what shame destroys.
When we bring our shame into the light, we experience God’s all-encompassing grace that destroys our self-loathing and expands our self-compassion. In the light, we can finally see ourselves — and our pain — through the loving eyes of our Heavenly Father.Leave a Comment