Fighting Shame With Truth
My head dropped as my eyes squeezed shut. I willed the lump in my throat to disappear. My eyes blinked too many times in an attempt to hold back tears threatening to spill down my cheeks. Would it be weird if I got up and stepped out in the middle of the meeting?
Terrible words rang in my ears. Annoying. Failure. Bad mom. Too much. Not enough — things that had been said about me and lies that I had believed. My mind raced as shame flooded my thoughts, screaming for my attention.
The meeting continued, and our pastor suggested we all bow our heads in prayer. I sighed in relief, raising my hands to my face and slowly brushing my eyes. No one could see my tears.
As my co-workers raised their voices to God for the people of our church and the Sunday ahead, I had only one plea,”Help me to get through today without a meltdown.” Their voices faded as I pled my case, “God, there is too much. I’m drowning with the weight of it. I’m paralyzed in my failure. I don’t want these people to see me fall apart. Help me!” My heart raced as I imagined the day ahead.
I don’t know what I expected God to do. He could not take away the tasks: the holiday meal, the work that needed to be done at church, the care that needed to be given to my kids. The things that had been said about me, true or not, could not be unheard. As I prayed, I also wondered, “How much more can I take? How much longer can I keep getting back up?”
It was in this endless internal chatter that I felt God whisper, “I am allowing this today because you need to let it go. You cannot carry it all.”
As this realization hit my core, my eyes welled with tears. I laid my head on the table and wept.
A warm hand rested on my back. A chair scraped the floor as it moved closer. I wasn’t alone.
Why do I believe the lie that I have to carry it all? Why am I unable to be human with my friends? Why do I continue to wear the mask of calm and put-together? More importantly, why do I try to battle shame on my own?
From the very beginning, God created us to live in community.
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Genesis 2:18 (NIV)
God knew that we should not do life alone. Even before sin entered the world, He knew we would all need help — both men and women.
In Luke 10, when Jesus sent out seventy-two people to go into the places where He was headed, He sent them out two by two. God knew that they — and we — would encounter challenges. Words that cut deeply, and feelings that would be hurt. Life that doesn’t end in happily ever after. We need others to hold us up when we cannot stand on our own.
We are meant to live life together, and shame is battled by hearing the truth through one another.
Often, I can’t hear what’s true because of the thoughts in my head. I pull the terrible words in close and allow them to define me. I give them power over me.
But later that week, when I sat with a friend hearing what God had been doing in her life and likewise sharing my own stories, my heart squeezed as I was transported back to that moment in the meeting. My heart raced as I opened up to the pain.
My friend reflected back what I knew in my head but had trouble believing in my heart: What had been said about me didn’t define me. It wasn’t even true.
In sharing my story, not only had I been seen, but I was also given God’s truth: I am a child of God. He has redeemed me. Nothing I have done makes Him love me any more or any less.
It’s possible I may have learned the truth eventually. I could have read it in a book. But there was a sweetness in telling it to my friend and allowing her to care for me. She saw my hurt and pain, and she loved me in that moment of open vulnerability.
It’s risky, this vulnerability. The risk is hard, and it has the potential to be painful. It requires that I take off my mask of calm and put-together and allow friends to see my struggle. There is the possibility of rejection or worse, of unsolicited answers to my problem.
But there is also joy in sharing life. When I take off my mask, it gives my friend permission to take off hers. We find joy and communion when we open ourselves up, and we love each other well when we speak truth over the shame and lies we once believed.