We sat in my living room, the four of us, in the glow of candlelight and Christmas trimmings. While sipping mulled cider and nibbling dainty food we shared our holiday traditions, talked about our kids a bit and toe-stepped around the lighter topics unsure of how to broach what was really on our minds.
We were acquaintances from church. Each of us had found ourselves less relational than we’d like to be–too insular. We each are presently swimming in the current of a large church yet we feel a lack of connectedness and belonging. Like so many other women, we glide through the foyer and sanctuary hugging necks and exchanging greetings. An onlooker might think we were well connected–but it’s an illusion.
We’re busy. We’re afraid. We’ve got baggage. We’re ashamed. We have many reasons why we’ve raised a guard around our hearts and posted a limited access sign to our lives.
What if they really knew me and I wasn’t enough–didn’t measure up. What if I was judged and rejected?
Have we lost our appetite and tolerance for vulnerability?
One of us braved self-disclosure and confessed her benchmark shame. The I-can’t-get-over-this kind of suffering that’s done in isolation. The I-can’t-talk-about-this-to-anyone kind of fear that breeds secrecy. The others listened empathetically; heads nodded in identification while soft uh-huhs pinged affirmation. One by one, each woman unburdened her heavy heart–not with transparency alone but in the raw vulnerability necessary for true connectedness.
Tears spilled politely from carefully mascaraed eyes; shy hands reached for tissues and nervous giggles peppered our confessions, already beginning to simmering in the pot of regret.
If the phone call I received the next morning is any indication, we all second-guessed our vulnerability and doubted the success of this planned journey toward sisterhood.
The most ironic thing about the evening was that each one of us practically pleaded with the others to recognize their shame for the lie it is but were unable (or unwilling) to pry the shame-lie from our own white-knuckled grip. We saw one another’s shame source for what it was: a tactic to drive isolation. But we were deaf and blind when it came to our own. Why?
I remember taking the microphone at the funeral of my younger sister. Her tragic death, in my opinion, was a culmination of spiraling shame and self-medication. With each successive attempt to anesthetize her pain it grew larger until finally, the consequences resulted in death. Shame is like phantom pain–you feel it but there is no legitimate cause for it and no man-made remedy.
I faced the auditorium of her mourners that day and appealed to us all to consider the lethal power of shame and the absurdity of trying to appease it.
“Imagine having wracked up credit card debt to such an astronomical amount that it would be impossible to pay it within your lifetime. Imagine the frustration you felt at only being able to pay the interest portion and never seeing the principal reduced. The futility in it is unbearable. Let the weight of that settle.
Now imagine that a compassionate and rich benefactor took mercy on you and paid the debt in full. The initial relief would be indescribable–you’d be ecstatic. But then let’s say the credit card company sends you a letter and states with mock authority, “Yes, it’s true. The principal of your debt has been paid but since you yourself did not pay it, we reserve the right to bill you for interest on the amount previously owed.”
You don’t like it but you rationalize–that’s not so bad I guess. After all, you’re used to paying interest so you continue to make interest payments on a zero balance all the while you declare: “My debt has been paid!”
Well, you’ve been duped. There can be no interest on a zero balance!
Our debt of sin has been paid. Our shame has been expunged along with our guilt. Shame is merely the illegitimate interest payment we make on our forgiven debt. Do we somehow think we can offset the cost of our forgiveness by paying shame interest? That is so completely absurd we reason AND YET, we find ourselves writing interest checks.
What we don’t fully realize is that while we’re quietly entertaining our shame in hopes of offsetting our guilt somehow, we are forced into some form of secrecy. That secrecy leads to hiding and hiding drives us into isolation. Here’s the really dangerous part:
When our enemy has us isolated we are unguarded prey and primed to believe the other heinous lies that keep us tethered to disconnection.
God designed us for community and connectedness not simply because we are healthier that way but because that’s how He grows His family.
Shame is the lie that causes us to disqualify ourselves from belonging.
So. Imagine a cosmic-sized PAID IN FULL stamp. Now. Imagine seeing that bad boy slapped across every accusation you’re presented. About Your worth. Your love-ability. Your belonging. Your purpose. Your validity. Your righteousness. Your shame.
Let’s get to stamping, shall we? Jesus provided the red ink of His blood–first in the manger birth and then once and for all on the cross.
PAID IN FULL–both guilt and shame.