What do you do with your shame stories? When my dad was a boy his father, who he had a special connection with, was killed overseas. My mom was adopted and never met her bio parents. When I was a boy my parents divorced, and since my dad was in the Army, I was separated from my adult buddy during my pivotal middle school years. As an adult I went through two gut wrenching divorces of my own, a miscarriage, and a severe traumatic brain injury that robbed me of my Air Force career. I share these stories because truly my shame has been my salvation.
About a month ago, for some reason (Spirit?) I was profoundly struck by how story after story in the Bible features people who would have been ashamed for who/how they were; barren women, non-firstborn sons, and/or slaves are regularly prominent characters. Why are the people who would have been nobodies, shunned, laughed at, and worse main actors in the biblical story? If the Bible’s tales reveal Truths about humanity and Divinity, and I believe it does, then it seems while we tend to shun, ridicule, or hate our shame, thus dividing and harming us both individually and communally, God sees and Loves ALL of us just as we are, shame and all, which heals us into fullness and wholeness.
The first person to name the Divine in the scriptures is Hagar, a slave. After her mistress starts mistreating her, Hagar runs away. Alone, and I imagine quite afraid and likely hungry, she encounters God, who asks her: “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis 16.8) To know a person’s story (where we’re from and going) is to deeply GET a person. And isn’t it glorious when we can say, “He/She just gets me”? As with her, the Divine seeks us constantly, sees us intimately, and names us beautifully, while intending to heal our pasts and bless our futures. Her spirit deeply touched, Hagar concludes their meeting by saying, “You are the God who sees me … I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16.13)
While I won’t go in to all the “interesting” weirdness of Hagar’s tale, I’ll point out precisely in the middle of her lostness and despair the Creator of the Cosmos meets, sees, and values Hagar exactly as she is, fulfilling the core human needs of being known and cherished. Thousands of years after the writing of her story found me navigating my own shame story.
To be more specific, my tale revolves around rejection and the withdrawal of love. The shame of familial disfunction (aka normalcy), being left when I did my best to be a good husband (TWICE), and losing the job I found so much value and joy in, left me feeling unloved and unlovable at a deep level. To be fully seen and known, in my world, was to be unloved.
What’s more, somewhere along the way I picked up the message that I had to be perfect to deserve love, which meant unless I was crushing it, winning, and making a name for myself in my job, relationships, schooling, and life, I couldn’t even love myself. Yikes! My shame let me know there is no such thing as “enough”. There’s always more, faster, better, longer, etc., so I was never enough. Can you relate?
What continues to change this narrative, and bring salvation through my shame, has been learning about and experiencing the Spirit who gazes upon and gets ALL of us, and ALWAYS seeks us with arms wide-open, declaring unending and limitless belonging, worth, and Love for each and every one of us. THIS, my friends, is turning my shame into my superpower, as feeling God’s wild and extravagant Love for me transforms my love lack into a Love Avalanche of Awesomeness!
It wasn’t an instantaneous experience, but over time I’ve come to be able to tangibly sense, taste, and be filled with the Divine’s Love, which I’m then able to share with others. This comes from yoga, meditation, contemplation, being in nature, singing, dancing, mindful breathing, church, and hugging, to name a few ways. The healing of my shame has turned it into my purpose, as shifting from love-poor to Love-Rich has compelled me to joyously help others wake up to, dance in, and spread around the Big Love that’s all around (and in) us!
Fundamentally, we all deeply desire to be simultaneously known completely and Loved, included, and valued totally. The shame we all have, though, is scary, so to cover ours up and/or ridicule others’ is to be human. While this has been going on since Adam and Eve, I’m convinced there’s a better way. In the storms of my shame, the Tender and Healing Spirit hears me, understands me, and adores me into fullness and wholeness … and I believe waits with baited breath to do the same for you too! What are your thoughts and experiences?
(Note: The Pic at the top is me in the ICU almost 2 months after my traumatic brain injury in 2008 + Lisa and I getting married in 2017)
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MUCH Love and Many Hugs,