the danger of shame, and the truth about grace

“Shame will keep us in all kinds of prisons if we let it. And it will keep us from those we love, and those who love us.” – Call the Midwife

Some of the deepest heart lessons seem to come from the most unexpected places. This week’s wake up call has come from a fictional nun, from one of my professors, and several dear friends. This 2nd year of my masters program has been emotionally challenging, to say the least. In more ways than I can describe. I have been confronting insecurities that I was never previously aware of, and learning to hold space for not only my own emotions, but clients’ painful stories as well. Some days, I do feel overjoyed and on top of the world. And some days I feel like I’m swimming drowning in a pool of inadequacy, fear, and anxiety. Today, we’re focusing on the latter.

Fear and shame are best friends, and they get along quite well. Shame is a heavy word. It’s also a heavy feeling. Shame can be crippling, even paralyzing. Sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere and sometimes it slowly sneaks into our heart in a way that subtly destroys our self-concept. For me, it has crept in slowly as I have let things slide, forgoing responsibilities and letting people down. I haven’t been a good friend, I’ve shown up late, overslept, and run myself ragged. Some of this is out of my control, and some of it I can do better to overcome, but either way, it’s not who I am, and that is killing me. It is endlessly frustrating that this season of life is causing me to make (what feels like) an incredible sacrifice to myself and the people I care about. If you know me, you know that relationships are of UTMOST value to me. I treasure my friendships and relationships with my family more than gold.

It is really difficult to be in a place where I am having to rely on the strength and kindness of these people in my life to sustain me. And, obviously, relying on the Lord and His endless compassion. I feel out of place and lost sometimes, because I am usually the helper, the listener, the peacemaker.  But my tank is empty. I can’t be fully who I am right now. Allowing others to pour grace into me when I’m unable to give much in return, is really stretching me.Unfortunately, the enemy preys on our vulnerabilities and weaknesses and I have let him have WAY too much space in my heart. Instead of letting my Father’s strength cover my shortcomings, I have let the lies of shame cloud my judgement. I have let the pressure squeeze life out of my lungs until it has become difficult to breathe.

Today, I had to sit outside for a while before I could walk into church. I didn’t really understand what I was feeling at the time, but as soon as we sang the first song I knew: “This is Amazing Grace.” I know this song really well, and we sing it often, but today I heard it with fresh ears. “Grace” is a word that I am very familiar with. However, I think it is really easy for the concept of grace to be something I take for granted. This morning, grace hit me like a freight train. Nearly knocked me off my feet. I haven’t been receiving any of the grace that has already been given to me. Because shame told me I didn’t deserve it. I can’t tell you how many people have told me recently, “I think you need to have more grace for yourself,” and it has just rolled right past me. And when I took time to think, I honestly haven’t been giving that much grace lately either. How can I give something to others that I don’t even give myself?

In class the other day we talked about pain and fear, and how like shame, the posture of someone who is afraid is very closed and protected. Shoulders hunched, arms pulled in, hands protecting the heart. We arm ourselves against pain in order to survive. But as my professor pointed out, the only way to heal from pain is to turn towards it. Like the quote above, shame keeps us imprisoned. In order to receive love, healing, grace, freedom, we have to open ourselves up. Which means vulnerability.

The insidious danger of shame is that it tells us we will be hurt and rejected without any basis of truth behind it; shame assumes the worst, with no real reason why. The power of grace (and why it actually IS amazing) is that it says, “I know you might mess up, fall short, and make mistakes. But you are loved and accepted already, and nothing will change that.” Shame tells us there is nothing we can do right, and grace tell us there is nothing we can do wrong.

Please hear this: grace is not just something to toss around – it is meant to transform the way we live. If it doesn’t change you, it’s not really grace. Receive it with open arms from the Giver of all good things, and let Him set you free.

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